In Eastside Costa Mesa, my neighborhood surrounding Brentwood Park is engaged in a divisive debate about how to improve the expanded park.
Almost doubling in size, the new 2.65 acres provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine the park. Unfortunately, the park is in jeopardy of being designed to prevent its full use. At the city’s direction, the design consultant prepared three concept plans based on input from three community workshops and the park task force. Neighbors, not surprisingly, have been vigilant and vocal, clamoring for the most passive of parks. Their preferred approach: update and contain the aging play equipment, move it toward the center of the site, and lay an open lawn with rolling hills on the majority of the newly acquired property. In their view, any additional elements such as a tennis or basketball court would generate unnecessary and severe noise, crime and attract “others” to our neighborhood.
The city purchased the former school campus for $3.6 million in 2007, and a prudent use of taxpayer money suggests that any such acquisition seek to optimize the value of the site. The park-adjacent homeowners prefer the newly acquired property become simply an unusable lawn with trees. Once we’ve included demolition costs, maintenance and design fees, the city will have invested approximately $4 million here. Is this really the best return on our investment?
Here, we can create a complete community park, one that is balanced with various opportunities to engage children, families and individuals in a range of activities. The expanded park can accommodate designated sports courts and new play equipment as well as adequate open space for running around, doing cartwheels, playing Frisbee, or practicing skills for baseball and soccer.
Mixing these elements is also a cost-effective crime prevention strategy. More uses and activities encourage more people to actually come to the park. More “eyes” on the park throughout the day discourage misuse and criminal activity. I also believe the community should have an equal voice in this matter (the park’s designated service area is a half-mile radius). Proximity to the park should not provide anyone with a stronger claim to defining its future. Those who live closest to the park, however, do have one advantage — they are poised to enjoy the greatest economic benefits (i.e., increased property values) by having an enhanced park facility next door.
This debate, however, isn’t really about passive versus active uses. It’s about attitude — how do we view our community and invest in its future? Do we use our scarce public resources to limit people from connecting with their surroundings? Or do we make the building blocks of our neighborhoods vibrant places that engage people and can grow with the needs of our diverse community?
JEFFREY HARLAN is a resident of Eastside Costa Mesa.
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