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March 5, 2008 > Parks - what are they?

Parks - what are they?

For many, the word "park" evokes an image of trees, grass and open space. Upon further reflection, however, the image can be modified and transformed when specific amenities are considered. Is formal recreation included and, if so, what portion of the terrain is used for specific purposes? These and many more questions are the critical to personnel who are charged with the development, care and maintenance of parks and park lands in and around our cities. TCV asked Amy Rakley, Park Planning Manager for the City of Fremont about this important part of that city's infrastructure.

TCV: What are the existing city policies regarding parks?

Rakley: In 1995 the city council adopted a Park and Recreation Master Plan and a park and recreation chapter of the General Plan. This was the first time that this level of detail was included in the General Plan document. One of the aspects of that work was to formally define different types of parks in the city park system.

We have "citywide" parks such as Central Park and Centerville Community Park. These provide amenities such as ball fields, parking and picnic areas. Their main focus is to accommodate large, more intense uses such as softball league play. This is the type of park we are interested in continuing to develop due to community demand for such facilities. Also, on a per acre basis, larger parks are less expensive to maintain and operate than smaller parks - it's the idea of "economies of scale".

"Neighborhood" parks - we have 20 of them - such as Patterson Park, tend to be smaller although some are actually larger in acreage than our citywide parks. Their purpose is to serve the people who live in that area. Some critical differences between neighborhood parks and citywide parks are the lack of onsite parking and major night lighting at neighborhood parks.

"Mini" park is another category. We are not actively pursuing creating more of these because the city council has directed that if we create more of these, they must have a funding mechanism for maintenance. This term is often used interchangeably with "pocket" parks. In my experience, the terminology of pocket park is often used in a more urban setting but the idea is they are small parks.

TCV: Do mini parks include any amenities?

Rakley: Yes. The Master Plan is very specific about the type of improvement contemplated for different type of parks. Swing sets and possibly a basket ball court is considered appropriate. Some mini parks were dedicated to the city by the developer of a residential community. Often they sit on what would have been the site of a single family lot. There is a high sensitivity to the types of activities that would go on there and the impact on the neighbors.

TCV: Any other types of parks?

Rakley: Yes, we have Historic parks. Examples of this type of park are Vallejo Adobe, Rancho Higuera, California Nursery and Shinn Historical Park. They are all very unique. City council recently adopted a new type of park called a "Civic" park similar to what Summerhill has proposed in the downtown area of the city. The last type of park is a "School" park on properties that are leased from the school district.

TCV: Is there a passive park designation?

Rakley: No. However, we have tens of thousands of acres of open space. For example, Coyote Hills and Mission Peak are considered open space and not counted as part of the city's park system. The critical difference is tied to the issue of funding. One of the impact fees we assess is on residential developers to help pay for expanding the park system to provide park land for the people who are going to move into the buildings they are building. State law requires that we be very responsible about how we assess those fees and spend them. Those laws and our policies state that those fees are to be used for neighborhood and community parks to provide recreational opportunities for a community.

TCV: Does the state definition of parks match those of the city?

Rakley: The state uses much more general definitions. Although the intent is specific, implementation is generalized to allow modification for individual jurisdictions. Fremont, with advice of legal counsel, has interpreted these to fit our needs while another city might use different guidelines based on their situation.

TCV: Will the General Plan redefine parks?

Rakley: We will review a number of existing policies relating to the park system for the new General Plan. This department is very active in that process.

TCV: Why is it more expensive to maintain a small park than a larger one?

Rakley: This relates to the cost of moving staff and equipment to the location. Even though the park may be small and require less lawn mowing or other maintenance, the travel time and cost of moving equipment may be high in relationship to the service necessary.

TCV: Would a so-called "passive" park be less costly?

Rakley: The term passive park is probably focused on the intensity of use. Intensity may be a more valuable way of speaking about resources. More park development attracts users and if it successfully brings more usage, it means more maintenance is necessary. Land with less infrastructure (buildings, parking lots, lighting, irrigation systems, etc.) may attract fewer users and therefore require less maintenance.

TCV: Is the Parks and Recreation Department responsible for open space?

Rakley: In Fremont, we differentiate between parks and open space. Open space often requires little or no maintenance from the city and is outside our city park system. In the General Plan and the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, the council developed criteria for selection of parks sites. This is very specific and when land is considered for a park site, a report is prepared that addresses those factors. For instance, when we purchased the land for Marshall Park from the school district, we used these standards to assess whether it was appropriate to proceed and dedicate the land within the park system.

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