Sweeping parks plan sets 20-year vision for Raleigh’s amenities

03/24/2014 1:36 PM

02/15/2015 10:44 AM

The city is putting the final touches on a sweeping plan that sets priorities for the city’s parks, recreational facilities and cultural resources – amenities that many residents consider their favorites.

Officials have identified more than $100 million in projects that could be part of a bond referendum as soon as this fall.

The draft plan looks out over the next 20 years and calls for a system that fosters creativity, engagement, healthy lifestyles and welcoming neighborhoods under the tagline “bringing people to parks and parks to people.”

The public has a chance to comment on the draft before it is completed during four forums held throughout the city this week.

The plan was developed during the past year with input from more than 4,500 people through surveys, meetings and workshops.

Cassie Schumacher-Georgopoulos, a senior planner with the city, said the public participation revealed residents care deeply about Raleigh’s land, facilities and programs.

“What we’re most excited about and what presents the most opportunity is people coming out and saying they want us to reinvest,” she said.

The results made sense to Jay Chaudhuri, a member of both the city’s parks and greenways advisory committee and the system report committee.

In his view, the parks promote community, healthy living and economic development for the city. And while there are improvements to be made, the parks, greenways and other facilities are an important part of how many residents define the place they live, he said.

“All of those are a source of pride, and I would say one of the signature parts of the city,” he said.

The plan identifies $106.78 million in proposed capital implementation projects, including $12.5 million in improvements at John Chavis Memorial Park and $15 million in improvements at Moore Square.

It will be up to the City Council to decide whether to move forward with a parks bond package that includes all or some of the projects. Voters approved an $88 million bond for parks and greenway projects in 2007 and a $47 million bond for park system development in 2003.

An evolving system

From the earliest days of Raleigh, planners have paid attention to parks, the report said. The original 1792 plan for the city featured five public squares, and the system evolved as the city grew.

Today it includes 6,079 acres of parkland, 3,750 acres of greenways and 104 miles of greenway trails. More than 140,000 families participate in related programs or activities.

As the city continues to grow, the plan looks at ways to expand the system through partnerships with other organizations such as schools, business and other government departments.

Planners also seek to create experiences for people in parks when and where they want. The draft shows people seek small neighborhood parks to meet their basic needs for socializing and walking or biking, while they’re willing to travel for organized sports, classes, lectures or museums.

Beyond the broad vision it sets out, the plan includes goals and specific steps the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department intends to take in eight categories: parks, natural environments, greenways, athletics, programs and services, arts, historic resources and growth centers.

Kimberly Siran, who’s also a member of both the city’s parks and greenways advisory committee and the system plan committee, said the scope of the report can be intimidating, but it also means just about anyone can find a portion relevant to them. A wider definition of what constitutes the park system also means more of a chance for everyone to participate.

To get a handle on the recommendation, she suggested residents start with whatever they relate most to – whether it’s biking on a greenway trail, visiting a dog park or taking an art class.

“Each of us can kind of drill down to what is important to us,” she said.

Last week, as spring finally made an appearance in Raleigh, visitors used Friday’s final hour of sunlight to make Chavis Park their own. Children swung from monkey bars, joggers circled the outdoor track, and couples sat quietly together on the benches taking it all in.

As Shonda Merritt Allen, 37, came off the track with her cousin, James Merritt, 20, she said the park appeals to her because it offers different activities to a range of people. For her and James, that means it’s a great place to take their regular walks.

“This is my spot,” she said.

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