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Harlan: Public parks are valued community assets

September 29, 2012|By Jeffrey Harlan

Like some of the City Council candidates, I was disappointed that Costa Mesa United decided to cancel its planned Sept. 21 forum to discuss youth sports in our community.

Although this is not a topic that everyone cares about, or has a special interest in, youth sports are important because they impact a variety of decisions the Costa Mesa government makes. They influence land planning, infrastructure, transportation, recreational programming and education, among others.

Public parks, where the bulk of our city's youth sports take place (including school sports), are often the most visible and telling signs of how a community values the health and well-being of its residents. Neglected and underutilized facilities — including their landscaping, lighting, bathrooms and parking — make poor impressions on prospective homebuyers and businesses.

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By contrast, active, well-maintained and robustly programmed parks often demonstrate a lively and socially engaged community worth investing in.

A vibrant and inclusive parks and recreation system has the potential to spark economic development, create a strong sense of community, improve physical and psychological health, and increase public safety. Additionally, parks provide measurable benefits, including clean air and water, increased tourism and enhanced property values.

Costa Mesa is fortunate to have a solid foundation with its park facilities and recreational programs. In the early 2000s, the city made prudent investments in developing the Volcom Skate Park, Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex (formerly the Farm Sports Complex), and the athletic fields and Angels Playground at TeWinkle Park.

But the city's recent record on developing new facilities and keeping up with current demands of our changing demographics is spotty at best.

Brentwood Park in my neighborhood is one example of a missed opportunity. After the city spent almost $4 million in 2006 to acquire 1.6 acres and redesign an expanded 3-acre park, the result is a comatose patch of rolling grass interspersed with trees that adds little aesthetic, economic, environmental or social value to the neighborhood.

Here, there is nothing — no athletic courts, no imaginative play structures, no creative artwork, no inviting landscaping — to draw in residents. Sadly, the park has turned into a de facto dog park, often littered with unwelcome donations from Fido and his canine friends.

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