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Gainesville council hopes to add more pocket parks
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Chestnut Mountain Elementary School second-grader Kristen Towe, 7, swings Sunday at Wilshire Trails Park in Gainesville. City Council member Myrtle Figueras recently introduced the idea of creating more small parks like Wilshire, if the budget allows. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Public input meetings

What: Discussion of short- and long-range plans for Gainesville Parks and Recreation program and facilities
When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. today and drop in 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Gainesville Civic Center, 830 Green St., and Fair Street Neighborhood Center, 715 Fair St.; both times will be offered at both locations
More info: 770-531-2680

Gainesville neighborhoods may see more green space soon.

In an effort to beautify the city and give children more places to play, City Council member Myrtle Figueras recently introduced the idea of creating more “pocket” parks, if the budget allows.

“Throughout Gainesville, whatever we can do to engage people in recreation is a good idea. We have a lot of overgrown and unused land, and we could put in a little park,” she said Monday. “Little children can play and the older people can sit and rest or enjoy a sandwich. We have several around the city, but we could always have more.”

Figueras told council members about her idea in September, and she plans to introduce specific ideas at Gainesville Parks and Recreation meetings this week.

“I’m thinking out of the box here, trying to make sure everything is great for everybody,” she said. “I was looking at this through the idea of what we’re trying to do with the Fair Street Neighborhood Planning Unit, but it could be anywhere around Gainesville so people can have fun rather than have junky areas.”

The main goal is to help kids who don’t have a place to play.

“This could be a simple basketball goal or a little piece of green space,” Figueras said. “These are little areas so when children don’t have a ride to the playground, they can play in their own neighborhood.”

Gainesville residents can present their own ideas at the Parks and Recreation meetings this week, too. As part of a five-year update to Vision 2014, a 10-year strategic plan, Parks and Rec is holding meetings to talk about programs, events and future park development. Residents can come out to either the Gainesville Civic Center on Green Street or the Fair Street Neighborhood Center on Fair Street. Meetings will be held at both locations 6:30-8:30 p.m. today and 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The parks tie into the larger theme of beautifying the city and county, which council member George Wangemann brought up at the Sept. 21 council meeting.

Keep Hall Beautiful is heading up an effort to clean the city for America in Bloom, a national community improvement organization. Judges from the group visit communities around the nation to award prizes based on tidiness, tree coverage, environmental awareness, floral displays and heritage preservation. The crew of judges will stop by Gainesville in April or May.

“It’s a total community effort, and we want government, the school system, industries, companies, churches and individual property owners to be involved in tidying up Gainesville and bringing in shrubs, flowers and possibly more trees,”Wangemann said Monday. “We could earn some national recognition from this and make it into some magazines, which could bring people to our community and help the taxpayer base. In itself, it’s a great goal to make us proud of our community.”

In September, Wangemann took preliminary surveys of Wards 3 and 4 — the southwestern and southeastern parts of the city. He checked Longwood Park, Kenwood Park and Myrtle Street Park.

“Myrtle Street Park, which is a little pocket park with a ball court and playground, is very well kept up. I was so impressed,” Wangemann said at the Sept. 21 meeting. “A limb was hanging halfway down from a tree, and it’s already gone. Parks and Rec is really on the ball.”

During the next step, Keep Hall Beautiful will identify areas that need the most improvement and then hold a kickoff day to involve as many community members as possible. The group’s board of directors meets Oct. 20 and likely will set a kickoff date then, Wangemann said.

“Things like crime might even go down. Studies show where the community is less littered, crime generally goes down as a side benefit,” Wangemann said. “Parks also play a significant role in improving circumstances. They can do a lot for a person’s mental state just to go into a park and meditate or generally think about things to improve themselves and the community.”

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