PARKS, PEOPLE, & PLANNING: Open Spaces in Small Places
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As a small, rural city of only 1000 residents, Coburg faces many challenges in updating their Parks and Open Space Master Plan. There are issues of size, density, quality, capacity, and use that are not accounted for in traditional park planning guidelines, which often favor large, urban settings. Current guidelines for parks planning are standardized and methodical, but often fail to provide clear guidance about the more qualitative measures such as public input. When starting the process of preparing the Parks and Open Space Master Plan Update for the City of Coburg, it seemed that addressing the issue of outdated and misrepresented level-of-service guidelines would be the biggest barrier to a successful plan. However, challenges with organization, community stakeholders, funding mechanisms, and the political issue of expanding the Urban Growth Boundary made the process much more interesting than the content of the plan itself and provided valuable lessons for myself as a student. This project first began in the summer of 2015, when the City of Coburg approached me with the opportunity to update their parks master plan. While the project has taken longer than initially expected, this left time to learn, grow, and analyze the results of my continued efforts. Since the plan is only half complete at this time, it made more sense to look closely at the tasks that have been accomplished and distill the process into a set of lessons learned. There is much to be gleaned from the community, the process, and the implementation that may be useful to other planners in pursuit of creating the perfect small town parks plan. Small town open space planners are often limited in staff and funding capacity, face opposition from long-time residents, and juggle multiple responsibilities at once. With the inventory and community outreach portions of the plan complete, there is now time to reflect on the successes and challenges of this process and look for opportunities moving forward. Eight key lessons were assembled from the process that can be applied to future parks planning in Coburg, or adapted to other planning processes moving forward. These lessons include: 1. Set appropriate Level-of-Service standards 2. Make public participation as easy as possible3. Embrace existing culture and values 4. Choose low-cost, high yield projects 5. Understand maintenance costs 6. Emphasize project prioritization 7. Be prepared to deal with resistance to change 8. Expect your timeline to be pushed back These are issues that are relevant to likely all facets of planning, however they are even more evident when dealing with limited resources and funding capacity. While this is not an exhaustive list, it seeks to highlight the highest and lowest points of the update process and suggest recommendations for other planners looking to develop or update a parks and open space master plan.