Gardens, bike polo, concerts: Input shaping future of Austin parks

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A record number of people told the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) how they use their local parks and how they’d like to see public spaces transform over the next decade.

The department has been collecting feedback for its Our Parks, Our Future planning process for the last several months, and Thursday kicks off the next round of public meetings to discuss the input it received.

“The data’s great — and we love data, we love maps — but at the end of the day, connecting with our community is what these meetings are about,” said Kim McKnight, PARD’s long-range plan lead.

People told the department they wanted to see more movies and concerts in the park and more nature programming. McKnight said several growing sports also came up frequently in responses, including the tennis-like pickleball, bike polo and bocce ball.

Community gardens also came up frequently. There are currently 14 gardens on city land, plus six senior gardens at various activity centers, but aspiring gardeners often have to wait to get space at one of them.

That was the case for Val Khislavsky, who couldn’t get a plot at the Festival Beach Community Garden when she moved to Austin five years ago. She lives close by and got one this year, where she and a friend are growing tomatoes, peppers, carrots and other produce. 

“This is a little cheesy, maybe, but it’s like a grounding influence,” she said. “You feel more connected to what you’re doing.”

There are dozens of plots at the garden, which has existed on city parkland since 2010. “It’s a good way to build community and find new friends,” said Julio Perez, one of the site managers.

Now PARD is presenting everything it’s learned since the fall and asking for additional feedback to develop its plan for the park system’s next ten years. The department expects to have a draft ready by July.

The first meeting is Thursday, May 2, from 6-8 p.m. at the South Austin Senior Activity Center. There are four more meetings around the city over the next two days. 

But, it’s not just what people want to see in their parks that PARD will use to guide the process. An online survey, filled out by a record 4,400 people, also asked questions like how far people are from a park and whether it’s within walking distance. 

On large display boards set up at the meetings, PARD broke down the answers and demographic data into more than 20 sub-areas of the city. The info will help shape not just what existing parks look like over the next decade, but where and how the department acquires land to build new ones.

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