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Section 8
Day Care Issues


The Miami Herald
April 25, 2007 Wednesday

Parks for skaters, skiers, dogs, readers;


There was a time when the word ''park'' evoked mundane images of ball fields, swings and a rusty jungle gym. These days though, South Florida is riding a national trend toward parks with personality.

Recreational spaces are designed for dogs, skaters, art lovers and now, even for readers. In the last seven years, as property values ballooned and Broward voters approved a $400 million park bond, governments have shoveled giant pails of their newfound tax money into outdoor spaces.

'The `park as destination' is becoming more popular,'' said Douglas Vaira, new media manager at the National Recreation and Park Association. ``In addition to great restaurants, museums and nightclubs, people are asking for the right green space.''

In Chicago, the $475 million Millennium Park has an amphitheater and pedestrian bridge designed by star architect Frank Gehry. Seattle's $85 million Olympic Structure Park holds 21 pieces of public art.

Broward County long ago gave in to steamy summer weather by building water features into its parks. There are water slides in Pembroke Pines and Hollywood, water skiing in Deerfield Beach, and plenty of fountains and watery tot lots in local city parks.

Recently though, a move to fuse nature with the arts has spawned a clutch of ''ArtsParks.'' Two have opened in Hollywood and Pembroke Pines, and two more are planned in Lauderhill and Miramar. At a total cost of about $70 million, they represent a sizable investment of county, state and local resources in art-themed public spaces, with works by professional artists.

Downtown Hollywood's 12-acre ArtsPark has a water sculpture designed by Japanese public artist Ritsuko Taho. A two-story visual arts building is expected to be complete this fall, including a covered outdoor work area and demonstration space. Also planned: an art studio, metals workshop, glass studio, classroom, office, exhibition lobby and dance studio.

Miramar's ArtsPark, expected to open in 2008, will have a botanical garden, a glass water feature in a reflection pool and an outdoor amphitheater. Though the city has struggled to build enough ball fields to meet demand, it fought hard to get a $2.1 million county grant to build the $18 million park.

''Arts at all levels are a major contributor to economic development,'' said Miramar City Manager Bob Payton. ``Corporations want to bring their families into certain areas and the families don't just want to move into a house. They are demanding a higher quality of life.''

In Miami, Overtown Park opened March 30 with a cutting-edge playground designed to stimulate coordination and creativity. The aluminum and stainless steel playground offers more than 15 activities, including a spider climber that looks like a web, a rock-climbing wall and balance hammock.

Touted as Miami's Harlem, the historically African-American neighborhood is under redevelopment with high-end condos. The park, on a quarter acre next to the YWCA of Greater Miami-Dade County, was designed by Calvin Giordano & Associates to complement the gentrifying landscape.

Its $600,000 price is being covered by donations from several corporations and foundations, including the national Trust for Public Land, as well as the Miami-Dade County Office of Safe Neighborhood Parks, which contributed $100,000.

''We truly believe for the revitalization of Overtown to be comprehensive, parks and open space is essential,'' said Lavinia B. Freeman, program director of The Trust for Public Land in Miami.
Weston's newest park will have the feel of a coffee shop and the soul of a library.

The $2 million Library Park is adjacent to the Weston Branch of the Broward County Library. Three pavilions will offer shade for reading and host book groups or other gatherings of up to 70 people. Durable Bermuda grass invites readers to lie down with a book. The entrance walkway will set the mood, lined with plaques honoring Florida authors with a photo and biography. Construction is expected to begin in May.

''This park is going to have the personality of the library,'' said Weston City Manager John Flint.

Other parks have more active personalities, including the skate parks at Quiet Waters in Deerfield Beach and at Brian Piccolo Park in Cooper City, which also has a velodrome for bike racing.
And then there are the parks that have happily gone to the dogs.

On a recent clear evening, just after work, 30 people chatted, walked and laughed while their dogs ran loose at Happy Tails Park in Plantation. Opened in 2002, the ''bark park'' is a place where people reference each other by their pet's name and make friends easily.

It features pooch-friendly water fountains, plenty of open space and a separate training and exercise area to challenge pups of all sizes.

Ronny Dombrosky, 43, takes his shepherd mix, Maya, to the park daily. The Davie resident has Tree Tops Park ''right in the back yard,'' but opts to drive to Plantation. ''Maya gets to play with everybody. For two hours, she gets rid of her extra energy,'' Dombrosky said. ``This park is a need.''


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