By Kerry Kohring
About 25 adult Summit residents – plus a few kids here and there – were presented with the city’s proposal on Thursday for improving the playground/park at Ninth Street and Summit Avenue, which includes provision for community gardens.
However, concern by some of the people present about limiting the size of the play area prompted organizers to call for another public meeting.
Robert F. McMahon, superintendent of the Department of Parks and Recreation, and Megan Gardner, a landscape architect with Gardner and Gerrish, set up easels with large-scale drawings of the proposed design.
McMahon said the city “is not wedded to this plan,” but that there was sentiment that the park was not now well-suited to toddlers and was used mainly by older kids. He also cited neighborhood interest in community gardening, a concept that he supported in parks around the city.
Gardner described how 40 individual garden plots of 4 feet by 8 feet would run along the northern edge of the park and how a wooden picket fence would separate the children from the garden. There would be a central walkway and storage space for tools and mulch.
The parks superintendent said plots are organized by neighborhood rules, typically with one-year memberships at a fee of about $25 to cover overhead. McMahon said that with the right to garden comes certain responsibilities and that 40 plots was what his department felt comfortable that the area could support. He noted that community gardens all over the city have waiting lists of people who want to use them.
Landscape architect Gardner said the improved play area is “designed for kids low to the ground,” those two to five years old. Much of the current sand would be replaced with turf, but there would be a sandbox and a “shade sail” for the area exposed to the sun. She further said the design would “provide ADA handicapped facilities,” referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act. McMahon also said there would be raised beds for gardening by handicapped.
Slides would not be metal, Gardner said, so kids wouldn’t get burned on sunny days. There would be a picnic area and a tricycle route that would be a “branch of the DMV here” with stop signs and parking spaces. She said the landscaping would be updated “based on your input” and incorporate small shade trees.
In answer to questions, McMahon said that similar small parks, such as those behind the Jewish Community Center, on Gano Street and behind Hope High School, had successfully developed community gardens, but that there was “definitely some wiggle room” in the size of the proposed garden. He further said that the Parks Department has the ultimate authority to decide the configuration, but if there is only “minor interest from the neighborhood, we wouldn’t build a garden.”
He noted that the Summit Neighborhood Association had come to the city, requesting the development.
However, some residents expressed concern that the garden area would detract from the amount of space available for kids to play in and that the “tot lot” is very crowded with users, especially on Saturday mornings. They questioned if other areas, such as Lippitt Park, had been considered for community gardens.
Dean Weinberg, SNA president, pointed out that a survey by the organization found very vocal opposition to taking any space in Lippitt Park for gardening and said the current proposal came after those objections.
Still, some of the people at the tot-lot meeting expressed reluctance to use any of the space for gardening and said a new survey should be done. McMahon responded that the meeting was the first in the community and wouldn’t be the last. He also voiced surprise at the level of opposition. He proposed another meeting, this one to be held some time in October, possibly a Saturday morning, at Summit Commons.
McMahon said community gardens work only as part of a larger operation and that “we can look at Lippitt Park again.”