Monday, August 23, 2010

Bryan Park update

It feels like we've been discussing the idea of a natural playground at Bryan park, behind the new Tryon library, for a very long time. Much progress has been made, mostly behind the scenes, so I thought I'd give you a status report.

Last weekend I joined a number of people from the neighborhood near the park as well as many Navy personnel to help parks and rec staff get the park cleaned up. The park is on the site of an old street-sweepings dump, and there were many hunks of concrete and other large items that needed to be removed. Others cut back vines and other growth around many of the trees that will stay in the park. I spent some time pulling weeds out of the existing beds, giving a new meaning to "grassroots politics".

While the main idea of the park is natural, we decided to order some modern structures as well. Those items, including a net climber (right) and a new-fangled swing (left), have been ordered and might be in the park in September. In addition we ordered a gazebo for the park.

The parks and rec staff is excited to develop some of the elements themselves. They put in one test activity already, a set of stump steppers (right). A neat feature of their work is that some of it will be a reuse of equipment from the old Lavallet playground wooden play structure which was recently removed, diverting materials from the landfill.

Along with all of that, Home Depot has gotten on board (literally). They have store goals for community service projects, and this fits very nicely with their skills and resources. They have begun plans for a pirate ship, a bridge, a reading area, a sensory garden, and a labyrinth. They have been excited looking through ideas for natural elements, often adding to their list rapidly with "Oh, we should do that, too!" comments frequently. We appreciate their help on this project.

Some of the store bought elements will be in place in September, and we are aiming for some of the natural elements to be installed in October. The drainage project is finished, and the irrigation for the park will go in soon. Once the irrigation is in, landscaping will begin. Since many of the natural elements can be constructed by parks staff during the off season, it is possible that new elements will trickle in as we assess the park usage and what appeals to the users.

I am excited by the enthusiasm about this project and am eager to see the outcome. The park will likely become a popular destination by virtue of its location with the Tryon library, which saw 20,000 users in the month of June alone. Also, as a unique addition to our large park supply, this park will likely be a "destination" park, attracting visitors throughout our community. I look forward to seeing you there.

Monday, August 2, 2010


One of the most important roles of local officials, in my opinion, is to provide connections. We interact with many people with many interests, and linking those people together can help strengthen our community. At the basic level is something like this blog where I attempt sometimes to connect you to events in our community.

There are also more powerful connections that can be made, too. For example, when Holly Benson was in the state legislature, she connected me, through my science education work at IHMC, with Gulf Power and the Escambia and Santa Rosa school districts to create a program to enhance science education. The outcome was I LOVE Science (Increasing Local Opportunities for Volunteers Enthusiastic about Science), a program that brings community volunteers into 5th grade classrooms to lead hands on activities aligned with the curriculum. The program is now entering its 5th year and has been very successful. (Keep your eyes peeled for forthcoming information on volunteering this year.)

Most of you have a robust network that connects you with many resources throughout this community. These connections have a significant impact on you, your finances, and your health. Did you know, for instance, you are more likely to be overweight if your friends' friends are overweight? Your connections provide an extended knowledge base, helping you navigate through many of life's challenges (did a friend help you figure out how to get your first mortgage? have you gotten a job because someone told you of an opening?). The impact of your circles is critical to your well-being.

Unfortunately, many in our community do not have strong connections. Or their connections have a detrimental impact on their quality of life, linking them to damaging behaviors or not linking them to important resources and skills. Unite Escambia's Poverty Solutions Team realized that by connecting those living in poverty with new circles, they could have a positive impact on reducing poverty. To this end, they have created the Bridges to Circles program which links allies with families living in poverty, connecting them to the knowledge, skills, and resources many of us take for granted. Of course, they are always looking for new allies in this program, and information is available on their website. I encourage you to consider this opportunity.

By increasing our connections in our community, whether participating in local government, helping in the schools, or serving as an ally for someone trying to break the cycle of poverty, we can strengthen our city together. Let me know if there is a resource or a group that I can help connect you to.