Slowly and almost surely Bend is losing its parks. They aren’t going away. They aren’t being bought up for development. But as Bend’s population grows and becomes more dense everyone’s public open space gets a bit less.
Is it noticeable? Perhaps not. But if you think about what Shevlin Park was like 10 or 15 years ago and how parking can be gobbled there now, there has been a change.
Bend is lucky, of course. It has great parks and other nice facilities. It has a river. And just outside of Bend there is fantastic access to public land. So there is hardly a crisis. There is a gradual shift.
Housing density is loved, because it protects Oregon from sprawl. It lowers development costs for infrastructure. Roads, sewers, water and more are cheaper to provide if the population is close together. It doesn’t help city parks. Land prices go up. And although people can get exercise in multistory indoor facilities, it is not the same as being outside on the grass.
Planners for the Bend Park & Recreation District can show the numbers. The acres per thousand people of parks are predicted to decline in Bend over the next five years. That’s true of neighborhood parks. It’s true of big, regional parks, such as Shevlin. And it’s true of city trails. That depends on assumptions about population growth measured against the plans the park district has over the next five years and also other things it knows will be built.
The district also looks at accessibility of parks and trails to ensure they are spread out across the community. It would like to have parks within a half mile easy walk for everyone in the district. It’s true for less than half of district residents now.
And the district is working on more granular data. It is overlaying census tract information on income, minorities and more to see if it is truly reaching out equitably. It should make those maps available to the public on its website when it has them ready. That should provide important information about where parks and facilities may be needed.
The most difficult thing to measure may be along the lines of what park district board member Jason Kropf asked: What does it mean if neighborhood park acreage slips from 7.76 acres per thousand in 2019 to 7.67 acres per thousand in 2020? Probably not much. But if the long-term trend continues down, it does mean something. A crowded park can make it much less attractive for people to go and get exercise or just get outside.
The park district is looking for answers. What can it do? It can work with developers to ensure they include open space and trail access in new housing projects. It can encourage apartment builders to include gym space or perhaps even a pool. The district may need support from voters for a bond to make investments in additional facilities. And it may need to think about ways to make it easier for people to access the ample public lands beyond the district’s borders.