As Gilbert continues to add new features and increase the number of residents and residences, one thing that hasn’t changed is its ability to provide community members with venues for activities. That’s according to the Humana Foundation, which recognized Gilbert for its community offerings by naming the municipality as a “Playful City” for the eighth time.
The recognition was given to 212 communities across the country — neighboring Mesa, Chandler and Tempe also received the honor — and is designated to cities and towns that emphasize active play for children, according to the organization’s website. Recipients of the recognition receive Playful City highway road signs, access to grants for park equipment and other municipal upgrades, and a few other perks, per the website.
Gilbert has received the designation for nearly a decade despite continued growth throughout the time period, indicated by the town’s placement as the 12th-fastest growing municipality in the country last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Parks and Recreation Director Rod Buchanan attributed the town’s ability to maintain solid activity options to the foresight of town leaders.
“Everything was very well thought out, very well planned,” he said.
Buchanan has only served as the town’s park director for 10 months, but what attracted him to work in Gilbert in the first place was what he considers a robust parks system encompassing 600 acres of land in town. A few of the notable spots mentioned by Buchanan and Mayor John Lewis include Cosmo Dog Park, the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch that has 290 documented bird species, Freestone Park and Discovery Park, all of which he said get their fair share of use during the year.
“You know they’re getting used because there’s not a parking spot available on a Saturday morning,” he said.
In a way, Gilbert’s designation as a Playful City ties in to the growth the town has adjusted to over the last few years. As Lewis put it, receiving the designation means Gilbert has a level of vibrancy to it, making it attractive to families looking for a place to settle down like he was 29 years ago.
It’s also part of a package deal to serve as a selling point for Gilbert as part of its quality of life, which Buchanan summed up as describing how well a person fits in to his or her community. The quality of life package encompasses a few categories like safety, economic vitality, education and the parks system among other areas, and those categories can feed off one another to define a municipality’s reputation.
The park’s options may not be the most important piece of the equation, but Buchanan said it can serve as a final selling point for Gilbert if everything else is just about equal.
“It’s an important part of Gilbert,” Lewis said.
It’s also a part of Gilbert that he admits is a little incomplete, at least in terms of the southern part of town. But it is something the town is looking to improve upon due to a sizable amount of acreage available to build upon, and the disparity in options between the two halves of town could conclude in the near future.
“It’ll be an exciting few years,” Lewis said.
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