Development should realize two visions

The solution is obvious. Phil Hardberger Park should become a double-decker.

The lower level can remain forever in its "pristine" prairie-and-woodlands condition. The upper level can be filled with all the amenities of an active urban park.

The city has completed a round of public meetings to gather ideas for the recently acquired North Side property, 311 acres of a former dairy farm now nearly surrounded by suburban subdivisions and divided by Wurzbach Parkway.

The recorded comments are of two strikingly different minds.

Mind No. 1 calls for a swimming pool, a skate park, a library, an amphitheater, picnic tables with cooking grills, a disc golf course, softball and soccer fields, picnic areas, a hall for recreational folk dancing, a sculpture garden, playscapes for children, an archery range.

Mind No. 2 says no to all that. Keep it natural.

Several representatives of Mind No. 1 explicitly cited Austin's multifaceted and heavily used Zilker Park as a model. Mind No. 2 favored the forest primeval.

So the park's designers, a landscape architecture team comprising D.I.R.T. Studios of Charlottesville, Va., and Stephen Stimson Assoc. of Falmouth, Mass., have quite a job ahead of them.

A parks department overview of the city's hopes for Phil Hardberger Park cites New York's Central Park as a kind of Holy Grail.

Elements of the urban park and the natural landscape coexist in Central Park, if you ignore the fact that the natural landscape is entirely artificial. But Central Park has 835 acres to play with.

It might be worth noting that, in its first decade or so, Central Park was considered a preserve of the rich people who lived around it.

Not all of the subdivisions near Phil Hardberger Park are highly privileged enclaves like Elm Creek. It would be a shame if the tree-hugging epidemic were to entirely exclude the recreational facilities, diversions and gathering places that serve people who don't belong to country clubs.

The Voelcker land is beautiful, parts of it thickly studded with old trees. It would be wise to preserve much of it — perhaps 200 acres — with minimal intrusion of active uses and permanent structures.

Some potential uses for parts of the land probably would have consensus support.

A demonstration dairy farm and nature center, for example, could preserve the landscape, restore the historic farm structures, minimize the disturbance to neighbors and provide a valuable educational resource for thousands of school kids and their families.

But the city should not shrink from using a significant portion of the site for active recreation and traditional urban park features, with beautifully crafted buildings and hardscape.

The North Central part of town is poor in park amenities. It is especially poor in open civic space for public gatherings — for entertainment, socializing or political protest.

Park land that is paid for by the people has to meet a wide range of the people's needs and desires.

Yes, the natural landscape of the Voelcker site is beautiful. But the Grand Canyon it's not. Let citizens enjoy the beauty of the trees — while walking from the picnic pavilion to the swimming pool.