This story was updated at 2:10 p.m. on Wednesday, August 21, 2019, with a statement from the city of Phoenix. See below.
The Japanese Friendship Garden has announced its opposition to current plans for revitalizing Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix. Garden officials believe a children’s play area planned for an area of Hance Park near the Japanese Friendship Garden will create enough noise to disrupt the garden’s tranquil setting, so the officials called on community members to help them fight that plan.
Hance Park, named for the city’s first female mayor, is a 32-acre park located on the deck that runs over the Interstate 10 freeway tunnel between Third Street and Third Avenue. Several cultural resources are located near the park — including Burton Barr Central Library, Phoenix Center for the Arts, the Irish Cultural Center, and the Japanese Friendship Garden.
The Japanese Friendship Garden announced its opposition to the plan on August 20 through early-evening Facebook and Instagram posts that called on community members to contact city officials to request a change in design plans for an expansive park renovation expected to cost $100 million.
Turns out, it's not the first time it's objected to the play area's location. "We presented our opinion when the first design was presented to the public," says Reiko Reavis, executive director of the Japanese Friendship Garden. Reavis spoke with Phoenix New Times by phone on behalf of the garden's board of directors.
"We'd love for the children's playground to be in the park, and we support the concept 100 percent," Reavis says. "If we can move the location, we can coexist in a peaceful way and help and support each other." Garden officials have shared their concerns with park planners on several occasions, she says, and hosted one of the architects from the design firm, Hargreaves Associates, for a tour of the garden grounds.
Now, garden officials are trying a different approach.
Their recent Facebook post began with this plea: “The Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix is in jeopardy and we need your help!” The post indicates that the garden is “the only public venue in the Phoenix metropolitan area where guests can experience authentic Japanese culture.” It describes the garden as a “place of peacefulness, quiet contemplation, mindfulness, and healing.”
The Japanese Friendship Garden was created through a partnership between Phoenix and Himeji, Japan. The cities are part of the Phoenix Sister Cities program with ties to the International Sister Cities program that promotes cultural exchange. The garden was completed in late 1996, and has been in operation for over two decades.
Today, garden officials are ramping up their opposition to the Hance Park Revitalization project.
Here’s how they explained their concerns about the play area on Facebook: “Unfortunately, it is approximately 12 feet from the JFG. Children naturally make a lot of noise when they are having fun. This creates a problem for a Japanese Garden and the location does not make sense.”
According to that post, they’d like to see the play area created in a different portion of the park. “Our goal is to maintain the tranquility of the garden and see a wonderful play area but in another location on the park,” they wrote. And they called on community members to weigh in with city officials.
The design process is well underway. The latest design by Hargreaves Associates was revealed earlier this month by the Hance Park Conservancy, which is working to raise money for the revitalization project. It’s part of the Hance Park Partner Coalition, which also includes the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, as well as Phoenix Community Alliance.
On August 19, the group announced that Fiesta Bowl Charities is donating $2 million for park renovations, making it the project’s first major donor. Those funds are going towards the children's play area.
The city has already issued a request for proposals, seeking a construction firm to complete phase one of the project, which includes creating visual landmarks, shade elements, gardens, interactive water features, a cafe, and public restrooms.
Whether the garden’s public pleas will send park planners back to the drawing board remains to be seen.
For now, the Japanese Friendship Garden will continue to advocate for the design change. The board president sent a letter regarding the issue to Phoenix City Council yesterday, Reavis says. And garden officials are planning to attend future meetings for both the City Council and the city's parks and recreation board, where supporters may join them in calling for changes to the Hance Park design.
"It's our intention to do it in a harmonious way." Reavis says. "That's the Japanese style — that's who we are."
The city of Phoenix issued this statement Wednesday afternoon:
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"The City of Phoenix is proud of its 22-year partnership with the Japanese Friendship Garden. The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department and Parks and Recreation Board are aware of the Japanese Friendship Garden’s concern about the Hance Park play area. Department staff met with the organization twice in 2018 about the location of the play area, and subsequent meetings have discussed options to mitigate sound.
"New design concepts for the Hance Park Revitalization Project, which included this designated footprint for a play area, were unveiled to the public in May 2018. The closest play element will be located 75 to 100 feet from the nearest walkway inside the Japanese Friendship Garden.
"Many meetings have been held with all Hance Park Revitalization Project stakeholders since the design process kicked off in 2017. Department staff has discussed and looks forward to continuing to discuss the play area project with representatives from the garden, as construction for the project commences."