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Best View From Above

Best Small Park/Plaza

Himmel Park
1000 N. Tucson Blvd.

READERS' PICK: It seems hard to believe now, but in the '70s Himmel Park (in the Sam Hughes neighborhood) had something of a dangerous reputation. Unkempt, weedy and populated by those to whom the '60s were particularly unkind, the midtown park was the kind of place parents warned their kids about. In an extraordinarily uncommon example of tax dollars bearing fruit, these days Himmel is a wonderful place to take friends and family. Transformed from wasteland to Eden, it's managed to keep its funky heritage while becoming more user-friendly. Most of the landmarks remain intact: The fenced-in train is still there (once again reading Southern Pacific, after years of sporting the graffiti-altered Southern Comfort), as is one of the city's most pleasant libraries. A much-needed overhaul has updated the public swimming pool, while retaining most of the charm of the original (including the bricked entrance). Himmel harkens back to the day when a park was a gathering place, not a place to score. Sure, the notorious "Hippie Hill" is still there, but instead of Hell's Angels dealing meth or a family of Charles Mansonites, you're more likely to find a drumming circle or game of Frisbee.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Tucked away off a little side street off Tanque Verde Road, Agua Caliente County Park, 12325 E. Roger Road, is an unexpected desert oasis. Built on the site of an old ciénaga and Territorial ranch, the 111-acre park boasts three smallish lakes, groves of tall palm trees, lush waterside vegetation, mesquite bosques and plenty of picnic tables and outdoor grills, all in the shadow of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Best of all, no one ever seems to go there--especially during the week--which makes Agua Caliente a fine place for meditating with the ducks and getting a respite from the big city that begins just a few hundred feet away.

A REAL SCREAM: It's little, it's cute, it's got benches: It's the new Volunteer Park downtown at 255 W. Alameda, just north of City Hall. At first glance, the cynical may find the kiosk with pastel tiles a bit precious (along with the ascendancy of tile work in public parks in general); but take a second glance and see if you don't agree it's kinda nice to have a park dedicated to real people who help other people. And its location between downtown office buildings, the Tucson Museum of Art and the El Presidio neighborhood makes this park totally walker-accessible for downtown dwellers and lunchtime brown-baggers. It's pleasant at night, too: No fountains means no roaches!

A REAL SCREAM: More plaza than park, Winsett Park on Fourth Avenue is a mysterious little urban space. By day, the fenced-in concrete jungle has a heartbreakingly lonely look. Its solemn trees, reaching out from the concrete, beg for someone to give them a climb, or at least rest in their shade; and Winsett's inaccessible, vibrant mural makes some incomprehensible artistic statement. (See Best Mural.)

But as the sun sets, Winsett comes alive as a musical magnet, pulsing and grooving to the sounds of local bands. Winsett Park was about the only place where the monsoons fell regularly this summer--the Monsoon Madness concert series showcased some of Tucson's favorite bands every Thursday evening. So don't let the locked gates fool you: This is a park waiting to happen.

Case History

1998 Winner: Reid Park
1996 Winner: Himmel Park
1995 Winner: St. Philip's Plaza

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