Alice Bonvicini used to visit the community garden at the south corner of Aventura’s Founders Park “virtually every day.”
The 12-acre park, which sits on the Dumfoundling Bay waterfront in suburban north Miami, boasts a walking trail, a playground, an athletic field, and several tennis courts. A big draw for many residents, however, was the Aventura Community Green Garden, which sat in the center of a circular walkway and whose rented planter bed sections were at one point home to 36 different plants.
“It kept me sane,” Bonvicini, who leased a garden bed from February 2021 to May 2023, told The Daily Beast. “I had at one point a monoculture of chicory. I was born and raised in Rome, and the one veggie I could never get my hands on in the past 20 years in the U.S. was chicory. I basically turned my garden bed into a gigantic madeleine de Proust.”
But earlier this year, the 44-year-old stay-at-home mom’s oasis was bulldozed to make way for the city’s divisive plan to replace the community garden with pickleball courts.
The pickleball takeover immediately sparked an outcry from Bonvicini and dozens of her neighbors. And over the last year, the group has been actively fighting the plan, which they say has negative environmental, legal, and noise implications for their beloved local park and the apartment complexes next door.
“I don’t have anything against pickleball,” Bonvicini said. “We’re all just having a hard time understanding how city officials thought this would be a good location. Beyond the moral implications of bulldozing a community garden, paving green hills, and cutting trees, who thought that pickleball courts next to residential communities and right across the street from the local school would work?”
Despite the controversy, the city’s plan to incorporate pickleball into the popular park is not completely unpredictable, given the national craze around the sport.
The sound is horrible. It’s like living in a gun range.
Developed in 1965 by three Washington fathers looking to amuse their bored children, pickleball is essentially a mash-up between tennis, ping-pong, and badminton. Played on a smaller tennis court, the objective is to put a plastic wiffle-like ball over the net with large ping-pong rackets.
Aventura residents, however, told The Daily Beast they were still surprised when the city unveiled its intentions several months ago to reconstruct Founders Park South to include pickleball courts. In the June 28 announcement, the city explained that the project would create three new tennis courts and five new courts for pickleball, which they call the “fastest growing sport in the country.”
The project also shifted the community garden space to a plot overlooking the intracoastal waterway and expanded it from “48 to 52 planters.” Residents say the plan also includes the installation of overhead lighting on the courts to ensure enthusiasts of the racket sport can play at night.
“The city is working with a landscape architect and has consulted a horticulturist to help us select vegetation that will attract butterflies,” the city said in the announcement. “The plans for our newly renovated park include an increased tree canopy, providing additional shade by utilizing nature.”
In April, the city commissioners voted unanimously to award the $1.3 million project contract to one of the highest-ranked bidders, and construction began last month with the demolition of the community garden. A March open letter seeking to “protect” the community garden detailed the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables growing in the space, including fennel, passion fruit, bok choy, dragon fruit, hot peppers, sweet potatoes, and even blueberries. The letter, which was signed by over 30 residents, also said the garden was home to butterfields, bees, and several different birds.
For Ariel Penzer, who lives in the apartment complex next to Founders Park, the problem with the city’s plan is more than just relocating a community garden.
She stressed that the project neglected to mention that it will remove almost three dozen 30-year-old trees to make way for courts. Not to mention the loud popping sound from pickleball that threatens to disrupt residents inside the nearby apartments.
“Anyone with any brains can tell you that trees take decades to mature—and these trees have been maturing for 30 years. There are impacts to replacing green space with pavement,” Penzer told The Daily Beast. “I am not a gardener, but nobody wants to garden near the sounds of pickleball. Double the normal decibel levels.”
“The sound is horrible. It’s like living in a gun range.”
So since last March, residents like Penzer have filed litigation, written open letters, staged protests, signed online petitions, spoken out in city hall meetings, and even launched an online campaign against the project.
On Thursday morning, over 20 protesters stood outside the Aventura Government Center with posters demanding city officials “keep their hands off” their park. It was the second protest the group, dubbed “Aventura Park Protectors,” has staged in the fight to save their green space.
“Save our park! Save our park!” one protester said through a small blue megaphone outside the government building before a commission hearing.
The city of Aventura did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on the plans or the complaints from community members. But Evan Ross, the city’s communications director, explained the rationale behind the plan to the Miami New Times last month.
“The demand for pickleball obviously is no secret. Lots of the condos in Aventura have been converting some of their tennis courts to pickleball courts,” Ross said. (In another interview, Ross admitted to the outlet that “there isn’t a perfect place to put everything” and that the city’s commission “made the decision that they believed was best for the entire community.”)
While Aventura Mayor Howard Weinberg declined to comment on the construction project, citing pending litigation, he did take the time to dispel “misleading information” about the plan, which he says was approved before he was elected in 2022.
“The gardens will be in the SAME park they have always been,” Weinberg said in messages to The Daily Beast. “They will actually be located in the nicest spot in the same park—along the waterfront!”
He stressed that he has long been an advocate for community gardens and has never heard of another elected official advocating to eliminate the program. Dispelling allegations that the city was not transparent in its plans, Weinberg noted the project has been discussed at “every Commission meeting since early 2022, and residents have expressed their opinion on the record at every meeting.”
“These decisions were made very publicly by the prior Commission. I sat in the audience and watched (as anyone could have done) as at the time I was neither the Mayor nor a Commissioner,” the mayor added. “The process was very transparent, as everything in Aventura is.”
The Aventura Marina Owners Association, however, does not seem to agree with the Mayor’s analysis of the project’s transparency and insists that the plan violates a decades-long deal.
After sending the city cease-and-desist letters in connection with the Founders Park project, the local property association escalated its litigation earlier this month when it filed a complaint and a motion for injunction with the Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The July 14 complaint alleges that construction violates a 1998 covenant that requires Aventura to ask for permission from surrounding properties, whose predecessors gave land to the city for the public park, before altering the use of the land beyond what was previously agreed.
“The fact that they are materially changing the land is troublesome,” JP Valdes, an AMO board spokesperson and Aventura resident, told The Daily Beast. “They didn’t ask for permission. They are moving into a space that is quiet and will not be any longer.”
“I haven’t seen any residents in favor of supporting the plan,” he added.
The potential loss of tranquility is also detailed in the complaint, which states that “the striking of a pickleball with a pickleball paddle produces a sound that uniquely impacts and disturbs human beings.” Penzer herself has also filed an injunction request to halt the construction of pickleball courts.
Valdes explained that, like his fellow neighbors, he is not against pickleball and tennis, or the concept of free courts for the community to enjoy. He is just worried about the “peace and quiet” and green spaces that are being altered for the sake of the sport.
“What we cannot afford is to have it next to our property and affect our living conditions. I work from home. The sound is really annoying,” he added.
Mayor Weinberg declined to comment on the pending litigation against the city of Aventura, but insisted that the decision for the courts was spurred by an “exploding demand” for pickleball and more tennis courts for youth tennis programs before his term. He added that he was not an elected official during conception, discussions, or approvals on the location of the court and its funding.
“The plan has always been to share the park, as it belongs to all of our residents,” the mayor said. “We are a city of only 3.28 square miles, and we need to meet the needs of everyone, not a select few.”
He noted the plan is also set to “have more trees, not less” in the park. (The city’s plan is set to add new trees to Founder’s Park, though they will not be mature like the removed trees, which included Florida-native Gumbo Limbo.)
And while the outcries continue against Weinberg and the city’s commissioners, the Mayor admitted that he may not even need the new courts after all.
“My condominium has wonderful tennis and pickleball courts on the third floor of our building. I personally have no need for public tennis or pickleball courts,” he said, adding that he also enjoys gardening. “I can play anytime I want, just an elevator ride away.”
None of the six Aventura City Commissioners responded to The Daily Beast’s request for comment, and it is not immediately clear who proposed the plan in the first place. The Daily Beast also could not find any residents who were in favor of the plan, though at least one praised the idea online.
“Looks great. Kudos to our commissioners… and our great city manager and staff,” one resident said on Facebook. “After attending the meeting, speaking in favor of the courts, I was shocked to find out the garden is a padlocked area for a few select residents VS. the tennis and pickleball for ALL residents. This is a joke. How do I get some private public land !?!?”
Meanwhile, for Tova Itzhak, the city’s choice to make her once-bountiful community park a demolition site is personal. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2017, the 73-year-old found solace in Founder’s Park—a place where she brought her grandchildren to grow tomatoes, carrots, and mint.
So while officials insist that the relocation of her garden is an upgrade, she is not convinced.
“They tell us from the city we will still have garden boxes and a path to do our walk, but who wants to have their peaceful walk or tend to their garden box when there is the constant loud noise from the pickleballs hitting the concrete ground,” Itzhak told The Daily Beast. “For me, this park was part of my healing, and I fear the future—where will I go if I have to start treatment again? Where do I go to breathe in fresh air and enjoy the green, quiet nature?”
And while Itzhak and several other residents are nervous about the future of Founders Park, others remain hopeful that they can save their park. A third protest is scheduled for September 5, and Penzer says they expect hundreds of community members to attend as their cause gains traction online.
“We plan to continue,” Penzer said. “[The Mayor] hears the end of us. The only way he will hear the end of us is if he becomes the hero and changes course. If he puts the community garden back to its original place and keeps the trees. He could be the real hero here.”
Of the 10,320 pickleball courts in the U.S. in April 2023, Florida had the second-highest number with 770 known locations, according to pickleheads.com, falling just short of California's 794. Texas is third but way behind both states, with 519.Where is pickleball most popular? ›
Table of number of pickleball courts per 100,000 people for the 94 largest U.S. cities in 2023. Seattle had the most with 20.5 courts per 100,000, followed by St. Petersburg, Fla. with 19.6 and Lincoln, Neb.What is pickleball and why is it so popular? ›
Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong using a paddle and plastic ball with holes. It is a game that is appropriate for players of all ages and skill levels. Rules for pickleball are simple, making it a great introductory sport.Why is pickleball gaining popularity? ›
Why is pickleball gaining popularity? Pickleball is gaining popularity because it's easy to play, low impact and appeals to a wide range of people, from kids to senior citizens. Most people who have played racquet sports, learn pickleball easily.What is the average age of a pickleball player? ›
The latest research reveals that the average age of avid pickleball players is 34.8. More than 70% of avid pickleball players are between the ages of 18 and 44; 40% are between 25 and 34; and 18% are between 18 and 24.Where is the pickle ball capital of the world? ›
Did you know that the world's largest pickleball venue has 60 permanent courts and is located in the top travel destination of Naples, Florida?What are pickleball players called? ›
To lose a game without scoring a single point, usually losing 11 to 0. Pickler. A pickleball player, particularly someone obsessed with the game.Is pickleball the fastest-growing sport in 2023? ›
This sustained growth prompted the Sports & Fitness Industry Association to name pickleball the fastest-growing sport in America for the third straight year in its 2023 Topline Participation Report.
|Annual Salary||Monthly Pay|
Falls: falling while playing Pickleball happens fairly often. The most common type of fall occurs when someone trips while back peddling to try to get an overhead ball.
You've heard of pickleball, but have you heard of padel? The latest tennis-adjacent sport is spreading quick and fans are already obsessed with it.What's the fastest growing sport in America? ›
Pickleball gaining popularity as the fastest-growing sport in America.What is the fastest growing sport in the US 2023? ›
(WFSB) - Pickleball is America's fastest-growing sport. Pickleball was invented in 1965 by 3 people vacationing near Seattle, Washington. Now in 2023, more than 36,000,000 Americans are playing it. “I love it for the exercise.Why do people like pickleball more than tennis? ›
“In pickleball, you're hitting a plastic wiffle-like ball, so it's less bouncy and doesn't fly as fast through the air. And the paddle is much easier to handle because it's shorter and lighter than a tennis racket.” You also serve underhand in pickleball, and underhand serves are easier to hit and return.What's the fastest growing sport in the world? ›
The fastest growing sport in the world comes to the Rio Grande Valley. McALLEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — One of the fastest-growing sports in the world is now developing in the Rio Grande Valley. Padel is a racket sport that combines elements of tennis and racquetball while incorporating rules and regulations of its own ...How many people play pickleball in Florida? ›
There are more than 10,000 pickleball players throughout Florida. Many cities are establishing public courts in local parks to keep up with demand.What state is pickleball popular? ›
Florida, known for its sun, beaches, and vibrant lifestyle, has embraced pickleball wholeheartedly. According to the World Sports Network, the Sunshine State experienced a jaw-dropping 236% increase in pickleball demand last year. This astounding figure makes Florida the leading state in pickleball enthusiasm.What percentage of the population plays pickleball? ›
The Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) has unveiled updated pickleball participation research which reveals that 48.3 million adult Americans – nearly 19% of the total adult population – have played pickleball at least once in the past 12 months.Is pickleball the fastest growing sport in the United States? ›
A 2022 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association called it the fastest growing sport in America, with 4.8 million players nationwide (a near 40 percent increase from 2020). There are now an estimated 35,000 courts in the U.S., more than double the number from five years ago.