They could have had a swimming pool. They could have received swing sets and soccer fields.

But when the city took the time to ask residents of Roseland what kind of park they really wanted, they got a surprising answer – vegetable gardens.

The folks in this underserved section of the city, many of whom live in apartments or homes with small yards, wanted more than anything else space to tend their own gardens.

"We're in a recession and people want to grow their own food," said Magdalena Ridley, outreach coordinator for LandPaths, non-profit agency she said aims to "foster a love of the land."

That's the vision behind the master plan for the six-acre Bayer Neighborhood Park & Gardens project on West Avenue, which won high praise from the Santa Rosa City Council Tuesday.

"It's a very good example of community involvement and doing something good for a neighborhood," Mayor Ernesto Olivares said.

The need for more parks in the city's southwest has been painfully evident for years. The area has just 2.15 acres of parks per thousand residents, less than half the city average of 4.4 acres per thousand residents.

"The southwest area is basically under-parked in relation to the rest of the city," Marc Richardson, director of Recreation, Parks & Community Services told the council.

There are several park projects planned to remedy that imbalance. But Bayer is unique for the degree of public input that went into the plan.

Area residents got involved with the property almost immediately after the city acquired it in 2007. The city joined with LandPaths, which organized programs to teach people about gardening and now runs the community gardens.

This early involvement of residents — who earn family plots by volunteering — built strong ties with the neighborhood and got them engaged in the planning process. That, in turn, helped the city win significant grant money for the project, Richardson said.

The project has received $11.5 million in grants and other funding for acquisition and construction, which is expected to begin in 2012. An additional $2 million nature education grant is pending.

The master plan includes a long list of amenities, including a greenhouse, farm stand, livestock barn, amphitheater, picnic area, multi-use turf area and a community center. The farmhouse on the property will be demolished.

The goal of this "urban farm" and neighborhood park is not just to help people eat healthier food. It's to nurture a sense of community, Ridley said.

"It's beyond just gardening," Ridley said. "It's creating a real positive context to interact with other community members."