With a 2008 population of 89,500, Hesperia is one of the fastest growing cities in Southern California's Inland Empire North. To celebrate its 20th anniversary this summer, the community gathered in its new focal point for civic and recreational activities: Civic Plaza Park, the most recently completed element of Hesperia's master plan to revitalize its downtown. A gathering place for the community, the new plaza is the heart of the city's activities.

Southern California's Inland Empire, which includes the High Desert areas of San Bernardino County, is home to some of the largest distribution centers in the world, serving the combined ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation's largest harbor complex. New and revitalizing developments have grown along Interstate Highways 15 and 395, the region's major transportation arteries. Hesperia is one of those developments, and when it incorporated in 1988, it faced a challenge of creating a unified sense of community for its residents, who are spread over 75 square miles.

A few years ago, Hesperia's administration began to outgrow its second city hall building, and, at the same time, it received a state grant to build a library. City leaders found the prime location for both buildings on 32 vacant acres at the geographic center of town. Working with a design and architecture team, Hesperia, its Community Redevelopment Agency and the Hesperia Parks and Recreation District mapped out a plan to use the land as a centerpiece for the city. Four new buildings would ultimately occupy the space: the new city hall and library, as well as a San Bernardino County High Desert Government building and a new Hesperia Police headquarters. With a few additional parcels held in reserve for possible retail and restaurants, the rest of the land would be transformed into a park.

Hesperia opened Civic Plaza Park in June 2008 with the city's 20th anniversary celebration. Designed to create areas for all kinds of activities, the park includes several semi-circular features: an amphitheatre at the south end that can accommodate 800 people on permanent seating and surrounding grass; an open area at the north end that is adjacent to a new affordable apartment development for senior citizens; and a large semi-circular courtyard next to city hall. A central water fountain, shaped like the letter H, features a large rotating etched-granite globe coated in water, with a star emblazoned on it to show Hesperia's location. Bicycle paths connect the park to nearby schools, and walking trails connect to the senior apartment complex, as well as retail and office areas to the south.

On hot afternoons, children splash in the fountain, climb on the jungle gym and play on the grass. Their parents can rest in the shade of four large arbors with misters, an oasis on hot summer days. With sustainability in mind for the future, the park includes landscaping with desert-adapted trees and plants, and it is dual-plumbed with purple pipe that will carry treated wastewater for irrigation once a planned sub-regional wastewater treatment facility is built.

The park has become a social magnet for Hesperia residents, who enjoy picnics, outdoor movies and concerts there. Year-round events include farmers' markets, car shows and public safety fairs. And, every day, nearby residents and county and city employees can be seen exercising in the park. Construction will begin on the county office building and police headquarters next year. With the addition of retail and restaurants added to the mix in 2010, Hesperia will have a good reason to celebrate its 22nd anniversary with the completion of the final phase of the Civic Plaza.

Steven Lantsberger is Hesperia's economic development director.