There is a symbiotic relationship between parks and population density. For those living in compact housing around a park’s borders, there is respite, a place to recreate, a back yard where little private outdoor space exists and an amenity that increases property values. For the park, there’s the “eyes” that make it safer, more property taxes to keep it maintained, nearby users to keep it vibrant and able to maximize its value as a public amenity.
While many parks are historically located in dense urban surroundings, the relationship of compactness and greenspace has not been an area of much attention in urban planning circles.
That may be changing to some extent. In Minneapolis, the city appears to be close to rezoning land along the Midtown Greenway, a 5-mile crosstown trail and linear park that links the city’s lakes to the Mississippi River. If passed in its proposed form, according to the Star Tribune:
Population density likely would increase along the popular Midtown Greenway…… One major reason for installing recreational paths was to spur redevelopment in blighted areas along the corridor. The proposal would raise residential zoning for some parcels, while rezoning some industrial parcels to residential.
Mostly located inside a former railroad trench, the bike and hike trail is largely undisturbed by cross streets, making it the fastest way to get across town and a popular place for recreation. (The Midtown Greenway Coalition is also helping build pocket parks with public performance spaces and gardens along the route.)
The Star Tribune also reports that a group of concerned citizens would like “additional protections, expressing concern that shade from taller housing developments and added advertising from commercial development could hurt recreational use of paths.”
These are legitimate concerns, and hopefully they can be dealt with in a way that ensures that density can be increased. As David Owen has pointed out in his book Green Metropolis, compact cities are the most carbon friendly. Concentrating more development along the greenway would: help the region decrease its reliance on the automobile, increase safety and usership of the trail and increase property tax revenue to the city. The key is balancing the concerns of residents.
If it does so, the city would be setting a great example of the kind of density-trails, yin and yang relationship (we’ve mentioned before) that has its roots in this country’s early urban green spaces.