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Grapeland Water Park and Mary Bartelme Park Selected as July’s “Frontline Parks”

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes two “Frontline Parks” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country.  The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.

July’s Frontline Parks are known for keeping patrons cool and for their unique water conservation technology.

Grapeland Water Park

Grapeland Water Park is the first public water destination attraction within the City of Miami.  With four pools that include slide play structures, a lazy river and recreation pool, the facility has brought splashy fun to the backyard of a community.  The bright and colorful environment was designed by acclaimed international artist Romero Britto.  A popular destination for families and groups, the park is located adjacent to an exit off a major highway in Miami, making it accessible for those who live in the neighborhood and surrounding counties.  During the summer, it’s common for the park to hit peak capacity several times a day.  The combination of innovative water conservation technology, creative design and fitness/recreation programs for people of all ages and abilities make Grapeland a wonderful warm weather neighborhood attraction.  Site furnishings in Grapeland Water Park were manufactured by DuMor, Inc.

Mary Bartelme Park

Occupying the site of a former infirmary, Mary Bartelme Park combines a sense of history with modern, innovative design elements.  This uniquely designed green space in the West Loop serves a community that has experienced tremendous growth over the last 10 years.  The Chicago Park District worked with the local elected officials, community members and nonprofit organizations to create a park that specifically caters to the neighborhood.  The size and amenities in this park give it the feel of a local space, but the unique design and location make it an appealing regional destination.  Innovation abounds in this park, from using pieces of the original infirmary building in seat walls to capturing and storing all storm water with permeable paver paths.  But one of the most popular features manages to conserve water and keep park patrons comfortable at the same time.  Using only three gallons a minute, each of the five stainless steel fountain gates emit a fine mist of vaporized water on hot Chicago days, cooling off families while immersing the area in a cloud.

Frontline Parks is generously supported by DuMor, Inc.  and  PlayCore.

Creating and Financing Infill Parks in the Bay Area: Part I

San Francisco was just crowned the greenest city in the U.S. and Canada by one large study, a nod to its policies that require recycling, ban plastic shopping bags, and provide incentives for solar roofs.

But the Bay Area is also thinking of sustainability in terms of smarter growth throughout the region as a whole. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has identified Priority Development Areas to encourage infill development, combining housing, amenities, and transit in a walkable environment.

These increasingly dense areas will need carefully planned parks. Some jurisdictions have done little more than hope for additional green space, while others have worked diligently but unsuccessfully to acquire parkland. Still others have succeeded in creating new parks but now have difficulty funding their maintenance.

To provide some guidance, The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence performed a study for ABAG, one component of which was identifying examples of how recently-completed infill parks were financed. We will be publishing each of the four case studies over the next several weeks. First up is Doyle Hollis Park in Emeryville.

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Tiny Emeryville, squeezed between Oakland, Berkeley and the Bay Bridge, has 10,000 residents and 20,000 daytime workers on only 1.2 square miles of land. For most of the 20th century it was an industrial center, famous for meatpacking plants and a Sherwin-Williams paint factory. It has since evolved into a hub for biotech and software companies, including Pixar Animation Studios, as well as a major shopping destination.

Emeryville has a dearth of parkland, particularly parkland away from San Francisco Bay, east of Interstate 80, since that highway is a significant physical and psychological barrier to the enjoyment of green space along the waterfront. The city also has a demand for auto parking because of the daily commuter influx. Doyle Hollis Park grew out of the competition between these two forces.

The park site was slated to become a parking structure. Credit: MIG, Inc. Courtesy Emeryville Planning and Building Department.

In 1999, when the city’s planning department began to develop the North Hollis Area Plan, situated in the transition zone from commercial to residential, it focused upon a warehouse in the block bounded by Doyle and Hollis Streets. In 2002, the warehouse site was slotted for a parking structure and steps were taken to relocate the tenant and arrange acquisition.

During this time, citizen opposition to the idea of a parking structure in the geographic heart of the North Hollis Area grew. The proposed six-story, 700-vehicle building abutted a low-density neighborhood and stood across from a middle school that lacked playing fields. It would have also shaded the new Emeryville Greenway and a pocket park.

“We first considered putting the garage beneath the park,” said Planner Diana Keena, “but the site is so narrow that just the entryway would have consumed a third of the space.” The city also considered building a smaller structure or allowing diagonal street parking around the perimeter of the park, but those, too, would have swallowed most of the park.

Neighbors, who had coalesced a few years earlier to redesign the greenway as a park rather than as a tree-lined auto-oriented street, arose again, voicing opposition to the parking structure, lobbying individual councilmembers, and gaining the support of the school board. “With persistence and a lot of hard work, we eventually convinced the City Council that a park — not a parking structure — was the right thing for the neighborhood,” recalls Jim Martin, one of the original leaders of Doyle Street Neighbors. The group ultimately convinced the City Council to rezone the block to open space.

Kids Playing at Doyle Hollis Park

Kids playing at Doyle Hollis Park. Credit: MIG, Inc. Courtesy Emeryville Planning and Building Department.

From then on, things moved relatively quickly. In 2005 the site, which had already been on the city’s acquisition list, was bought by the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency for $5.1 million, using capital improvement funds from a combination of tax revenue and bond proceeds. That same year, Economic Development Coordinator Ignacio Dayrit, now with the non-profit, San Francisco-based Center for Creative Land Recycling, secured a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) brownfield assessment grant for Emeryville, $75,000 of which was applied to the Hollis Doyle parcel. (The site was found to have some petroleum contamination.) Also in 2005, Gates Associates was hired to do planning and community workshops for the park. Later, a $200,000 brownfield cleanup grant was used for site remediation, along with a $500,000 loan from the EPA’s Brownfield Revolving Fund, which was matched with $100,000 from the redevelopment agency. (The loan has since been repaid by the city.)

Design, construction, and remediation added up to $5.25 million, some of which was paid for through the city’s community development block grant program ($109,557), the California workforce housing benefits program ($37,000), and the StopWaste.org Bay-Friendly Landscaping program ($25,000). All told, $10.35 million was spent on the park. Day-to-day park maintenance is handled by the Emeryville Department of Public Works and costs approximately $53,000 a year.

Basketball court at Doyle Hollis Park, with fountain in foreground. Credit: MIG, Inc. Courtesy Emeryville Planning and Building Department.

Opened in 2009 after a year of construction, the 1.25-acre park includes a children’s play area, restrooms, a recreation lawn, a basketball court, a rain garden that processes 85 percent of stormwater runoff on-site, and a striking public art fountain designed by artist Masayuki Nagase. It opened “to great fanfare,” according to City Manager Pat O’Keefe, and Diana Keena remembers that eager children crawled under the construction fencing to play on the climbing structures before it was dedicated.  Since then, park use has exceeded all expectations. “During lunchtime on a sunny day the place is packed with workers, kids, and food vendors,” notes Jim Martin.

As for the existing parking concerns, the city is attempting to address them through transit improvements, including the free Emery-Go-Round shuttle that links downtown to the MacArthur BART station one mile away, partnering with developers in providing public parking components to private parking structures, and prodding employers to offer their workers free transit passes. Finally, Emeryville plans to install meters for all street parking to nudge more drivers into existing garages that traditionally have been underused. The efforts are already successful – recent statistics show that the single-occupancy-vehicle commuting rate of employees to Emeryville is only 36 percent, well below the East Bay average.

Time for City Parks to Pull Their Weight

From Fitness Zones to the Medical Mile: How Urban Park Systems Can Best Promote Health and Wellness.

We’ve written before about the need for urban parks to do more for public health. A new report by the Center for City Park Excellence, From Fitness Zones to the Medical Mile: How Urban Park Systems Can Best Promote Health and Wellness, looks at how individual parks and entire city park systems help people be healthier and more fit.  The report details more than 75 innovative features and programs, including 14 case studies, that maximize a park’s ability to promote physical activity and improve mental health.

Today’s post, a reprint of an op-ed that appeared in yesterday’s The Philadelphia Daily News, serves as an overview of that report.  We will highlight specific best practices in a series of future posts.

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When it comes to health and fitness, the U.S. is in crisis.

Forty-nine percent of Americans get less than the minimum recommended amount of physical activity, and 36 percent of U.S. adults engage in no leisure-time physical activity at all. These people are not all obese, of course, but lack of exercise is certainly a risk factor for being overweight, and we are the most overweight nation on earth. On average, an obese American racks up nearly $1,500 more a year in health-care costs than one of normal weight, for a national total of $147 billion in direct medical expenses.

It’s well-established that physical activity helps prevent obesity and related medical problems. And there’s mounting evidence that providing places for urbanites to exercise (parks, primarily) can improve health.

But the mere presence of a park doesn’t guarantee a healthier population. Thousands of acres of city parks are not, for one reason or another, serving the purpose of helping people become healthier. With a growing clamor from doctors, parents, overweight people and even those who just want to strengthen muscles, lungs, and hearts, it’s time for parks to be more than just pretty places. Individual parks, and entire city park systems, should be designed and programmed to help people be more fit.

The overriding principle for a park system to foster mental and physical well-being is that it must be well-used by the public. But many parks don’t make it easy to exercise. Some are too small, some too big and confusing, some too far away, some too frightening, or too unattractive and unimaginative. Some are mainly athletic complexes for special users – baseball, soccer or tennis players as far as the eye can see. Others are primarily natural areas with occasional trails, too boring for many competitive people.

In the starkest terms, most parks simply don’t offer enough choices for activity. The more facilities and spaces layered onto a park, the more use it can get from people with different interests and skills. A golf course can serve a couple of hundred people a day; add a running track around it and it can serve thousands. (The one encircling Memorial Park Golf Course in Houston hosts 10,000 runners a day and is said to be the most heavily used exercise trail in the country.)

A playground is a nice spot for kids to practice motor skills, but adding a fitness zone of adult exercise equipment lets grown-ups get into shape while watching the kids. A softball field is a great place for 18 players, while unstructured space nearby means twosomes and threesomes can kick a ball, toss a Frisbee, play catch, throw sticks to a dog, and much more. Forests are wonderful sanctuaries for wildlife and the occasional intrepid bushwhacker; woods with manicured trails, an occasional bench and grassy openings can attract many more users.

Even if parks didn’t provide all the urban benefits they are known for – improving the environment, attracting tourists, building community, enhancing property values – they’d still be critically important because of their potential contribution to public health and wellness. But platitudes about healthy parks aren’t enough. If park agencies are to truly justify all the land and tax money they use, they must actually serve their health functions as powerfully as do doctors, hospitals and health agencies.

In the mid-19th century, Frederick Law Olmsted and others called for the creation of parks as refuges from the unhealthful air and stresses of urban life. Today’s urban air quality may be improved, but Americans have found other ways to put their bodies and spirits in jeopardy. Parks continue to be among the best places to offer solace and solutions to public-health problems.

Smoking Bans in Public Parks

New York City's no smoking sign. Credit: Susan Sermoneta (Flickr Feed).

In early February, the New York City Council (36-12) approved, and Mayor Bloomberg signed, a ban on smoking in the city’s parks, beaches, pedestrian malls and plazas. Effective as of May 23rd, the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation can now impose $50 fines on rule breakers. Given what we know about the health value of parks, addressing the issue of smoking bans in parks is salient. What restrictions may a city or municipality place on park users in order to achieve some health or environmental value?

As residents of New York know, administrative code already bans smoking in bars, the subway, retail stores, and several other indoor and outdoor locations. But the most recent amendment, as codified in New York City Administrative Code § 17-503(c)(3), expands the scope of the ban to “any park or other property under the jurisdiction of the department of parks and recreation.” Exceptions to this ban extend to sidewalks immediately adjoining parks and public places, pedestrian routes through any park strip, median or mall adjacent to traffic, parking lots, and theatrical productions.

Two common lines of reasoning characterize the smoking ban debate. Arguments against bans on smoking in public parks often reference the overreach of government into the lives of private citizens, whereby the governmental entity unreasonably infringes upon an individual’s right to undertake a particular behavior. Arguments for bans invoke the government’s role to promote public goods, such as health, and to ensure non-smokers are free of a harmful nuisance. The following overview addresses the legal and policy issues implicating both sides of the argument.

Examples of Outdoor Bans

The New York ordinance is not new; towns and cities across the country have enacted outdoor smoking bans. There are 1,313 states, commonwealths, territories, cities, and counties with a law that restricts smoking in public outdoor places such as parks and beaches.[1] Levels of stringency vary from town to town, but the rationale underlying the bans are generally the same – there are environmental and health issues so important as to justify prohibiting individuals from lighting up in a public outdoor area.

Santa Monica, California no smoking sign. Credit: Flickr Feed.

An ordinance in Bellaire, Texas, a suburb of Houston, forbids smoking within the city’s public parks, in part to prevent children from exposure to smoke.[2] The ban, however, does not prohibit smoking on the public streets or sidewalks.[3] Santa Monica, California, passed an ordinance restricting smoking on its public beaches to address the environmental issue of cigarette butts littering the beaches and water.[4] In fact, the ordinance comprehensively prohibits smoking in a variety of outdoor places: public parks, public beaches, anywhere on city pier except in designated areas, outdoor service areas, or within two feet of any entrance, exit or window of a public building.[5] Both cities may impose fines on violators of the ban.

In 2006, the city of Calabasas, a small community northwest of Los Angeles, enacted one of the toughest anti-smoking ordinances in the nation.[6] It characterized its anti-smoking efforts as an attempt to limit exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS), as opposed to an outright ban on the act of smoking itself. The ordinance prohibits smoking in all public places where an individual may be exposed to secondhand smoke, including parks, sidewalks, outdoor cafés, bus stops, and athletic fields.[7] Fines for violation are imposed up to $500 with a misdemeanor criminal classification.

The New York ordinance allows for some smoking outlets if you are at a public park. Like Bellaire park users, visitors to New York parks are still able to light up on sidewalks bordering the outside of the park.

A Right to Smoke?

A man smoking in a Chicago plaza. Credit: Mary Anne Enriquez (Flickr Feed).

A ban on smoking in a public park raises an interesting question: are there particular rights that ensure that adults may freely undertake a legal act using a legal substance or item in a taxpayer-funded public space that may have a marginal detrimental health impact on other people using that space? Think of drinking a bottle of wine with your special lady friend as you lounge about on a picnic blanket (or grasping onto a flask of whiskey for dear life as you curl up underneath a bench to shield yourself from the brutal chill of a relentless winter wind). What about lighting fireworks? Yelling into an oversized bullhorn to warn of an impending apocalypse? Swinging a metal bat to smash a tightly wound baseball?

A court will invalidate law that, either on its face or in its application, violates a constitutional right. The Constitution does not explicitly reference a right to smoke, so any claim to a right to smoke will fall under the auspices of another constitutional right.[8] Here are just a few examples of avenues that right to smoke advocates have pursued to challenge smoking bans.[9]

Fourteenth Amendment. The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees that a state government will not treat similar groups of people differently without good reason. However, there are classes of people based on race, alienage, national origin and gender that receive greater protection against discriminatory government acts than do other classes – say, women under 5’2” or bald men. Courts review a law that applies to a protected class under a strict or intermediate level of scrutiny. Strict scrutiny requires a state or local law to be necessary to achieve a compelling government interest.

The Supreme Court has rejected the notion that a classification is suspect when the scope of the class is based on voluntary action.[10] Since smoking is a discretionary act, it does not merit greater scrutiny for equal protection purposes. A smoking ban will be constitutionally valid if there is a reasonably conceivable set of facts that provides a rational basis for the classification, such as the promotion of public health.[11]

First Amendment. Conduct alone, such as smoking, is not generally considered speech and thus not afforded First Amendment protections. Smoking bans not targeted at suppressing speech content, and not favoring a particular group, are deemed “content-neutral.”[12] For content-neutral regulations to be valid, they need only be substantially related to an important governmental interest. For example, the federal court in NYC C.L.A.S.H., Inc. v. City of New York upheld the smoking ban in restaurants and bars, finding that smoking in such venues is not a sufficiently expressive conduct to merit First Amendment protection and that the ban was a valid, content-neutral regulation with an important health interest.[13]

In the 2005 case, Roark & Hardee LP v. City of Austin, a federal district court held that an Austin ordinance prohibiting smoking in enclosed public places did not violate bar owners’ First Amendment right to be free from compelled speech.[14] The city “compelled” bar owners to take “necessary steps” to stop patrons from smoking in order to protect the city’s population from the effects of SHS. Since the ordinance regulated conduct and not actual speech, and the owners were free to express views on the ordinance, the city was within its bounds to regulate smoking.

As long as a smoking ban is rationally related to a legitimate government goal, the Constitution will not stand in the way of its passage.[15] Smoking bans have been uniformly upheld against a variety of challenges to their validity.[16] Courts embrace such legislation because of the time-honored acknowledgement that protecting the public’s health is one of the most essential functions of government.[17]

Legislative Rationale

When smoking bans are challenged on constitutional grounds, legislators must justify the ban by demonstrating a legitimate government interest. A frequent argument is that public health concerns justify infringements on smoking.[18] But the effect of public outdoor exposure to SHS is not conclusive. On the one hand, proximity to smoking, even outdoors, may lead to SHS exposure. A recent Stanford University study indicates that tobacco smoke within three feet of a smoker outside is comparable to inside levels. But, as Michael Siegel stated in a New York Times Op-Ed, there is no evidence demonstrating outdoor exposure causes substantial health damage.

Legislators may also cite “annoyance costs” related to smoking, such as cost of cleaning up cigarette butts.[19] Right to clean air advocates often compare smoking to nuisances regulated by the state, such as noisome factories.[20] There is also an argument for treating smoking like sex—as a legal activity relegated to the private sphere.

Public Support

Attitudes towards smoking bans vary depending on locale. Since 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics has conducted a nationwide survey asking participants if and where in outdoor parks smoking should be allowed.[21] The latest results, from a 2008 survey of nearly 1,500 people, showed that roughly 20 percent of respondents thought smoking should be banned outright in parks, 39 percent thought it should be permitted, and 42 thought it should be banned in some areas of parks. This differs slightly from the 2000 survey, in which support for some form of restriction was roughly 60 percent (although, at that time, 40 percent supported an outright ban). The same survey also addressed support of smoking bans in Mississippi. It indicated that over 50 percent of Mississippians do not believe smoking should be banned in parks.

Attitudes do differ. A 2006 survey showed that 70 percent of over 1,500 randomly selected Minnesota respondents favored tobacco-free park policies in parks.[22] Supporting rationale for such policies included reducing litter (71%) and reducing youth opportunities to smoke (65%). Prior to the New York’s outdoor ban, the Coalition for a Smoke-Free City commissioned a 2009 Zogby poll that surveyed 1,002 residents and showed that 65 percent supported a smoking ban in parks and beaches.

Smoking and Public Parks

A woman smokes in a park. Credit: Ripton Scott (Flickr Feed).

Cities and municipalities must weigh the benefits of placing restrictions on potentially harmful behavior to help cultivate healthy outdoor environments against the rights of residents in a public venue. For example, part of the context for the New York park smoking ban was a 2009 New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene study showing that a greater proportion of New York adults, despite lower levels of smoking, are exposed to secondhand smoke than are adults nationally.[23] While there are rights issues involved with smoking bans, such restrictions generally fall within the ambit of legitimate governmental action. And, ideally, enactments to restrict smoking in a park will be borne out of people’s support for the restriction in a publicly funded venue.

The question then is whether the government action achieves its objective. If New York is attempting to improve air quality for park users, pushing smokers to the sidewalks outside parks may not accomplish that goal. It seems that where a park is quite small, such an outlet renders the ban moot because smoke can still get up into park users’ faces. And whether a park is large or small, or one smokes inside or outside the bounds of the park, the impact on the overall ambient air quality of the park would presumably be the same. However, as we learn more about the impact of secondhand smoke on individuals in an outdoor area, it may be the case that the ban, in its current state, is justified.


[1] See Am. Nonsmokers’ Rights Found., Overview List – How Many Smokefree Laws? (2011), available at http://www.no-smoke.org/pdf/mediaordlist.pdf.

[2] See Michele L. Tyler, Note, Blowing Smoke: Do Smokers Have a Right? Limiting the Privacy Rights of Cigarette Smokers, 86 Geo. L.J. 783, 805-06 (1998).

[3] Bellair Mun. Code § 22-28(a)(b) (2010).  

[4] George P. Smith, II, Cigarette Smoking as a Public Health Hazard: Crafting Common Law and Legislative Strategies for Abatement, 11 Mich. St. J. Med. & Law 251, 268 (2007).

[5] Santa Monica Mun. Code § 4.44.020 (2006).

[6] Jordan Raphael, The Calabasas Smoking Ban: Local Ordinance Points the Way for the Future of Environmental Tobacco Smoke Regulation, 10 Minn. J.L. Sci. & Tech. 413, 417 (2007).

[7] Calabasas Mun. Code §§ 8.12.030–.040 (2006), available at http://www.bpcnet. com/codes/calabasas.  

[8] See Samantha K. Graff, Tobacco Control Legal Consortium, There is No Constitutional Right to Smoke: 2008 (2008). Courts have explicitly refused to recognize a fundamental right to smoke. See, e.g., Coal. for Equal Rights, Inc. v. Owens, 458 F. Supp. 2d 1251, 1263 (D. Colo. 2006) (holding that there is no fundamental right for bar owners to allow smoking in their establishments); Fagan v. Axelrod, 550 N.Y.S.2d 552, 559 (Sup. Ct. 1990) (“There is no more a fundamental right to smoke cigarettes than there is to shoot-up or snort heroin or cocaine or run a red-light.”); Craig v. Buncombe County Bd. of Educ., 343 S.E.2d 222, 223 (N.C. Ct. App. 1986) (“The right to smoke in public places is not a protected right …”).  

[9] There are several other avenues not addressed here (e.g., procedural due process, freedom of association).

[10] NYC C.L.A.S.H., Inc. v. City of New York, 315 F. Supp. 2d 461, 482 (S.D.N.Y. 2004).

[11] Id. at 481. Thus, people are subjected to a variety of restraints “in order to secure the general comfort, health, and prosperity of the state.”

[12] NYC C.L.A.S.H., Inc. v. City of New York, 315 F. Supp. 2d 461, 479 (S.D.N.Y. 2004).

[13] Id. at 480.

[14] Roark & Hardee LP v. City of Austin, 394 F. Supp. 2d 911, 918 (W.D. Tex. 2005) (“[I]t is clear that there is no constitutional right to smoke in a public place.”).

[15] Graff, supra note 10, at 5.

[16] See, e.g., City of Tucson v. Grezaffi, 23 P.3d 675 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2001) (Fifth Amendment taking, prohibition on special legislation, freedom of association, equal protection, government’s ability to regulate health matters); Lexington Fayette County Food & Beverage Ass’n v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Gov’t, 131 S.W.3d 745 (Ky. 2004) (impermissible government interference with business, vagueness).

[17] See Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 25 (1905) (“According to settled principles, the police power of a state must be held to embrace, at least, such reasonable regulations established directly by legislative enactment as will protect the public health and the public safety.”).

[18] Tyler, supra note 2, at 806-07.

[19] Id.

[20] Id. For a more in-depth analysis of nuisance and smoking, see Smith, supra note 4, at 268-73.

[21] Am. Acad. of Pediatrics, 2008 National Social Climate Survey of Tobacco Control, available at http://socialclimate.childhealthdata.org/DataQuery/SurveyAreas.aspx.

[22] Elizabeth G. Klein et al., Minnesota Tobacco-Free Park Policies: Attitudes of the General Public and Park Officials, 9 Nicotine & Tobacco Research S49 (2007). Current policies banning or limiting tobacco use on park and recreation grounds exist in at least 70 communities around Minnesota.

[23] The higher prevalence of secondhand smoke exposure across racial and socioeconomic strata in New York compared to the national level suggested that exposure in dense, urban settings may be elevated.

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