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Pennsylvania Steps Up for Urban Parks

While Pennsylvania’s hills and valleys are renowned for its forests and farms, its natural assets and beauties, and its rural character and charms, 84 percent of its citizens live in urban areas: the Commonwealth has 53 cities and 30 boroughs with populations greater than 10,000.

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Emerald View Park (Photo credit: Brian Cohen)

Today’s workers have many choices about where they live, and they are actively choosing to settle in vibrant urban centers that support their needs. Many in the creative industries, knowledge workers, young people, families and retirees are all choosing urban areas that offer a strong economic base and amenities that add to their quality of life. It is increasingly clear that livable communities that can attract and retain highly skilled workers will be winners in the global economy.

One of the most important features of an attractive, vibrant urban area is an engaging park system. Supporting the economy, public health, environment, workforce development, and education, park and recreation services are also one of the most important factors contributing to the satisfaction and happiness of citizens in their communities—second only to faith-based institutions.  Continue reading

A Different Kind of Tragedy of the Commons (Part 2)

“The question is: How do you improve access to parks and open space but not trigger this shift in property values and land uses that completely transform a community?”

Jennifer Wolch, Dean of the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley

My last blog post included a look at Chicago’s new 606 trail and related discussions about gentrification and how the project will impact the neighborhoods it passes through. Beth White, Chicago Director for The Trust for Public Land, a sponsor of the project, says that the overall goal is “to give everyone a walk in the park and connect people to nature, each other, public transit, and bike trails.” She notes that the Bloomingdale Trail will reunite four ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods and that their 80,000 residents, nearly a third of them children, have been separated by the railway since it was built in 1910.

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A Different Kind of Tragedy of the Commons?

606lineThe new 606 is open in Chicago – a mix of 2.7 miles of elevated trail with four ground-level parks along the route. Amidst the excitement of this new linear park, which will bridge four neighborhoods historically underserved by parks, is the familiar cautionary tale about its potential gentrifying impact. Like New York’s High Line, the badly needed park amenity is being viewed partly in light of its negative effects on the neighborhood it was designed to serve. (The New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl said about the High Line, “As a catalyst of neighborhood change, the High Line has been to usual gentrification what a bomb is to bottle rockets.”)

But the issue of the impact of a new park on property values – and the resulting displacement of longtime residents by the rising cost of housing – is worth a thoughtful analysis. Are we blaming parks for increasing property values, or might that be better explained as the result of the state of the housing market and public policy?  Continue reading

City Park Spending, Playgrounds, and Dog Parks are on the Rise

Off-leash dog parks lead the pack in new urban parks, growing 20% over the past five years and 6% in 2014, according to The Trust for Public Land’s most recent data on city park systems across the country.

The 2015 City Parks Facts report is the nation’s most complete compilation of data about parks in the nation’s largest 100 cities. The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit that works to create parks and protect open space, releases the report annually through its Center for City Park Excellence.  Continue reading

Investing in New Park Leaders

Each month, City Parks Alliance names one “Frontline Park” as a standout example of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship from across the country. The program identifies city parks that find innovative ways to meet the unique challenges faced as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures and urban neighborhood decay. In recognition of its partnerships and community capacity building, Max Brandon Park has been named a Frontline Park.

As the city of Flint declined in the 1980s, the 1,800 acres of parkland owned by the city also fell into disrepair. Max Brandon Park is situated between several extremely economically distressed neighborhoods with a large percentage of residents under the age of 18, but because of the severe lack of resources, there was almost no programming in the park, and no neighborhood community group to take on the challenge of stewardship. Trails and playground equipment went unmaintained, and vegetation grew out of control.

Continue reading


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