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Breakthrough Public Private Partnerships: The Work of New Yorkers for Parks (Part 2)

This post continues from last week on the work of New Yorkers for Parks and public private partnerships, gathered through an interview with outgoing Executive Director Holly Leicht.

 In 2012, NY4P undertook a detailed analysis of the growing number of private park conservancies in New York City, closely scrutinizing the 25 legal agreements between conservancies and the Parks Department.  The result was a set of recommendations to encourage greater consistency, transparency and accountability in public private partnerships.  The report found that partnerships are indeed augmenting the public budget, but that the city needs to do a better job of tracking funds and should require more consistent financial reporting that is made public on the Parks Department’s website.

“There’s no question that these organizations are value added to the parks they’re working in,” Holly told me, “but we also found that there was value added to the whole system since other parks benefit from freed-up public money, but the Parks Department does not quantify this dollar value.  It’s evident private money is making Central Park work, for example, but we have no real data to prove the benefit at the neighborhood park level.” Continue reading

Forging New Partnerships in Birmingham

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” 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.

aerialphotographRMPBirmingham, AL
Like many industrial legacy cities across the United States, Birmingham is undergoing a transition.  Formerly the “industrial capital of the South,” the city is moving away from steel production to a more knowledge-based economy, including banking and medical research.  Fifteen minutes from downtown, the iron ore-rich mountain that so many companies depended on for raw materials has been undergoing a transition of its own, thanks to a dedicated group of citizens and community leaders in Birmingham who came together to create Red Mountain Park.

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Mexico City Parks Revival: Partnerships in Action, Part II

DTMC1
Downtown Mexico City, with one of the world’s largest collections of seventeenth to nineteenth-century architecture, is working hard to reconnect its buildings and parks with pedestrians.  When our group of City Parks Alliance board members traveled to the city in October, we headed downtown after our visit to Chapultepec Park and passed through much construction – the narrowing of streets, the widening of sidewalks, and the remaking of downtown parks such as the Alameda Central.  We also had the chance to climb to the top of city hall to see its rooftop garden, and then gazed down on the main plaza in the historic center of the city, the Zόcola, a gathering place for Mexicans since the Aztec era and filled that day with a giant book fair.

In the Alameda, made iconic in the Diego Rivera mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda,” concrete sidewalks have been replaced by marble, and tarp-covered vendor stands were kicked out – a renovation that cost about $18 million.  The newly opened park, anchored by the Palacio de Bellas Artes, is green, walkable, and a respite in the midst of a bustling city.

But the most impressive re-creation we saw was the Parque Bicentenario.  With over 50 acres, the park is ten times as large as the Zόcola and sits on a former refinery site.  It was named Parque Bicentenario in recognition of the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence.
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Denver’s New Freedom Park

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” 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.

NFParkDENintDenver, CO
New Freedom Park was built on a 2-acre vacant lot in an east Denver neighborhood that is home to hundreds of refugees from countries like Burundi, Somalia, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Nepal, most of whom live in affordable housing communities.  Before the park was built, the weed and broken glass-strewn vacant lot on East 13th Avenue became the site of a small community garden and a gathering place for residents.  There was clearly a need and enthusiasm for the space to be developed into a larger garden and even a park, but the city did not have adequate resources for design and construction, so the Department of Parks & Recreation approached The Trust for Public Land about taking on the project.
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Mexico City Parks Revival: Partnerships in Action

In October I was privileged to be one of a group of City Parks Alliance board members invited by the mayor to come to Mexico City.  It was an opportunity for city park practitioners and advocates to share notes on their best practices – especially around partnerships.  Gil Penalosa, Executive Director of 8-80 Cities, a fellow board member, facilitated the visit as an opening for more dialogue between park leaders in Mexico and the United States.

MC1In addition to the city and the 8-80 Cities team playing host to us, Fundacion+Espacios, the seven year-old nonprofit parks partner in the city, led many of our tours and hosted our discussions.  The foundation is led by a board president who is one of the city’s largest housing developers and who was inspired to create the organization after a visit to San Francisco where he saw ‘parklets.’  When Gabriel Gόmez returned to Mexico City, he began using this idea to build interest around the value of parks.  Gabriel said he and the foundation are working to, “…save the spaces that cars are stealing from pedestrians.”

With a population exceeding 24 million – 8 million in the city proper – Mexico City is among the largest cities in the world, and one of the highest at an elevation of almost 8,000 feet.  I was one of eighteen board members to spend three days touring, sharing stories, and learning a great deal about the city’s new, restored, or redeveloped parks.  This is the first in a short series of blogs on the visit and what we can learn from partnership efforts across our southern border.
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