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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Alameda, made iconic in the Diego Rivera mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda,” concrete sidewalks have been replaced by marble, and tarp-covered vendor stands were kicked out – a renovation that cost about $18 million.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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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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Some News from Around…

  • Texas Parks and Wildlife wins top social media award (Hispanic Business)
  • Grand Rapids considers a smoking ban in city parks (MLive)
  • Dallas City Council approves updated downtown parks master plan
    (Dallas News)
  • New York City’s parks get a passing grade, but problems remain
    (New York Times)
  • Toronto wants to make urban parks a priority (Toronto Star)

February’s Frontline 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.

R.V. Burgess Park

R.V. Burgess Park

R.V. Burgess Park is a small greenspace located in the middle of a dense high rise tower development called the Thorncliffe Park Community.  Built in the 1970s, the community and its amenities were meant to serve a maximum population of 12,000 people.  The area now has more than 30,000 people, mostly recent immigrants, and such a large number of children that the elementary school located next to the park is the largest in North America, with 900 enrolled in kindergarten alone.  As the main recreation area for the community’s youth population, R.V. Burgess Park was woefully inadequate, made even more so when the only playground equipment was torn down in 2006 after being deemed unsafe.

Community garden

Community garden

The park’s downslide was halted when six women from the community – professionals and mothers who met in the park – formed the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee in 2008. Initially, the Committee focused on bringing playground equipment back into the park, but the organization now advocates for development and implementation of a variety of public space enhancement projects. Thanks to the work of the committee and a partnership with the City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division, R.V. Burgess Park not only has a playground, it has a splash pad, a community garden, new turf and programming such as weekly bazaars and arts and cultural events. This small park has become a playground, a cultural center, an arts center, a market, and common meeting space for thousands of people.

The R.V. Burgess story is just beginning. There are plans to install a community tandoor oven in Spring 2013, and a playground with brand new equipment in 2015. The Committee hopes to establish recreation-focused programs, like walking clubs and swimming groups. And the appeal of the park is reaching beyond its neighborhood borders, bringing people from all over Toronto to its weekly bazaars and winter carnival.

For more on R.V. Burgess Park and the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, please visit:

Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee

City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division

The Miracle of R.V. Burgess Park

The “Frontline Parks” program is made possible with generous support from DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.

Some News From Around…

  • This spring, ground will be broken on a $3.25 million renovation of Military Park in downtown Newark. (New York Times)
  • A federally funded survey has identified the top 10 cities for urban forests. (USA Today)
  • San Bernardino’s economic decline is having a negative effect on the city’s urban parks, but residents are looking for ways to save them. (San Bernardino Sun)
  • City Slicker Farms breaks ground on a new urban park and farm in Oakland. (East Bay Express)
  • Locals push back against a proposal to build a shopping center in one of Sydney’s most important urban parks.  (Sydney Morning Herald)
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