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Green Infrastructure in Grand Rapids

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 unique approach to partnerships and green infrastructure, Joe Taylor Park in Grand Rapids, MI has been named a Frontline Park.

“The completion of Joe Taylor Park was a major milestone for our community and set the stage for us to have critical conversations about sustainable park design, equity and access, maintenance and funding, and partnership development,” said Steve Faber, Executive Director of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.

“We selected Joe Taylor Park as a Frontline Park because it exemplifies the power of urban parks to build community and make our cities sustainable and vibrant,” said Catherine Nagel, Executive Director, City Parks Alliance. “We hope that by shining the spotlight on Joe Taylor Park, we can raise awareness about the ways investment in our nation’s urban parks pays off.”
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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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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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Public-Private Partnerships, Seattle-Style (Part 2 of 3)

Almost every city in America has a public-private partnership around one or more of its parks.  Everyone is doing it, and everyone is asking the same questions about the best way to develop and manage them.  It is a tough topic to wrap your head around since every partnership is a slightly different riff on the one they learned from.  But the key question appears to be, what does the right agreement look like that keeps public space public?

Seattleblog2Seattle is taking a big picture view of where and how they want to use partnerships and working hard on finding the best way to keep public space for the public.   “Our approach is going to look different in different parts of the city,” says Christopher Williams, Acting Superintendent for Seattle Parks and Recreation.  “For example, in the downtown core Friends of the Central Waterfront are working with us in a guiding position for how the waterfront gets redeveloped.”
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