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Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory Discusses Downtown and New Riverfront Park

Smart Growth America recently completed video interviews with several mayors and other prominent elected officials nationwide, and will be releasing them over the next several months. The first is with Mayor Mark Mallory from Cincinnati — he speaks to the need to invest in downtowns and to make the right kinds of infrastructure investments to trigger job creation and community development.

Mayor Mallory discusses how the revised downtown will benefit from the new 45-acre John G. and Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park:

“We’re doing a lot of things in Cincinnati. In addition to building the streetcar, we are developing our riverfront with a project called The Banks. This is the space between our two stadiums. It’s going to be more than 300 apartments – this is just in the first phase – retailers, there’s a giant park that will be a part of it. This project will go in to its second phase in the next couple weeks actually, and before it’s over with we’ll probably spend a billion dollars on our riverfront.

Phases one and two of the Smale Riverfront Park are slated to open on May 15. The new park will feature fountains, walkways, gardens, event lawns, playgrounds and restaurants, including the Moerlein Lager House, which officially opened last month. There will also be restrooms, a visitor’s center and bike parking, for a membership fee. In addition to connecting to the bike trail, one of the more interesting features are bike runnels along the steps to the lower level, so bicycles don’t have to be carried up and down the stairs, but can be rolled along the side. This is a unique solution to a multi-level park that points to the investment and encouragement of alternative modes of transportation to reach a destination park.

Cincinnati Parks is overseeing the planning, development and construction of the park, and funding came primarily from the city of Cincinnati and the Smale family. Read more about the new park here and watch a video clip here.

Developer Impact Fees Pay for Parks

Residents in downtown Los Angeles are leaping for joy because a brand new park is coming to the revitalized historic core.  Spring Street Park, which broke ground last October, will be the first public park in the neighborhood.  According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 15,000 residents moved into downtown between 2000 and 2010, without the addition of new public greenspace.  The city purchased the property from Council District 9 in 2009 with $5.1 million in Quimby funds.  California state law requires the dedication of land or in lieu fees for park or recreational purposes as a condition of new residential subdivision.  These fees are known as “Quimby fees.”  The 1965 Quimby Act authorizes the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks to spend Quimby funds within one to two miles of a new subdivision.

California is not the only state that uses developer impact fees to purchase or maintain parkland.  According to the Center for City Park Excellence, 36 of the main park and recreation agencies within the 100 most populous U.S. cities have some variation of a developer impact fee and received $55.5 million and over 200 acres of parkland in FY 2010.  Even more impressive, cities spent $64.5 million from their developer impact fee accounts in that same fiscal year (fees collected do not have to be spent in the same year received).  At the top of the list was the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks (spending $15.7 million), followed by the San Jose Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services ($9.1 million), Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department ($9 million), Riverside, CA Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department ($8.4 million), and Portland, OR Parks and Recreation ($4.5 million).

It is interesting to note that, due to the current economic situation, develop impact fees are actually a declining source of revenue.  In FY 2008, 28 of the major park and recreation agencies received $101.6 million and almost 600 acres of parkland.  Of the $101.6 million received from developer impact fees, $71.6 million was spent in that same fiscal year.

Developer exaction programs have been adopted by many communities to help offset a variety of costs associated with new development.  A sizable percentage of these localities, recognizing that public parks, trails, open space and recreational facilities are critical to ensuring residents’ health and quality of life, have specifically set fees and/or required land dedication for parks.

The majority of these ordinances apply only to residential plats or subdivisions that create additional dwelling units.  A few ordinances also apply fees to office construction, hotels, schools, churches, nursing homes and other types of commercial or even industrial development.

The formulas used to assess the fee or generate acreage vary; some are based on the number of new residents, others on the number of units, others on the square footage of construction.  In addition, the ordinances differ in allowing a developer to substitute land or facilities for paying a fee; in setting the size of the geographical “nexus” within which the funds or land can be applied; in permitting uses for the funds (i.e. land acquisition, facility development, maintenance and even administration); in being flexible as to the types of facilities for which funds can be used; and in setting a time limit within which the funds must be spent or committed.

There is no nationally agreed-upon standard for land (or dollar) donations by developers, and different city or state ordinances use substantially different formulas to determine the exactions. In some cases the ratio is based upon population, in others on dwelling units; some cities prefer outright land gifts while others prefer money with which to buy land.

For more information about the role of developer exactions in the creation of new city parks, read an article here.

“A Design that Celebrates the People”: Normal, IL Traffic Circle Wins Smart Growth Award as New Civic Space

Earlier this month, EPA announced the winners of the 2011 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement.  We are excited to report that Normal, Illinois is the recipient of the award in the Civic Places category for their traffic roundabout.

We’ve written before about how the town’s new traffic circle has successfully managed traffic flow at a busy five-way intersection, diverted thousands of gallons of untreated stormwater away from the nearby creek, and become the town center by bringing residents together in an attractive public space.  The more recent news is how the traffic roundabout is spurring local economic development with the construction of a multimodal transportation station adjacent to the circle, courtesy of a U.S. Department of Transportation grant.  Both the transportation hub, which will eventually have high-speed rail service and create an estimated 400-500 new jobs, and the circle take advantage of the town’s existing infrastructure, bus service, and the historic central business district to attract even more residents to the new town center.

The one-third-acre roundabout does much more than move cars. It invites pedestrians with shade trees, benches, lighting, bike parking, green space, and a water feature. People have lunch, read, and play music, and the open space invites community gatherings such as a holiday caroling event. It is the anchor for a community-wide revitalization and is part of Uptown Normal’s LEED-ND Silver recognition.

A popular rails-to-trails conversion, the Constitution Trail, leads to and around the roundabout, helping both to revitalize Normal and to bring people from surrounding areas to Normal’s central district. A new Children’s Discovery Museum on the edge of the roundabout already receives over 140,000 visitors per year, and a hotel and conference enter have recently opened nearby. One indication of the success of the redevelopment is that property values in the district have increased by about 30 percent since 2004.

According to the short video, this traffic circle was almost banned to pedestrians.  It’s a good thing town officials fought back.

Read more about the project here, as well as the other winners from the 2011 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement.

From all of us at City Parks Blog, thanks for reading, commenting and inspiring us this past year with all of your park stories and successes.  We look forward to hearing how park development and redevelopment is changing your city.  Happy New Year and all the best in 2012 :-)

Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza: A Historic Step Toward Urban Excellence

Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza. Credit: Coleen Gentles.

The Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence has named the Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza as a 2011 Silver Medal recipient. The Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza emerged from a 15-year community effort to shape the form and content of the city’s last major redevelopment area, and is a testament to the power of civic involvement in the realization of great urban spaces.

When Santa Fe’s 50-acre rail yard was threatened by private development in the early 1990s, the city mobilized to purchase and protect the historic site for a local vision. With involvement from over 6,000 community members, a master plan was developed and implemented over the next decade through a unique partnership between the newly created nonprofit Santa Fe Railyard Community Corporation (SFRCC) and The Trust for Public Land.

The plan called for redevelopment that would protect the integrity of adjoining historic neighborhoods, retain the railyard’s “authentic, gritty, rugged” architectural quality, encourage alternative modes of transportation, create a pedestrian-oriented environment, and provide significant amounts of park and open space. The project – exclusive of the park and open space – was developed and managed by SFRCC, while the Railyard Park Stewards group was formed to care for the park and provide enhanced programming.

The result is a 12-acre vibrant, multi-use park and public plaza in the heart of Santa Fe. Many dimensions of Santa Fe converge here: history, water use, local agriculture, transportation, education, arts and culture, and community. There are commercial and cultural facilities, the twice-weekly Santa Fe Farmers Market, a pedestrian and bicycle path, and a commuter rail connection for Northern New Mexico within the Railyard’s historic depot. As the “family room” of Santa Fe, the Railyard complements the city’s “living room” in the historic Santa Fe Plaza by providing additional space for arts, festivals, and day-to-day life. The new pedestrian and bicycle path parallels the tracks deep into Santa Fe’s southern neighborhoods – the first of several pathways that will link the park and plaza to districts throughout the city and beyond.

Other 2011 Silver Medal recipients of The Rudy Bruner Award include Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York, a community-initiated, 85-acre park that preserves 1.3 miles of riverfront for public use; Civic Space Park, a vitalizing public space in downtown Phoenix, made possible through an innovative town-and-gown partnership; and Gary Comer Youth Center and Gary Comer College Prep, which support education and youth programs that bring new opportunities to Chicago’s Grand Crossing neighborhood. The 2011 Gold Medal recipient is The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center in Dallas, Texas, which provides shelter and services to help clients transition to sustained independence.

Established in 1986 and now in its 13th award cycle, The Rudy Bruner Award has recognized more than 65 projects that demonstrate excellence in urban placemaking. The Award was created by Simeon Bruner, in honor of his late father, to foster a better understanding of the role of architecture in the urban environment and has become one of America’s leading forums for the discussion of issues related to urban architecture, planning, and revitalization. The Rudy Bruner Award has been recognized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Environmental Design Research Associates.

The Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza, along with three fellow Silver Medalists, will receive a $10,000 prize. The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center in Dallas, this year’s Gold Medal recipient, will receive a $50,000 prize.

Case studies of the 2011 award winners will be published this fall. Past publications are available online here.

Design Strategies for Downtown Parks: Dallas and Tampa

“Cities large and small are the most sustainable living models, and the viability of a sustainable city rests on the success or failure of its urban parks,” said Thomas Balsley, the landscape architect responsible for designing Main Street Garden in Dallas and Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa. But what kind of urban parks provide the best benefit to the health of a city? According to Balsley, “Smaller parks, not large destination parks, are the key to a vibrant city.”

Balsley, along with Willis Winters from the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department and Karen Palus from the Tampa Parks and Recreation Department, discussed their strategies behind designing Main Street Garden and Curtis Hixon Park in a session at the 2010 American Society of Landscape Architects Annual Meeting and Expo in Washington, D.C. The panel discussed their experiences and provided excellent insight into what it takes to develop a successful urban park.

Main Street Garden, Dallas. Credit: Neff Conner (Flickr Feed)

In 2001, Dallas was jolted by a decision unlike any other before. The Boeing Company chose to move its headquarters to Chicago rather than Dallas because there was a lack of vibrancy in the city center. At the time, only 240 people lived in downtown Dallas, all in a single apartment building. The numerous city employees vacated the area after their nine-to-five workdays and no real thought was given to attracting residents to live in the business district. This lack of a 24-hour tenant presence resulted in a stagnant city center, a place that Boeing did not want to call home for its new corporate headquarters. The decision was a wake-up call for city officials and a new emphasis was placed on revitalizing their downtown, with particular interest in urban parks.

In response, Balsley’s firm was selected to design Main Street Garden, a 1.7-acre park occupying a full city block on the east end of downtown. The site with its historic buildings offered an excellent opportunity to bring life back into the city’s center. As Winters said, “Main Street Garden served as the reason to revitalize the buildings surrounding the area.”

Main Street Garden was designed with an inviting streetscape encouraging people to stop and visit, not just pass through the park on their lunch break. Innovative lighting techniques such as study shelters encouraged use well into the evening hours. Other design elements included a large lawn that can be adapted to multiple uses, a green roof canopy over a concession kiosk, café and dining terrace, botanical garden, urban dog run, playground, stage and an interactive stream fountain that has proven to be popular with children of all ages.

As Balsley discussed the project, he explained that creating a successful design for the park is only part of the job. A large part of the work is managing an oftentimes-contentious public process. He offered some tips for success including:

  • Share your experiences: Be open about your past experiences, offering insight into your successes and setbacks.
  • Form client/designer collaboration: Work with your client encouraging communication and teamwork.
  • Advocate for a committee format: Be open to the idea of a community process.
  • Maintain reasonable expectations: Encourage stakeholders to understand what is possible and what may be unachievable.
  • Listen, and prove it: Encourage an open dialogue and act upon what you hear.
  • Avoid preconceived notions: Be open to all ideas and viewpoints.
  • Hang your ego outside the door: Avoid the “designer knows best” mentality.

Palus who shared the background behind the redevelopment of Curtis Hixon Park emphasized Balsley’s advice. “This is a story of a city that invested in its people by creating a meaningful public space,” she said. However, the park had many organizations and interested parties who had conflicting opinions as to how the park should be developed. Recognizing that differing ideas would be a challenge, the stakeholders agreed to be open to all options, yet keep in mind that the park would be developed for the benefit of the entire city, not one specific group. After navigating the public process, the result was a dynamic park that has proven to be a central gathering space for the entire city.

Curtis Hixon Park, Tampa. Credit: Graham Coreil-Allen (Flickr Feed)

Like his previous work at Main Street Garden, Balsley designed 6.0-acre Curtis Hixon Park with attention to incorporating the park into its present surroundings. Special awareness was given to connecting the park to adjacent cultural assets such as Kiley Garden and the Tampa Museum of Art. This was achieved through a terraced lawn and a promenade garden at the edges of the park. At the street entrance is a large Louver water fountain, frequently used by children and adults to cool down during the hot Tampa summers. When the water sprays upwards, it distorts the view of the park, revealing and hiding different features. The park also has a playground and dog park and even incorporates a segment of the Riverwalk, connecting the David Straz Performing Arts Center to the Glazer Children’s Museum and the Tampa Museum of Art. The paving along the Riverwalk contains a mechanism for misting and creates “fog clouds,” another clever strategy to promote cooling in the summers. Within the park is a large lawn sloping towards the river, featuring what Balsley described as “urban rafts,” large platforms rising out of the slope for sitting, lounging or gathering. These “urban rafts” have become a central part of the park, attracting both people watchers and visitors who want to be seen. People watching was a prominent feature in the design, with both overlooks and rotating chairs incorporated for users to choose views of the waterfront or park.

An attractive park is an essential part of a vibrant city. Both Main Street Garden and Curtis Hixon Park have strong elements that bring visitors to their parks. They also connect to the surrounding area, encouraging growth of businesses and housing. It would be interesting to see how usership has increased at these parks since their openings.

And for those who will be in Dallas today, Peter Harnik will be giving a presentation entitled “Rebirth of the City Park” at the 21st Century City Conference. Come learn more about the efforts the park movement has played in Dallas.

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