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Denver Parks on Parade

Earlier this month, more than 30 park professionals from the US and Canada were hosted by Denver Parks and Recreation Department in collaboration with City Parks Alliance for a tour of their park system. Eighteen cities were represented, including teams from Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.

Photo courtesy of Hope Gibson

Photo courtesy of Hope Gibson

The Denver team put on a first class demonstration of their expertise in planning, design, construction and programming – from the smallest neighborhood park to Red Rocks Amphitheater, a part of Denver’s mountain parks system – and in every case showing us how a twenty-first century city parks department operates: seamlessly.

From the neighborhood partnerships to the collaboration with their own city departments to alliances with social service providers, arts and music organizations, and other parks programmers, Denver’s parks department uses and leverages all the value that parks offer and its mission can muster. Citywide partners like the Trust for Public Land – perfectly exemplifying its urban mission – and the Colorado Health Foundation are working closely with the department on many of its projects; as are local developers, transit, and bicycling partners. On some of our park visits it was hard to tell who worked for whom; in fact, most simply said they worked for the parks.

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Urban Trails, Neighborhood Partnerships: DC’s Metropolitan Branch Trail

Abandoned rail lines running through city neighborhoods can be the perfect solution for creating a park in a high density city with little other available real estate. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has nearly a 30 year history of providing leadership in the creation of more than 20,000 miles of new trail across the country. Today, it finds itself increasingly working in cities to forge the last connection to a regional trail system. This means tackling the shorter rail lines where their proximity to where people live, work and play make them a good choice for getting people walking and cycling.

But these urban trails require a lot more attention to get people to use them for recreation and transportation, and RTC finds itself increasingly involved in programming trails as well as building them.

“RTC used to say ‘build it and they will come,’” says Kelly Pack, RTC’s Director of Trail Development. “Now we say ‘build it, maintain it, program it and they will come.’ In urban areas people have a lot more choices. Being more engaged on the programming side really helps to build awareness and get people hooked on their own neighborhood trails – and then hopefully onto regional trail systems.”  Continue reading

Balancing the “Private” in a Public-Private Partnership: Orange County Great Park

Recently I talked with Mike Ellzey, the Chief Executive Officer of the Orange County Great Park Corporation, the nonprofit public benefit organization charged with the design, construction, and maintenance of the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. We spoke soon after the city struck a new deal with the project’s related housing developer that puts the park back on solid ground after the 2008 real estate crash and the state’s dissolution of its redevelopment agencies threatened its completion.

OCGP2The Orange County Great Park is the official name for the park portion of a reuse plan for the decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, in Irvine, California. The 2002 voter approval for this very ambitious project ($1.4 billion budget) – after 3 previous initiatives failed – envisioned a team of partners to bring off the project, including a public nonprofit corporation charged with the design, construction, and maintenance of the Orange County Great Park.

Following the annexation of the property by the city of Irvine in 2003, the Navy held an online auction for the El Toro property. Miami-based Lennar Corporation purchased the entire property for $650 million and entered into a development agreement with the City of Irvine. Under the terms of the development agreement, Lennar was granted limited development rights to build the Great Park Neighborhoods in return for land and capital – $200 million – to allow the construction of the Great Park. Continue reading

Community-Led Park Partnerships: It’s Not Just the Money

The Cully neighborhood is considered the most “parks-deficient” neighborhood in Portland. Citywide, 40 percent of residents live within a quarter-mile of a park. In Cully, only 24 percent do, with almost 23 percent of neighborhood children living in poverty.

Cully 1For over twenty years, Cully residents set their sights on the conversion of a 25-acre grassy field in the neighborhood, well-located and large enough for a range of community activities – even if it happened to be the site of a former landfill.

Tony DeFalco, Coordinator for Let Us Build Cully Park! (LUBCP!) recalls, “The community wanted it badly enough to figure out a way to build it. You had 25 acres, active methane collection and multiple partners involved in managing the site. We knew we needed to raise capital to organize a working coalition.”

Verde, a non-profit dedicated to building wealth in low-income communities, has been working with residents of Cully Park but as early as 1996, residents and the Cully Association of Neighbors negotiated with the mayor for a parks master plan. In 2010, Verde spearheaded development of LUBCP!, which was formed with the help of a $150,000 grant from the Northwest Health Foundation. Their coalition included 16 other organizations to maintain the community’s presence with municipal, environmental, and public health agencies through the redevelopment process for the site. Continue reading

Casting a Broader Net for P3 Lessons

Lately I’ve been reading about the growing number of for-profit companies offering their service to local governments to manage certain agency functions. Since the 1980s, when outsourcing became popular, local governments hoping to create cost efficiencies have turned over many of their service needs to private contractors – waste collection, landscaping, IT, and public transit.

But increasingly, smaller cities are contracting to have private companies run whole departments or whole cities. Elected officials and even some voters see this as a cost cutting move and an efficient use of tax dollars. Companies offering this service can proudly show their success with improved management, lower costs, and better value for the tax dollar. There is, of course, a lot of debate about all this.
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