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City Park Conservancies: A Treasure Trove of New Knowledge

Peter Harnik at The Trust for Public Land has once again added to the foundation of knowledge about city parks with a new report issued by the Center for City Park Excellence. Public Spaces/Private Money: The Triumphs and Pitfalls of Urban Park Conservancies is a report by Harnik and Abby Martin that looks at 41 organizations from around the nation that are partnering with public agencies to plan, design, operate and manage city parks.

Starting with the ‘roots’ of the conservancy movement in New York and San Francisco, the report provides a good overview and much data about the growing number of park conservancies. Most conversations about the history of park conservancies start with the formation of the Central Park Conservancy in 1980 but Harnik and Martin’s report enlightens the discussion with what was happening on the west coast with the creation of the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy at roughly the same time in 1981.  Continue reading

Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece

Susan Rademacher, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s Curator, has written a new book on Pittsburgh’s Mellon Square, its history and its recent rehabilitation by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy which, at first glance, is a paean to great landscape design. It is a jewel of an example of how a small public space when designed right can have a huge impact on a downtown or in this case, an entire city and over time.

Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece, the second in a series by the Cultural Landscape Foundation (Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95), traces the Square from its original design and construction in 1955 through its evolution as a public space that manages to stay relevant and foundational for over 50 years in a city that suffered its share of economic ups and downs.   Continue reading

Toward a Useful Teaching Strategy: City Park Partnerships

Last month the City Parks Alliance (CPA) held a pilot workshop in a concerted effort to develop a teaching strategy for helping park professionals learn and understand partnerships and collaboration.  More than twenty participants attended the day-long event held at Augustus Hawkins Natural Park in Los Angeles, supported by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and hosted by the Los Angeles Parks Foundation.

(L t R): Jackie Carrera, Gordon Robertson, and Dale Larsen

(L to R): Jackie Carrera, Gordon Robertson, and Dale Larsen

I had the privilege of facilitating the discussion and was supported by City Parks Alliance staffers, Executive Director Catherine Nagel and Outreach & Program Manager Angie Horn, as well as a team of three experienced urban park professionals: Jackie Carrera, a recent transplant to Los Angeles after 21 years as CEO for Parks and People in Baltimore; Gordon Robertson, Director of Planning and Design for Denver Parks and Recreation; and Dale Larsen, Professor of Practice & Honors Faculty at Arizona State University and former Director of Parks & Recreation in Phoenix.  Collectively they represented more than 100 years of experience in city park partnerships!

We structured an agenda based on surveying park partners in California to find out what they wanted to learn.  Response to the survey centered on four ideas for shaping an agenda:

  • Understanding the need for partnership; why and how partners should work together
  • Getting started by scoping out responsibilities and structuring agreements
  • Working together day to day, communicating, team-building, and establishing trust
  • Building a culture of collaboration and shared vision for the long run

And so for the day-long session we shaped our workshop around these four areas.  The small size of the group meant that we could use our time for discussion, storytelling, and sharing successes and failures.  The experts in the room shared lessons and reflected on their experiences with public and private partners.   Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

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