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Award-Winning Parks Projects From Hollywood to New York

At first glance, Cahuenga Peak, the backdrop to the Hollywood sign, might seem more like a supporting actor than a bona fide star. But it got its moment in the spotlight last year as The Trust for Public Land helped save it from becoming a luxury housing development. Now it has been named “Best New Park” by TheDailyGreen.com’s 2011 Heart of Green Editor’s Choice Award.

The untouched Santa Monica Mountains behind the famous H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D sign were saved in 2010 by a very public and successful Trust for Public Land campaign to prevent development on the 138 acres behind and beside the “H.”  Cahuenga Peak has been added to 4,100-acre Griffith Park.

The awards also recognized New York City as the “Greenest City,” particularly due to its ambitious master plan, called PlaNYC.

Named by the NDRC as a Smarter City for Transportation in 2011 and a Smarter City for Energy in 2010, New York City is following a plan, released by Mayor Bloomberg on Earth Day 2007, to reduce its carbon footprint – and its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% – and improve its environs by 2030. PlaNYC encompasses improvements in land, water, transportation, energy, air and climate change impacts. Notable accomplishments in the last year include making Times Square into a pedestrian-friendly causeway, planting thousands of trees and fighting to get hybrid taxis on the streets.  

Though perhaps overshadowed by PlaNYC, New York also recently released Vision 2020, a comprehensive plan to reshape its substantial waterfront. It may come as a surprise to many that New York’s waterfront, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the sixth borough, is larger than that of Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Portland combined. Recognizing that the task of reshaping 520 miles of shoreline may seem incomprehensibly large, New York’s planning department also released the Waterfront Action Agenda, which outlines 130 specific projects to be started in the next three years.

That report was preceded by a manual produced by the Design Trust for Public Space called “High Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC.” It contains best practices for park design and plant selection, guidelines for implementing the goals of PlaNYC, and suggestions on how parks can better promote cycling and walking.

Both of these high-profile cities, though in opposite corners of the country, share a commitment to improving livability through the development, protection, and rejuvenation of parks. We offer our congratulations for their newest green credentials.

What Attaches People to Place?

In November the Knight Foundation released findings from their Soul of the Community study, a three-year project aimed to understand resident attachment to place, what drives it and why it matters in 26 U.S. communities. Of the 10 attributes studied, the top three were:

  • Social Offerings – Places for people to meet each other and the feeling that people in the community care about each other;
  • Openness – How welcoming the community is to different types of people, including families with young children, minorities, and talented college graduates; and
  • Aesthetics – The physical beauty of the community including the availability of parks and green spaces.

According to the study:

Residents generally give their communities high marks for aesthetics, and they gave their best ratings this year. Four in 10 residents rate the availability of parks, playgrounds, and trails in their communities positively. They are slightly less positive about the beauty or physical setting of their communities, with more than one-third giving positive ratings.

In other words, 40% of residents rated the availability of Parks, Playgrounds and Trails as influencing community attachment, and 35% of residents rated Beauty or Physical Setting as influencing community attachment.

An interesting disclaimer to this finding is the following:

Generally, demographics are not the strongest drivers of attachment. In almost every community Gallup studied, attachment is more strongly related to certain perceptions of the community than to residents’ age, race, income, or other demographic characteristics. In other words, whether a resident is young or old, wealthy or poor, or black, white, or Hispanic matters less than his or her perceptions of the community. This reality gives community leaders a powerful tool to influence residents’ attachment to the community, no matter who they are.

But what does the study mean by attachment? According to the Knight Foundation it is the psychological connection of loyalty and passion residents have with the community in which they live.

One of the other major findings from the study showed that the communities with the highest levels of attachment also had the highest rates of gross domestic product growth.

The Overview also goes on to say:

While the study also measures perceptions of the local economy and basic services, these three factors are always more important in terms of their relationship to community attachment. This is not to say that communities should focus on building parks when jobs aren’t available. However, it does make it clear that these other factors, beyond basic needs, should be included when thinking about economic growth and development. These seemingly softer needs have an even larger effect than previously thought when it comes to residents’ attachment to their communities.

But of course we know this to be true. Residents resonate with the community they live in. When a community is aesthetically pleasing, people choose to move there.

The Soul of the Community project was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in partnership with Gallup.

As the year comes to a close, we think back on the many accomplishments for the urban parks movement in 2010. We’ve reported upon new parks opening across the country, learned about innovative ways to create parkland in crowded cities, seen how federal transportation funding can be used to create trails, and discussed ways parks can help combat climate change.

We hope the results of the Soul of the Community project and the accomplishments over the past year will be used to strengthen our cities and ensure a brighter future for all people and communities.

On behalf of staff in the Center for City Park Excellence as well as the City Parks Alliance, we want to wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year! Thanks for reading :-)

Fit Cities Have Parks, Safe Biking and Walking

Dupont Circle in DC. Source: PPS

The American College of Sports Medicine is out with its annual list of the United States’ fittest cities. The top five are: 1) Washington, D.C.; 2) Boston; 3) Minneapolis; 4) Seattle and 5) Portland, Oregon.

The ratings are based on 30 factors ranging from disease rates, mortality, physical attributes and lifestyle, fruit and vegetable consumption and physical infrastructures from parks to walking and biking facilities.

Whatever the weighting involved for these factors, it is clear that cities with great parks and recreational facilities, walkability and bike infrastructure rank high on this list. Providing these amenities (“necessities” is perhaps what we should say) actually helps improve the other factors of exercise, consumption of fruits and vegetables (e.g. more farmers’ markets) and disease rates, as research has suggested (and referenced in the recent “Let’s Move” Task Force action plan).

The formula is fairly simple: cities looking for a more fit populace should invest in parks, safe bike lanes and trails, and a built environment that fosters walkability (great streets, compact development, quality transit, etc.).

The “Best” City Parks

On the list is Seattle's Cal Anderson Park, built over a reservoir in one of the city's most densely populated districts. Photo: City of Seattle

Forbes.com today ran a “Best City Parks” article and slide show. The list is different in that it doesn’t simply give the most well known city parks in the country. Sure, Central Park is mentioned, but also highlighted are some of the lesser publicized but loved greenspaces that define what urban parks can be.

This includes  Boston’s 1.5-acre gem, Post Office Square, which has helped turn around the city’s financial district and Baltimore’s 150-acre Patterson Park, a great community park whose revitalization has itself spurred the comeback of its surrounding neighborhood.

Also included is Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. Yes, a cemetery. The Forbes slide show gives some background and quotes TPL’s Peter Harnik:

This centrally located Atlanta green space, founded in 1850, is more a historical cemetery than an active one, says Harnik. Today it functions, in the words of the Historic Oakland Foundation, as an “island of tranquility in the heart of the city” and serves as a site for picnics, jogging and neighborhood festivals. “It’s a very creative use of space in a city that’s short on park land,” says Harnik.

This list of course is not an actual ranking of the “best” city parks, but instead is a neat smorgasbord of notable spaces from across America’s urban landscape.

APA’s Great Public Spaces

New Haven Green

New Haven Green

The American Planning Association is again out with its top ten list of great public spaces for 2009.

According to the APA, characteristics of a Great Public Space include:

  1. Promotes human contact and social activities.
  2. Is safe, welcoming, and accommodating for all users.
  3. Has design and architectural features that are visually interesting.
  4. Promotes community involvement.
  5. Reflects the local culture or history.
  6. Relates well to bordering uses.
  7. Is well maintained.
  8. Has a unique or special character.

And here is the APA’s list for this year:

  1. New Haven Green, New Haven, Conn.
  2. The Green, Dover, Delaware.
  3. The Squares of  Savannah, Georgia.
  4. Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois.
  5. East Park, Charlevoix, Michigan.
  6. Grand Rounds, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
  7. Central Square, Keene, New Hampshire.
  8. Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing, New York.
  9. Central Market, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  10. The Beach Boardwalk, Virginia Beach, Virginia
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