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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.

“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 :-)

Creating and Financing Infill Parks in the Bay Area: Part II

The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence performed a study for the Association of Bay Area Governments, one component of which was identifying examples of how recently completed infill parks were financed. We will be publishing each of the four case studies (see the first one here), with Windsor Town Green as our second case study.

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Windsor, a town of 27,000 almost 30 miles north of San Pablo Bay, is the site of one of the newest central parks in the Bay Area. Interestingly, the Windsor Town Green grew not from the needs of a park-starved citizenry, but from a community’s desire to reclaim a largely abandoned downtown, provide a public gathering place – and, not least, compete with nearby towns for Sonoma County wine country tourists.

Even before Windsor incorporated in 1992, there was momentum behind the idea of transforming the underutilized downtown area into a public plaza. That vision, first articulated by Sonoma County in 1986, remained in place after incorporation and served as the foundation for turning the downtown, once a wine processing and railroad hub, into a true walkable civic center anchored by shops and residences.

A crowd gathers on a summer night in Windsor's Town Green. Photo courtesy Windsor Department of Parks and Recreation.

Windsor decided to develop the Town Green, as well as its new municipal center, on the grounds of a vacant junior high school campus, thus fortunately eliminating any opposition from neighbors.  Owned by the Sonoma County Office of Education, the 21-acre site was broken into two parts and sold — 7.5 acres of buildings to the town (for a new town hall), and 13.5 acres to a private developer, subject to a town planning process.

In 1999, after the exact location of the Town Green had been selected, the Windsor Redevelopment Agency purchased the 4.84-acre park site for $1,142,670, which included more than $450,000 in matching grants from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation Open Space District. The remaining funds came from the agency’s capital fund, which is replenished by the collection of the tax increment in the growing area. Two years earlier, the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District had acquired another small part of the property to protect a stand of historic oaks. The remainder of the land has been (or is in the process of being) redeveloped for housing and retail around the park.

Finding a private developer willing to gamble on a unique project in an area of traditional subdivisions was not easy, even with the redevelopment agency spending $2,900,000 to build the park, widen sidewalks, bury utilities, and improve the surrounding streets.

“The town had been promoting the concept of mixed use for a long time,” says Senior Planner Rick Jones, “but no one was willing to take the risk” on a new urbanist development. Finally, in 2001, a developer named Orrin Thiessen took the plunge. In addition to the park, Windsor provided Thiessen with some other incentives. He was given the right to develop his three properties at higher densities than code allowed, and also to encroach on sidewalks for restaurants and commercial use. He was also given an expedited planning review process and reduced parking requirements. By now, almost 14 acres of colorful three-story townhomes with commercial space below have been built.

The Town Green itself features a stage, covered pavilions, a playground, a plum tree orchard, a fountain, reflecting pools, and a historical time-line walk. (The historic oak grove is directly adjacent.) The park, as well as the adjacent restaurants and businesses, are supplied with a Wi-Fi network. In 2008, a community member offered to help underwrite the expansion of the stage, which is now outfitted with a sound system, used for the numerous programs held on the green. Programming is varied and popular, and all events are free. The Summer Nights on the Green concert series is expected to attract 40,000 attendees in 2011. Other regular summer events include the Farmers Market, Tuesday Night Kid Movies and the outdoor Shakespeare Theater on the Green.

Creating and Financing Infill Parks in the Bay Area: Part I

San Francisco was just crowned the greenest city in the U.S. and Canada by one large study, a nod to its policies that require recycling, ban plastic shopping bags, and provide incentives for solar roofs.

But the Bay Area is also thinking of sustainability in terms of smarter growth throughout the region as a whole. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has identified Priority Development Areas to encourage infill development, combining housing, amenities, and transit in a walkable environment.

These increasingly dense areas will need carefully planned parks. Some jurisdictions have done little more than hope for additional green space, while others have worked diligently but unsuccessfully to acquire parkland. Still others have succeeded in creating new parks but now have difficulty funding their maintenance.

To provide some guidance, The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence performed a study for ABAG, one component of which was identifying examples of how recently-completed infill parks were financed. We will be publishing each of the four case studies over the next several weeks. First up is Doyle Hollis Park in Emeryville.

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Tiny Emeryville, squeezed between Oakland, Berkeley and the Bay Bridge, has 10,000 residents and 20,000 daytime workers on only 1.2 square miles of land. For most of the 20th century it was an industrial center, famous for meatpacking plants and a Sherwin-Williams paint factory. It has since evolved into a hub for biotech and software companies, including Pixar Animation Studios, as well as a major shopping destination.

Emeryville has a dearth of parkland, particularly parkland away from San Francisco Bay, east of Interstate 80, since that highway is a significant physical and psychological barrier to the enjoyment of green space along the waterfront. The city also has a demand for auto parking because of the daily commuter influx. Doyle Hollis Park grew out of the competition between these two forces.

The park site was slated to become a parking structure. Credit: MIG, Inc. Courtesy Emeryville Planning and Building Department.

In 1999, when the city’s planning department began to develop the North Hollis Area Plan, situated in the transition zone from commercial to residential, it focused upon a warehouse in the block bounded by Doyle and Hollis Streets. In 2002, the warehouse site was slotted for a parking structure and steps were taken to relocate the tenant and arrange acquisition.

During this time, citizen opposition to the idea of a parking structure in the geographic heart of the North Hollis Area grew. The proposed six-story, 700-vehicle building abutted a low-density neighborhood and stood across from a middle school that lacked playing fields. It would have also shaded the new Emeryville Greenway and a pocket park.

“We first considered putting the garage beneath the park,” said Planner Diana Keena, “but the site is so narrow that just the entryway would have consumed a third of the space.” The city also considered building a smaller structure or allowing diagonal street parking around the perimeter of the park, but those, too, would have swallowed most of the park.

Neighbors, who had coalesced a few years earlier to redesign the greenway as a park rather than as a tree-lined auto-oriented street, arose again, voicing opposition to the parking structure, lobbying individual councilmembers, and gaining the support of the school board. “With persistence and a lot of hard work, we eventually convinced the City Council that a park — not a parking structure — was the right thing for the neighborhood,” recalls Jim Martin, one of the original leaders of Doyle Street Neighbors. The group ultimately convinced the City Council to rezone the block to open space.

Kids Playing at Doyle Hollis Park

Kids playing at Doyle Hollis Park. Credit: MIG, Inc. Courtesy Emeryville Planning and Building Department.

From then on, things moved relatively quickly. In 2005 the site, which had already been on the city’s acquisition list, was bought by the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency for $5.1 million, using capital improvement funds from a combination of tax revenue and bond proceeds. That same year, Economic Development Coordinator Ignacio Dayrit, now with the non-profit, San Francisco-based Center for Creative Land Recycling, secured a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) brownfield assessment grant for Emeryville, $75,000 of which was applied to the Hollis Doyle parcel. (The site was found to have some petroleum contamination.) Also in 2005, Gates Associates was hired to do planning and community workshops for the park. Later, a $200,000 brownfield cleanup grant was used for site remediation, along with a $500,000 loan from the EPA’s Brownfield Revolving Fund, which was matched with $100,000 from the redevelopment agency. (The loan has since been repaid by the city.)

Design, construction, and remediation added up to $5.25 million, some of which was paid for through the city’s community development block grant program ($109,557), the California workforce housing benefits program ($37,000), and the StopWaste.org Bay-Friendly Landscaping program ($25,000). All told, $10.35 million was spent on the park. Day-to-day park maintenance is handled by the Emeryville Department of Public Works and costs approximately $53,000 a year.

Basketball court at Doyle Hollis Park, with fountain in foreground. Credit: MIG, Inc. Courtesy Emeryville Planning and Building Department.

Opened in 2009 after a year of construction, the 1.25-acre park includes a children’s play area, restrooms, a recreation lawn, a basketball court, a rain garden that processes 85 percent of stormwater runoff on-site, and a striking public art fountain designed by artist Masayuki Nagase. It opened “to great fanfare,” according to City Manager Pat O’Keefe, and Diana Keena remembers that eager children crawled under the construction fencing to play on the climbing structures before it was dedicated.  Since then, park use has exceeded all expectations. “During lunchtime on a sunny day the place is packed with workers, kids, and food vendors,” notes Jim Martin.

As for the existing parking concerns, the city is attempting to address them through transit improvements, including the free Emery-Go-Round shuttle that links downtown to the MacArthur BART station one mile away, partnering with developers in providing public parking components to private parking structures, and prodding employers to offer their workers free transit passes. Finally, Emeryville plans to install meters for all street parking to nudge more drivers into existing garages that traditionally have been underused. The efforts are already successful – recent statistics show that the single-occupancy-vehicle commuting rate of employees to Emeryville is only 36 percent, well below the East Bay average.

NRDC Video: Learn Smart Growth in 30 Seconds

NRDC put together a great video that describes Smart Growth in 30 seconds:

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