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4 Reasons to #OptOutside and be Thankful for Parks

Parks are where people gather on weekends to relax, exercise, play, and connect with their community. They are where children first experience nature. But beyond their role in recreation and social well-being, city parks also help grow local economies, create new transportation options, combat crime, and reduce environmental impacts such as storm water runoff.

On Black Friday, November 25, REI is suggesting everyone #OptOutside and we agree. Here are a few reasons why we think it’s a great time to give thanks for your local park!

PrintParks Keep Us Healthy
Parks are an ideal place for movement, providing the room needed for running, walking, sports, and other active pursuits, which are all things we need to do to live longer, healthier lives. And to work off that Thanksgiving dinner.

Parks Keep Our Air and Water Clean
In addition to creating a habitat for urban wildlife, tree cover in parks improve the air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide and pollutants. And a park’s green infrastructure — like vegetation and grassy areas— helps clean our water by capturing and filtering stormwater runoff.

PrintParks Improve Economies
It’s no secret that people love living near parks. Not only do parks raise property values, a good park system spurs local investment and can attract a better workforce by offering an excellent quality of life.

Parks Bring Communities Together
Parks can connect individuals of all ages and backgrounds by providing a space for them to meet and get to know each other. They’re a natural meeting space, whether you’re warming up for a group run, playing pickup basketball, or celebrating a neighborhood birthday party.

Interested in learning more? Download our new infographics and make the case for urban parks!

The Neighborhood Park: An Underused Oasis

by Deborah A. Cohen and Catherine J. Nagel

This commentary originally appeared on Parks & Rec Business on November 9, 2016.

In theory, a neighborhood park serves everyone, but the mere presence of a park does not guarantee people will use it. There’s a gender gap and an age gap when it comes to park use, according to a national survey conducted of more than 170 neighborhood parks in 25 U.S. cities, stretching from coast to coast.

The RAND Corporation study released in May analyzed how parks are designed, managed, and used, providing a rare snapshot of these public spaces. The primary goal was to learn how these spaces might encourage people to routinely engage in physical activity—a health behavior that extends life and prevents chronic diseases.

The study determined that park usage is highly dependent upon certain factors: the number of people who live within a mile of a park (leading to greater usage); its size (the larger the park, the more people using it); and the breadth of programming (offering more facilities and supervised programs yielding more users).   Continue reading

City Parks in the News

Catherine Nagel, Executive Director of City Parks Alliance, writes about the need to fund park development and management, the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and thanks Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell for her leadership in supporting urban parks in her latest opinion, For Most Americans, Their Closest Park is a City Park. The piece was published in City Parks Blog and Medium.


The Mayors for Parks coalition recently released a statement inviting Presidential candidates to answer questions about how they plan to support urban parks and recreation. The Clinton campaign responded with an outline of Secretary Clinton’s plan to increase federal investment in urban parks by creating a new American Parks Trust Fund, funding the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Program (UPARR), and providing an additional $10 million annually to AmeriCorps. The Trump campaign has not responded to the coalition’s request.


Next City published 5 Ways U.S. Cities Are Paying for Parks, a piece that highlights some of the innovative ways agencies and communities are paying for the development and management of urban parks. The piece quotes Catherine Nagel, saying “it’s heartening to see how the growing demand for parks is driving innovative approaches to funding.” This article is part of a series of sponsored posts by City Parks Alliance.

Whatever the Weather: A Guide to Resilient Design

We’ve been feeling the effects of climate change a lot lately—drought in California, record highs of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in Arizona, hurricanes and superstorms—to name just a few. Atmospheric scientists now say the carbon dioxide levels may have permanently surpassed 400 ppm. It’s safe to say this bad weather is probably only going to get worse.

With this in mind, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) recently released a guide on resilient design, aimed at helping communities better weather these events, and rebuild quicker when destruction does happen. To quote from the press release, it “includes numerous case studies and resources demonstrating multi-benefit systems as well as the small-scale solutions that fit within those. The guide also explains landscape architects’ role in the planning and design teams helping to make communities more resilient.”

Ultimately, the guide emphasizes that “working with nature, instead of in opposition to it” is the way forward. Much of our current large-scale infrastructure (think walls, dams, and sewers) is ill-equipped to handle today’s extreme weather, and is only becoming more expensive to build and maintain. Resilient landscape planning offers ways to mitigate these threats in a multi-faceted way as opposed to the traditional single-solution approach which, when it fails, offers no backup.

The guide is organized around six types of natural disasters. Each section discusses how resilient design can be used, outlines some co-benefits (part of the strength of these techniques comes from the fact that many play more than one role, or can have more than one impact), and details more specifically how landscape planning can be used in implementing a design. This portion of the guide is fairly brief, but is bolstered by a number of case studies and other resources.

Resilient planning to support biodiversity emphasizes the important role that varied species—both flora and fauna—play within an ecosystem by enhancing the services that it provides. Some possible approaches include habitat restoration, planting with biodiversity in mind, and building wildlife corridors.

Planning for drought takes a number of different approaches, from utilizing gray water for watering lawns, to landscaping with drought resistant plants, to designing to best capture and direct precious water resources.

Design approaches to dealing with extreme heat mostly center around vegetation; planting and maintaining a tree canopy, and increasing green wherever else possible, such as green roofs and alleys.

nyc-green-roofs

Before (2007) and after (2013) comparison of a NYC Parks Green Roofs Project. (Credit: NYC Parks Green Roofs)

Fires are a significant threat and are perhaps the most difficult to plan for out of all of the disasters discussed. Planting fire-resistant vegetation can help, and landscape design can be used to create “defensible spaces” to help slow or stop a spreading fire.

Resilient design offers a few approaches to planning for flooding, including preserving riparian areas and ecosystems to act as buffers or channels, and designing parks and other green space to capture, hold, and filter water.

Cromwell Park

Cromwell Park in Shoreline, WA can hold an acre-foot of water (almost 435,000 gallons), enough to eliminate the neighborhood flooding problem. (Credit: City of Shoreline)

Proper design and planning is key to preventing landslides. Working with the natural contours of the land, utilizing vegetation and root systems to combat erosion, and carefully selecting or even strengthening the soil can all help lessen this threat.

The resources offered range from federal research and guides (such as from EPA and NOAA), to interviews with experts in each topic, to National Geographic articles. Perhaps even more useful are the case studies, which include everything from site-specific project pages to city-wide master plans. ASLA has created a guide that has a lot to offer in the way of inspiration and direction for those looking for ways to start planning for the future.

For Most Americans, Their Closest Park is a City Park

By Catherine Nagel, Executive Director City Parks Alliance

For many Americans, access to the outdoors is not a long drive away but can be found close by in their neighborhood park. As more people are moving back to urban areas without the luxury of a backyard the importance of close-to-home parks is only increasing. Parks are where people gather on weekends to spend time with family, exercise, and connect with their community. They are where children first experience nature. But beyond their role in recreation and social well-being, city parks also help grow local economies, create new transportation options, combat crime, and reduce environmental impacts such as storm water runoff. Urban planners, elected officials, and community advocates recognize these benefits and are taking a fresh look at parks as an important part of city infrastructures.

philly-stormwater-lwcf-graphicOne of the critical funding sources for parks, playgrounds, urban wildlife refuges, greenways, trails, and open spaces in all 50 states is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF is funded through revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling royalties. Those funds are leveraged with state and municipal funds—public and private—to  provide close-to-home recreational opportunities and open space, which in turn benefit urban communities even more: attracting investment, creating jobs, spurring tourism, reducing public health expenditures, mitigating storm surges, and keeping the air and water cleaner. Permanent reauthorization and full funding of this important piece of legislation is critical for our nation’s future health and growth without tapping U.S. tax dollars.

Philadelphia’s 10,334 acre park system, for example, was developed in part with $12 million in LWCF funds and is saving the city $6 million per year in stormwater management costs. As part of its Green City, Clean Waters initiative, over the next 25 years Philadelphia will be investing $2 billion in parks and green infrastructure to capture 85% of the city’s stormwater, saving the city $16 billion that would otherwise be spent on underground pipes and tunnels. LWCF grants can match these water utility investments to ensure that stormwater management investments are simultaneously creating outdoor recreation opportunities.

nagel-secjewell-tight-shot-10-18-2016

Catherine Nagel presents award to Secretary Jewell, photo credit Julie Waterman

This week, I was able to thank Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell for her leadership in supporting urban parks around the country. She has been a strong advocate for permanent reauthorization and full funding of the LWCF, and an active participant in many Mayors for Parks Coalition events.

Mayors for Parks, a project of City Parks Alliance, is a national bipartisan coalition of mayors who understand the importance of urban parks in their communities, and are advocating for a strong LWCF.  Secretary Jewell participated in events around the country with Mayors for Parks Coalition members Mayor Betsy Price of Fort Worth, TX, Mayor William Bell of Birmingham, AL, Mayor Jim Brainard of Carmel, IN and Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix, AZ to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of LWCF. Secretary Jewell also joined me and fellow mayors in a press event for the release of City Parks Alliance’s report “A Smart Investment for America’s Economy:  The Land and Water Conservation Fund.”

Urban parks are dynamic institutions that play a vital role in the social, economic and physical well-being of America’s cities and their residents. Secretary Jewell understands the multiple benefits of urban parks and the critical role they play inspiring and offering youth in particular a chance to interact with nature. As development pressures on urban land continue to grow, we must find new and innovative ways to make sure that our parks have the funding they need and the benefits of green space are integrated in development decisions. For most Americans, the closest park will continue to be a city park.