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Park Profile: Underground at Ink Block

A few years ago, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) decided to create some public space out of the darkened areas under the 1-93 overhead highway just south of downtown Boston.  It wasn’t the first place you’d expect a new public space.

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Location of Underground at Ink Block in Boston (from their website)

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Murals on highway retaining walls and on the hike and bike footpaths.

The space that they had in mind was surrounded by commuter rail lines running to nearby South Station, waterfront along Fort Point Channel, and South Boston on the other side, and surface streets and the rapidly revitalizing “New York Streets” section of the South End of Boston, home to both restored factory buildings as well as new development.

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One of the landscaped rain garden / storm water garden areas.

The resulting 8-acre Underground at Ink Block, which formally opened in the fall of 2017, is part park, part water garden/filtration system, part art project, part paid parking lot, part-secured bike storage, and part dog park – all nestled under I-93 in between the South End and South Boston, owned by MassDOT,  and operated by a local property owner, National Development

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The parking lot provides weekly parking (and resulting) revenue as well as an expanded area to hold weekend festivals, when the need for parking isn’t so great.  A series of murals, to be updated on a regular basis, cover highway retaining walls, the foot paths in and out of the Underground, as well as storage containers and electrical service utility boxes.

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Then there’s the goal of managing storm water. Downspouts from the highway above are channeled into a new of large, landscaped water gardens that hold runoff and slowly release it back into the ground via drains.  Signage explains how the system works.

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One of the largest rain garden / storm water garden areas.

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Stormwater Management – Interpretive Signage

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How highway maintenance is performed without damaging the park and gardens.

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Waterfront path and views (looking north)

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Dog park double gate and “king of the mountain” mound directly behind.

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Paths along Fort Point Channel, looking south.

For further information on the Underground at Ink Block, visit the official website or Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

How big or small are parks in US cities?

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For our work on the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore, we know the median size of a park in the 100 largest US cities is 3.8 acres.  We recently got a request to calculate how parks break down in size amongst the 100 largest cities.  We looked at the data a number of different ways, and how it differs based on city population as well as density.  Here’s what we found.

Overall for the 100 largest US cities (includes all public parkland, regardless of ownership by city, county, state and federal governments)

  • .25 (or less) acre: 12.3%
  • .25 to 1 acre: 16.3%
  • 1 to 2 acres: 11.1%
  • 2 to 5 acres: 17.6%
  • 5 to 7 acres: 6.9%
  • 7 to 10 acres: 7.6%
  • 10 to 15 acres: 6.9%
  • greater than 15 acres: 28.2%

We wondered if there was a difference in these breakdowns for cities with larger populations versus small populations, so we did some additional analysis.

For cities with populations in the 600,000 to 800,000 range (Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Detroit, El Paso, Las Vegas, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Seattle, Washington, DC.), we found the following:

  • .25 (or less) acre: 16.6%
  • .25 to 1 acre: 19.5%
  • 1 to 2 acres: 10.7%
  • 2 to 5 acres: 16.6%
  • 5 to 7 acres: 6.1%
  • 7 to 10 acres: 6.9%
  • 10 to 15 acres: 5.3%
  • greater than 15 acres: 18.2%

For cities with populations under 250,000 (Arlington (VA), Baton Rouge, Boise, Chesapeake, Fremont, Garland, Glendale, Hialeah, Irving, Norfolk, North Las Vegas, Reno, Richmond, Scottsdale, Winston-Salem), we found the following:

  • .25 (or less) acre: 6%
  • .25 to 1 acre: 14.6%
  • 1 to 2 acres: 10.7%
  • 2 to 5 acres: 20.1%
  • 5 to 7 acres: 8.6%
  • 7 to 10 acres: 9.2%
  • 10 to 15 acres: 9.1%
  • greater than 15 acres: 21.9%

Finally, we also looked at cities with lower population densities* (10 to 15 persons per acre) and found the following:

  • .25 (or less) acre: 17.2%
  • .25 to 1 acre: 19.5%
  • 1 to 2 acres: 10.9%
  • 2 to 5 acres: 15.5%
  • 5 to 7 acres: 5.5%
  • 7 to 10 acres: 6.9%
  • 10 to 15 acres: 5.6%
  • greater than 15 acres: 19%

(*-includes Anahiem, Arlington (VA), Baltimore, Buffalo, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Oakland, Seattle.)

Stay tuned for further analysis as we dig into our ParkServe index. (7700 cities, towns and communities rated for 10 minute walk to a park access.)  Below is a screen shot showing results from suburban Boston.

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Giving thanks for our city parks

It’s the busiest travel day of the year as I write this, and I’m looking out from my window at the Trust for Public Land offices in Boston over the historic Granary Burying Ground and its amazing canopy of trees which is a historic park and a very popular tourist destination in its own right. I can see people walking along the paths, looking for final resting places of John Hancock, Sam Adams and Paul Revere.  At some point, we’ll hear tour guides in colonial dress talking about the site and its place in history.  It’s great to have a window seat overlooking a city park, given my work at the Trust for Public Land.

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2017 has been filled with highs and lows, but I’m thankful for my job – researching trends, best practices and the many ways that park agencies continue to care for our urban park systems. Since late September, we have been conducting our annual city parks survey which provides the data for creation of our two big annual “publications” – City Park Facts – an almanac of the parks systems of the 100 largest U.S. cities as well as the ParkScore Index , a ranking of the park systems of those same 100 largest U.S. cities.

For the first time this year, we’re surveying several hundred non-profit park foundations and conservancies that work hand in hand with the city, county, state and federal agencies that operate, maintain and program our 2 million acres of parks in our 100 largest cities. For the nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population that lives in those cities, parks are both natural refuges as well as playgrounds for 60 million people who live in those 100 largest cities, as well as millions more in the communities that surround them.

It takes a lot of work to keep our parks and public spaces in good working order. And, a string of natural disasters have challenged our parks agencies in a number of communities for sure. Severe wind, rain and flooding have knocked parks, trails and indoor facilities out of commission for weeks and months.  Park agency employees have lost cars, their homes, and personal possessions. Tons of debris and silt have clogged waterways and linear parks with flooding. National parks, preserves and forests in Florida and Puerto Rico have been severely damaged. And then, there is the cycle of drought and flood that parts of the U.S. experience with seasonal regularity, often resulting in the loss of homes, loved ones and beloved public spaces.

That said, we as a country continue to rise to the challenge and look for ways to donate, volunteer and vote for our parks. As Adrian Benepe, SVP at the Trust for Public Land noted in a recent Huff Post piece, voters in 26 communities approved $1.5 B in bonds for parks and conservation in November elections. In both Houston and south Florida, people contributed to funds to help park staff who lost their homes and possessions with donations – over $95,000 raised in Houston and thousands raised for National Park Service staff in south Florida and the keys.

In addition, many Americans contribute their time (16.4 million hours donated to the 100 largest U.S. city parks systems in 2016 alone), and donate funds to both public and non-profit parks agencies. Here’s two things you can do for your own parks over the next week.

First, while the day after Thanksgiving is usually known as Black Friday (when the holiday shopping season begins officially) is also known as #OptOutside day, begun by REI three years ago when they decided to close all of their stores and give their employees a day off. I am planning on going on a hike, myself, but it can be any activity and if the weather is cooperating where you live, you should too!  Bring your family, friends, dogs. Take photos. Tell others. (My helpful tip – bring a trash bag and pick up any trash or recycleables that you find along the way.)

The second day is next Tuesday, November 28, as known as #GivingTuesday. Started by the 92nd Street YMCA in NYC, it is a global day of giving, with many parks and environmental non-profit organizations participating.  Please consider a donation to The Trust for Public Land and the City Parks Alliance (the two parks non-profits that bring you this blog) as well as the many great parks foundations and conservancies doing work in our cities and communities across the US. They need your help more than ever.

Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy your parks!

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The author (Charlie) and one of his hiking partners (foster dog Remy)

Introducing ParkServe

In coordination with the launch of the 10-minute walk to a park campaign, The Trust for Public Land is pleased to introduce ParkServe.  You need to check it out: http://parkserve.org.

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This is the main ParkServe page.  Just type in the name of your city, town or community and if we have it mapped, we’ll show you results.

The Trust for Public Land’s ParkServe® builds on the success of ParkScore®, taking the measure of 10-minute walk park accessibility to cities and towns across America. Upon completion of phase one in the spring of 2018, the first-of-its-kind ParkServe® platform will include the locations and 10-minute walk service areas for all parks, playgrounds and natural areas offering public recreational opportunities in 13,931 cities, towns, and communities in the US. The release on October 10, 2017 includes data for 7,691 cities, towns and communities, covering 67% of the US population.

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We searched for Arlington, MA which is next door to Boston and Cambridge MA.  This is the top half of the results page.

The ParkServe® platform enables The Trust for Public Land and our partners with tools to determine where to site future parks with an emphasis on focusing resources in underserved neighborhoods. The platform provides information about park systems and the associated percentage of city, town and community residents within a 10-minute walk of a park. This percentage is also further broken down through several demographic lenses: race/ethnicity, age, and income. Lastly, the ParkEvaluator™ is built into the ParkServe® platform, which gives users the ability to draw in a potential park on a map and immediately see the population within a 10-minute walk. For each city, town, and community, the ParkServe® team has identified optimal potential park sites, which show approximate locations where parks would have the biggest impact on the number of people served.

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This is the bottom half of the results at a glance page for Arlington, MA in ParkServe.

The ParkServe® platform is a powerful resource for The Trust for Public Land and our partners to make sure our collective park resources are going into the places where parks are needed the most. In the second phase of ParkServe®, the team plans to build out the database to include information on park amenities, park quality, and park usage, as well as information on how well each park is providing green infrastructure and public health benefits. We will also be creating more applications for planners and community members to use for planning and capturing community-generated data. We would love your support so stay tuned for these exciting advancements!

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You’ll see this expanded map and detailed results if you click on the “explore and map parks” orange button.

A special thank you to ESRI, Mindshare Labs Inc., TRW GeoServices Company, Async GIS, Blue Raster LLC, USGS, Unique Places LLC, Rocky Mountain Wild and Patricia Jenkins for making this work possible.

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Here’s the demographics you’ll see for each city, town or community (as well as Ethnicity

The Importance of Public Space

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The following blog from Nelson Beckford, Senior Program Officer, A Strong Neighborhood Saint Luke’s Foundation, was originally published on Let’s Talk Philanthropy: a blog by Philanthropy Ohio.  

By definition, a public space is a social space that is open and accessible to people. Streets, public squares, plazas, parks and beaches are examples of public spaces. These spaces are a social utility or public good because they:

  • Promote democracy, inclusion and social cohesion allowing people from various socio-economic backgrounds to share common ground to celebrate, recreate, to remember, to reflect or protest.
  • Define a city or neighborhood, think Golden Gate Park, Public Square, Washington Square Park – the spaces are reflections of the values, culture and history of a place. Ditto with the simple neighborhood park.
  • Promote active living; when people live close to a park or trail, they walk more.

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These are just a few of reasons that drove the Saint Luke’s Foundation along with Philanthropy Ohio to form the Public Space Community of Practice. The members represent the full spectrum of public space work from funding, research, land disposition, land acquisition, planning, design and programming. The goal of the group is broad but simple: to reflect and learn from the multiple efforts happening in Cleveland around public spaces.

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We opened our first gathering with this check in question: “Public Spaces are important because____.”  From there we did some context setting, framing and highlighted public space efforts happening at various scales and across sectors, from a memorial pocket in honor of a police officer – Derrick Owens – killed in the line of duty, to a large-scale intergenerational playscape. We also gave a sneak preview of the landmark research effort – National Park Study – conducted by City Parks Alliance, the National Institute for Health and the RAND Corporation.

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Stay tuned for more information and/or opt in for one of the few remaining seats available on the Philanthropy Forward ‘17 “Why Parks Matter” learning tour where we will explore parks and public spaces that work and those that could better serve their nearby residents. If you haven’t registered, click here to sign up.

I challenge foundation staff and board to reflect on how our work (regardless of type of funding priorities/focus) touches on or is influenced by public spaces. As a member of society, take a moment to think about the value you, your family or neighbors get from the public spaces. Discuss.