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Re-introducing the Center for City Park Excellence

My name is Charlie McCabe, and I’m the new Director of the Center for City Park Excellence (CCPE) at the Trust for Public Land. My colleague, Ali Hiple, and I are hard at work continuing the legacy of founder Peter Harnik, who established CCPE back in the early 2000s. [For those of you who don’t know, Peter retired from the Trust for Public Land in October, but is keeping busy with many new projects.]

A little bit about me: I’ve been working in parks for the last eleven years. I was Executive Director of the Austin Parks Foundation from 2005-2012 and then Director of Public Programs for the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy in Boston from 2012-2015. During the last year and a half, I pursued a Master’s program at Pratt Institute in Urban Placemaking and Management. Between classes and thesis research, I worked at the Municipal Art Society of New York, at New Yorkers for Parks, and as a seasonal horticulturist at the Rose Kennedy Greenway.  In the past year, I’ve volunteered at Prospect Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park and Fort Greene Park, among others. I’m also a board member for the City Parks Alliance.

We’ll be continuing the Center’s annual publications and reports; namely City Park Facts, the comprehensive report of park systems in the 100 largest cities in the United States, and Parkscore, our annual ranking of those same 100 largest cities in terms of park systems. We’ll also be keeping our finger on the pulse of the urban park world, and publishing other articles and reports as interesting new topics and stories come to light.

Before, during, and after, we’ll be digging into the great amount of data that CCPE has compiled over the years, and learning about and reporting on trends in spending, acreage, and park facilities. We’re also trying to learn more about all of the great partnerships that are increasingly behind new parks, as well as coming up with innovative and creative ways that combinations of non-profit organizations, community group, funders, and business improvement districts are building, operating, maintaining, programming and funding parks in cities across the United States.

And that’s where you, dear reader of the City Parks Blog, come in. If you know of an innovative park, a best practice in operating and maintaining a park, a unique partner that helps build, program or maintain parks, or want to highlight an amazing best practice that you and your colleagues came up with or want to give a shout out to the best community organization (in your humble opinion), we want to know about it too.

You can reach us at ccpe@tpl.org  We’d be thrilled to hear from you.

The Frontline Parks of 2016

Each month, City Parks Alliance names one “Frontline Park” as a standout example of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship. The program highlights parks and programs that find innovative ways to meet the unique challenges facing city park professionals and their communities. In 2016 we focused on successful park partnerships including local museums, fire departments or transportation agencies.

City parks play a vital role in the social, economic and physical well-being of America’s cities and their residents. As cities become more densely populated, planners, elected officials, and community advocates are taking a fresh look at parks and their potential to help address critical urban infrastructure and public health issues. City parks provide access to recreational opportunities, increase property values, spur local economies, combat crime, and protect cities from environmental impacts. Parks are now recognized as powerful tools for urban communities and local economies and our 2016 Frontline Parks are great examples for cities of all sizes.

As we gear up for a new round of features, we want to congratulate all of our 2016 Frontline Parks and we hope they inspire you to nominate your favorite park in 2017!

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Buhl Community Park
(Pittsburgh, PA)
The Children’s Museum teamed up with the community to turn a dilapidated plaza into a new park. Best museum entrance ever!

 

 

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Crissy Field
(San Francisco, CA)
It’s hard to believe now, but this section of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area was a military airfield before it was cleaned up and restored. A+ view.

 

 

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Kathryn Albertson Park
(Boise, ID)
This gem in a ribbon of parks named for prominent Boise women was designed as a sanctuary for migratory birds and other wildlife.

 

 

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Avalon & Gage Park
(Los Angeles, CA)
A partnership between community members, the city, and a land trust turned this traffic island into a much needed park and playground.

 

 

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Buffalo Bayou
(Houston, TX)
The re-greening of Houston begins with the bayou. Take a pontoon boat tour to see the full scope of this network of waterways and parks.

 

 

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Westown Commons Park
(Grand Rapids, MI)
Thanks to a new tax levy and community volunteer effort, Westown Commons has an updated look, more visitors, and a popular new skate park.

 

 

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Frogtown Park & Farm
(Saint Paul, MN)
Why stop at gardening? The residents of this diverse community have a new park for recreation, and a working 5-acre farm for growing produce. Attending Greater & Greener, sign up for a tour!

 

 

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Buchanan Mall
(San Francisco, CA)
This activation project is revitalizing a stretch of parkland for 30,000 people in the Western Addition neighborhood of San Francisco.

 

 

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Webber Park
(Minneapolis, MN)
Three words: Natural. Swimming. Pool. Go to Webber Park when the ground thaws, or as part of your Greater & Greener experience next summer.

 

 

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Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge
(Fort Worth, TX)
This park partnered with the fire department for prescribed burns, keeping the park clear of fire fuel and urban firefighters prepared for extinguishing property-threatening wildfires.

 

 

Bremen Street Park
East Boston Greenway
(Boston, MA)
Not only does it link new, old, and improved parks together, the Greenway also allows bike and pedestrian access to three ‘T’ stations as well as Logan Airport.

 

 

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Tanner Springs Park
(Portland, OR)
This model of park sustainability sits atop a former railyard and brownfield in northwest Portland. It’s a nice, quiet place to read those new books from Powell’s.

 

 

The Frontline Parks program is made possible by DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.

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.