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The Power of a Neighborhood Park

Photo © LAND Studio

Author: Nelson Beckford

P.S. 162 John Golden in Queens, New York and Fairview Park in Ohio City (Cleveland, Ohio) are two neighborhood parks that hold a special place in my heart. At P.S. 162 in my hometown, I learned how to ride a bike, played tag and then handball, and simply hung out. It was the neighborhood backyard. Later in life, Fairview Park in Ohio City served as an extension of my house. My son and I spent a lot of time there. No weekend was complete without a visit to this park. The park was well programmed with ice-cream socials and plays that brought folks together. This park was my ‘gateway’ to the neighborhood’s civic pulse. In both instances, these neighborhood parks provided a clear function: they contributed to my social, physical and mental health. Both were an easy 10 to 15-minute walk from my front door.

The Case for Neighborhood Parks – By the Numbers

It is fair to say that as a nation we are in a health crisis, particularly in the United States. Among the chief contributors to this is physical inactivity, which results in a whopping 11% of all deaths. I repeat: 11% of all deaths. The good news? Public parks and green spaces can be part of the solution.

The RAND Corporation and City Parks Alliance, with help from the Trust for Public Land, led a National Study of Neighborhood Parks to understand to what degree parks encourage people to be physically active. Over a two-year period, researchers looked at 174 neighborhood parks in 25 cities – some real, hard science here. These are just a few of the findings and recommendations from that study:

  • When you program (or activate parks), usage increases by 48% and physical activity by 38%.
  • Parks with walking loops were found to have 80% more users, over twice as many seniors, and 90% higher levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
  • Marketing, outreach and signage matter – causing a 62% increase in users and a 63% increase in physical activity.
  • Well-used parks are much more likely to have a vocal constituency to support them, and park agencies that measure park use are better positioned to justify public spending to maintain and enhance them.
Photo © LAND Studio

The study underscores the fact that thoughtfully designed parks can have a real and beneficial impact on our behaviors.

Particularly for young people, access to safe and enriching outdoor spaces can transform lives for the better. The field of philanthropy continues to see the connection between play and child development. And at a global scale, even the United Nations gets it. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states, “That every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. That member governments shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.”

So, What Are We Doing About It?

Here in Cleveland, our community has benefitted from the passionate individuals and organizations working to ensure every resident has access to enriching outdoor spaces. Sometimes this work happens on a grand scale, such as the establishment of the Cleveland Metroparks in 1919, and other times it’s a matter of neighbors coming together to transform a vacant lot at the end of their street. It makes me smile to think that the Cleveland Foundation’s very first discretionary grant was to help the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Board of Education (now the Cleveland Metropolitan School District) keep open playgrounds that otherwise would have operated on limited summer hours because of lack of funds.

Nearly 100 years later, this work continues in our community. Here are some examples of our partners’ work in this area:

  • Making Our Own Space (MOOS) – A program focused on engaging and empowering middle and high school students with the skills to transform neighborhood public spaces, MOOS uses hands-on, on-site workshops to build physical and social infrastructure in collaboration with the surrounding community.
  • LAND Studio – With the belief that active, quality greenspaces encourage community growth and involvement, LAND has provided arts and other recreational activities in neighborhood parks to thousands of underserved youth via park programming. Its summer arts program was created to deliver enriching experiences, through a variety of hands-on projects and events with activities including dance, drumming, soccer, painting and more.
  • Cleveland Public Square – The historic heart of Downtown Cleveland was redesigned in 2016 to better meet the needs of the community today. Year-round programming brings residents and visitors alike into to this space. For example, this past summer, 3,276 children attended “Summer Splash in the Square,” a series of free, family-friendly programming offered daily June through August.

Parks have a real public benefit, but for those of us who have enjoyed the use of a good neighborhood park, it’s also deeply personal. I invite you to take a moment to think about a park that played a role in your own life. Personally, my neighborhood park played a prominent role and enduring role in my sense of place. Professionally, I find myself assessing neighborhoods on the quality and quantity to their parks – not just by their housing stock and commercial corridors.

Now tell me about your neighborhood park…

Nelson Beckford is Program Director for Neighborhood Revitalization & Engagement at the Cleveland Foundation and a passionate advocate for public spaces that build community.

Join Us for National Walk to a Park Day on October 10th

 

Walk to a Park Day_Canopy Banner_R1-bannerLast October, on 10/10 at 10:10AM—The Trust for Public Land, in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association, Urban Land Institute, and more than 200 mayors around the country—launched the 10-Minute Walk Campaign, an historic effort to ensure there’s a great park within a 10-minute walk of every person, in every neighborhood, in every city across the country.

This 10/10 we’re proud to announce the first annual National Walk to a Park Day—a day devoted to celebrating the parks we have, and advocating for the parks we need.
Today, 1 in 3 Americans—more than 100 million people—don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk of home.

This campaign is a national movement to change that. Studies show access to nearby parks improves the physical health of residents and provides important social and community benefits—from boosting business and helping revitalize neighborhoods to cleaning and cooling the air, improving climate resilience, and providing opportunities for environmental education.

Parks are the anchors of healthy, livable communities, providing countless benefits—from helping to cool our cities to improving health and well-being to providing much-needed spaces to gather and play.

Visit www.walktoaparkday.org to pledge to walk to a park on 10/10. Then share your story using #10minwalk and #WalkToAParkDay. For every pledge, Hydro Flask’s Parks for All program will donate $1 to create parks where they’re needed most.

Indianapolis Parks & Public Spaces

Several Trust for Public Land staff were in Indianapolis last week presenting and attending the annual National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) Conference which drew over 8,000 parks and recreation professionals, parks non-profits, vendors and others for 4 days of workshops, sessions and tours.  We managed to scout out some park locations in this city of over 860,000 people and wanted to share a few of the photos that we took.

Indy-canal

The canal threads its way through a portion of the downtown area and into White Rock State Park, home to a number of museums and cultural institutions.  It has paths on both sides of the canal heavily used for walking, running and biking.

indy-park-memorial

University Park and the Indiana World War Memorial are just a few blocks north of the state capitol.

indy-flowers

Flowering plants are everywhere, maintained by the downtown Indy BID.  This display adjoins the Soldiers and Sailors monument in the downtown area.

indy-culturaltrail

The cultural trail is an eight-mile long paved trail for walking, running and biking htat connects adjoining neighborhoods to downtown and also incorporates key features, like the canal.  This is a cool part boasts solar powered lighting and native grasses planted along the trail as well as on top of these shade structures.

Martin Luther King park is located between several neighborhoods north of the downtown area and where, 50 years ago, Robert Kennedy told the crowd that Martin Lurther King had been killed and gave a short but emotional speech to a largely black audience.  A number of improvements have been made in the park this year and there are several moving sculptures…

mlk-scuplture

mlk-rfkspeech

indy-mlkpark-court

New publication: Creating Parks & Public Spaces for people of all ages

aarp-parks-cover

Public parks are important places for building a sense of community and social belonging. They are spaces that belong to everyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion or income.

However, the way parks are designed, maintained and programmed doesn’t always reflect the purpose and promise of such uniquely public spaces. Pinched for funds by competing priorities, many municipalities neglect their park networks or fail to invest in these vital places as their communities grow and change.

With the publication of Creating Parks and Public Places for People of All Ages: A Step-by-Step Guide, AARP Livable Communities8 80 Cities and The Trust for Public Land have come together to highlight the importance of parks — and give community leaders (and park advocates from all corners) tools they can use to both create and improve green spaces and public places for people of all ages.

Download your copy from AARP.org

aarp-thesteps

 

 

The Economic Benefits of Cleveland Metroparks

The Trust for Public Land’s Conservation Economics team recently released a new economic benefits report for Cleveland Metroparks, Ohio. This is a follow-on report to the original economic benefits study of the park district completed in 2013. The study was used in support of a November 2013 levy that would generate 62 percent of their $89 million annual budget for the next 10 years. The levy (a TPL measure) passed with 70 percent of the vote. In 2017, Cleveland Metroparks approached The Trust for Public Land seeking to update their report as part of a continuing effort to demonstrate the value of the park district. We released the new report and infographic (below) on September 17, 2018 and are pleased to share that Cleveland Metroparks continues to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits each year.

49412_CM Economic Benefit Infographic