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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.

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.

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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.

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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.