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Parks Under Siege

Part of Scherer Park in Long Beach Went for a Police Substation

Part of Scherer Park in Long Beach Was Taken for a Police Substation

Anyone interested in how parks are threatened by development should read a new article (pdf) by Center for City Park Excellence Director Peter Harnik, who writes:

For many years the worst threat to urban parks was from highway con­struction. Scores of parks in cities from Providence and Philadelphia to Los Angeles and San Diego were grievously damaged by roads, cloverleafs, smog and noise. The Supreme Court’s landmark 1971 ruling in the Mem­phis, Tenn. Case, Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe, slowed the carnage but didn’t stop it. But today it’s mostly not people trying to get out of town, it’s those trying to get into the action. Museum directors, team owners, shopping center moguls, hospital presidents – all are looking for prime locations at bargain prices, and parks frequently top their lists.

The article offers stories of different cities experiences, from the “parks in play” capital of Miami to the hands-off-of-parks rules in Portland, Oregon. The bottom line: without the protection of well-defined regulations and an ever-vigilant private park constituency, parks can lose out.

One Response

  1. Dear Ben,

    Thanks for continuing to share with us the relevant news about parks across the country. I check the blog weekly and think that’s coverage is excellent.

    I appreciate Peter’s new piece on “parks under siege,” and have been giving some thought as to why Miami, with a lakefront as comparable as Chicago’s, should continue to loose park ground. On the one had, I found an old Forbes report (2007) that found Miami to one of the most sedentary cities in America; on the other hand, others, like Chris Walker, now at LISC, has studied and written that people value parks even when they don’t use them.

    Miami, like Chicago, has a multi-lane highway tempering easy pedestrian access to the water and its parks; and Miami, also like Chicago, attempts to do a fair amount of programming in its parks to attract more visitors – since few live close to the bay-front parks in the downtown.

    Another reason the downtown park has lost the focus of its residents is that Miami’s residents are much more focused on their neighborhood parks closer to home (e.g., in the Wynwood neighborhood where Roberto Clemente park has been working for years to attract city reinvestment dollars). Like Chicago, the city’s neighborhood parks are few, small, in disrepair and in many cases face safety issues.

    The prospect of a Chicago lakefront park was almost lost had it not been for the fight that Montgomery Ward waged – his insistence for the public space created enough time to raise visibility and eventually created a love-affair between the city’s residents and the park. So does Miami need a wealthy business man to champion its bay-front park? Especially as the new and empty condominiums across the street stand waiting for future park advocates?

    I’d be interested to hear what others think about the particular histories and culture that make some park acreage more secure than others. And what it might take for a place like Miami to secure its greenspace on the Bay.

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