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Parks in the Sky

A New York Times article today spotlights the new High Line park built atop an elevated rail line in Manhattan.

The High Line offers a retreat from street life, a bucolic space floating 30 feet in the air with Hudson River views. Yet it retains many elements of its gritty past: graffiti is prevalent on the buildings it wends through, and some of the rails have been restored in the park. That the park — which grew from an idea hatched 10 years ago into a $170 million project —is being built at all is a marvel. “When we first started people thought it was crazy,” said Robert Hammond, a co-founder of Friends of the High Line, the community group that pushed for the park.

No longer. The first section of the park will open to the public this spring, but it has already transformed the area near its 22-block stretch near the river, prompting some of the most ambitious development in the city in years.

The park in the sky is attracting several new developments, including offices and buildings along its stretch. Th benefits of turning former industrial rail viaducts into parks is exciting and evident. Other cities are doing the same thing.

In Chicago, the Bloomingdale trail contains an elevated rail segment. Here’s some more info on that project. And then there’s another segment in St. Louis that the Great Rivers Greenway District is developing. We hope to post more on both of these projects more in depth.

The Street Grid and City Parks

In a guest post at Kaid Benfield’s Switchboard blog (of NRDC), Rachel Sohmer very nicely describes the issues around street connectivity, using a childhood example about how the suburban dead-ends and cul-de-sacs made even short trips “as the crow flies” long given all the obstacles. The below figures show the difference more street connections can make.

US Federal Highway Administration) US Federal Highway Administration)

Rachel gives an excerpt from a piece by Charlottesville transportation planner Hannah Tradwell:

Regardless of their size, communities can realize three major benefits from better connectivity: shorter trips; a wider variety of travel choices; and more cost-effective public services and infrastructure. Creating more direct connections shortens travel time, which effectively brings people closer to their destinations. With more available connections, community residents can get to schools, shopping centers, and other spots that may have simply been off their radar before — not because these places were too far away, but because they were too far out of the way.

I would definitely add parks to this list. Excellent parks are accessible parks. The way they interact with the street grid is integral to this. Take two parks in the Twin Cities, Minn. metro (but this could be Anycity, U.S.A.). One is Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis (below, left), surrounded by the grid and the other is Colonial Park (below, right) in the nearby suburb Burnsville. Nearly 100 percent of the first park is accessible by the grid, and the latter is at most five percent accessible via the streets. In this suburban environment with plenty of backyard space, this might work — but if we are to build more compact, walkable cities and densify our suburbs, the need for an accessible park more like the one on the left is much greater.

The Fight Over New York City’s Washington Square Park

An article in the New York Times yesterday gives an interesting overview of the row that’s ensued in the past years over redesigning and changing New York’s well-known 10-acre Washington Square Park.

The article provides valuable insight into how or if park redesigns should be undertaken in such a situation, but also reveals how much parks can mean to residents of densely populated communities. With little private yard space, parks are the front and back lawns of residents. And residents have a shared ownership of these spaces. The article notes:

We all want to write our desires on New York. But in a metropolis of eight million overlapping voices, that is rarely possible. Public spaces like parks are a particular battleground, equally prized as green oases and places for personal expression.

In cities that are becoming more densely populated, where residents may be giving up their private yards for more public ones in parks, it is more likely that the concern over the form and character of the city’s parks will increase also.

Rewarding Cities for Affordable Housing with Money for Parks

California has just introduced an program that awards cities for building affordable housing with grants for parks. More:

This money will reward communities by enhancing the quality of life in these neighborhoods. We hope that all of our communities can benefit from more parks and more affordable housing,” said Lynn L. Jacobs, Director of HCD. The funds come from Proposition 1C, the $2.85 billion housing bond passed by the voters in November 2006, a part of the Governor’s Strategic Growth Plan. $200 million will be available in total program funds which will be awarded in six annual rounds beginning in 2009.

Funds will be awarded for both park creation and rehabilitation. California had a similar program under its Workforce Housing Rewards program, in which cities could use reward grants for a number of public works projects. But now parks are getting singled out. This joining together of parks and affordable housing is particularly encouraging — and shows great promise for building new housing that is accompanied by new or renewed parks for the housed.

More Music Festivals, More Money

Yet more news on big music festivals in parks. Word has it from the City Insider blog at the San Francisco Chronicle that the city’s Rec. and Park Dept. was thrilled with the Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park this year. The reason: revenue. (Read our past posts here.) These things are bringing in people to parks and they’re also bringing in the money.

Whether you loved it or hated it, if you live in the city you probably have an opinion on August’s three-day, Outside Lands festival, which brought big name acts including Radiohead to Golden Gate Park.

The Recreation and Parks Department was thrilled by the event, which brought $815,000 into their coffers and allowed the agency to showcase its crown jewel. Now, the department is looking to sign on a promoter to produce a similar event, in August, for the next three years — with the possibility of a two-year extension. The idea? To create a new revenue stream for the city’s parks; to “create an iconic event” representative of the city and its main park, that provides economic benefits for the region; and to generally call attention to the parks system, which is in dire need of cash.

We’ll continue to post on this trend.