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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.

7 Responses

  1. Just out of curiosity, what are the comparable sizes of these two parks? It looks like the more accessible one may be much larger, and therefore has more nodes of access.

  2. I have to agree that the typical embedded suburban park with limited access does not serve a changing community as well as it should. The adjacent neighbors become resentful of “others” coming in to use “their” park. Redeveloping the parks to add more facilities to better serve the community is almost impossible because of the resiricted access. This causes a real deficit in overall needed park facilities, where the land may be availalbe but there is not a viable ability to add new facilities.

  3. Erin – good comment. The park on the right is about 15 acres and Powderhorn in Mpls is about 60 acres, so there is a size difference. I suppose I was using the larger park to embellish the point a bit, but there are several other parks I could’ve used that are around 15 acres. One square block is about 2 acres, so a 15 acre park set into the urban grid would have several nodes. Good catch!

    Hmmmmmm – that’s a really good point about additional issues with perceived ownership. Maybe this is NIMBYP, or “not in my back yard park.”

  4. Another point to make is the use of parks in the suburban grid to “short circuit” the meandering pedestrian routes. Trail connections through parks can create routes that are more direct for walkers, while keeping car routes indirect and traffic volumes low.

  5. […] Access to Parks Posted on December 2, 2008 by Ben We’re following up on our earlier post on the street grid and parks. This time we’re taking a closer look at how physical and […]

  6. Another issue here not specifically covered is that a well-connected street network lends itself very well pocket and neighborhood parks. The well-connected street network also presents a better opportunity to limit those semi-private/public spaces that are almost always underused (i.e. someone’s front yard). Instead parks have a better ability to be worked into the urban form and be common spaces for those living around them. This is much more difficult when dealing with typical suburban street patterns.

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