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The Beltline and Affordable Housing

This month’s issue of Next American City has a great article on Atlanta’s Beltline project, a 22-mile loop of parks, trails, transit and medium-density, mixed-use development encircling Atlanta’s urban core. Usual write-ups about the Beltline talk of the transformation potential of the parks, transit and trails of the project. This one goes a bit deeper and covers an issue that can make the project less of a success in the long-run: rising property values can make the adjacent areas unaffordable for many. The article describes how the city and community leaders have tried to resolve this issue through dedicating funds towards an affordable housing trust fund for use in the area. Anyone interested in the relationship of parks, affordable housing and urban revitalization would be interested in reading the whole article.

New Year’s Eve Links

Here’s some this and that, not necessarily a “best of” but just some links from the last year on the eve of a new year:

  • The best park projects may have been on the street. Streetsblog gives their 2008 “Streetsie” Awards, with most of the award going to projects that turn streets into non-auto public space. (Streetsblog)
  • Houston opens its own signature downtown park with the opening of Discovery Green – April. (Discovery Green)
  • Santa Fe opens a new Railyard Park, a success story in creating a vibrant urban site from an abandoned railyard – September. (Railyard Park & Plaza.)
  • Bryant Park: So crowded nobody goes there – June. (NY Times)
  • Putting a dollar value on the economic benefits of Philadelphia’s park system – (TPL)
  • And lastly, this past year’s data on park systems of the largest 75 U.S. cities:  1.3 million acres (larger than Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, and Shenandoah National Parks combined); 9,945 playgrounds; 1,283 swimming pools; 379 golf courses; 353 dog parks and total spending $5 billion. (City Park Facts)

Amenity Rich Cities

There’s more evidence that parks help make cities economically prosperous though attracting residents in a new study highlighted by the Boston Globe:

In a paper published this month by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, economists Gerald A. Carlino and Albert Saiz looked at 150 metropolitan areas around the United States and found hat those rich in what they called “consumption amenities” – the things that make a city delightful, such as parks, historic sites, museums, and beaches – “disproportionally attracted highly educated individuals and experienced faster housing price appreciation.”

In other words, urban growth and prosperity have less to do with transportation links and industrial infrastructure than the patterns that govern behavior at a social mixer: Beautiful and charming cities draw a crowd, while the featureless and unattractive wilt like wallflowers.

The full study can be found here.

Monuments in City Parks

Statue of Norwegian Violinist Ole Bull in Minneapolis

Statue of Norwegian Violinist Ole Bull in Minneapolis

MinnPost (of Minnesota) has an interesting article up about the many monuments and statues found within Minneapolis parks. Anyone interested in this subject would find it interesting and probably similar to other cities in how such items come about and have evolved. One particular snippet is that there are so many monuments and statues that it has become difficult to inventory them, as one park planner is attempting for the park system today. Describes MinnPost:

Not long ago I took a tour of some park monuments with Mary Lynn Pulscher, a park planner and unofficial park historian. She’s been trying to compile an inventory of park objects, though it’s admittedly incomplete. “Things get moved or stolen, or forgotten,” Pulscher explained, adding that she dreams of an inventory that uses GPS technology to keep track of things.

Among things like playgrounds and ball fields, GIS enables parks systems to inventory and locate basically everything, including monuments. Doing so could make maintaining or restoring the notables much easier, and a park system looking more inviting to the public.

Judge Says No to Selling Parkland in Philadelphia

A local judge’s ruling in Philadelphia has ensured (unless an appeal overturns it) that nearly 20 acres of the city’s Burholme Park will not be leased to the Fox Chase cancer center to construct several buildings. The judge determined that leasing the land would mean breaking the law and the will of Robert W. Ryerss, who bequeathed and dedicated  it to the city in 1905 to be used as parkland “forever.” A local councilman has made a deal whereby Fox Chase would pay millions to the city as part of the agreement, including $ 4.5 million to be used on “capital expenditures” in his district that did not have to be parkland at all. An editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News supported the decision and calls on the city to address the issue of selling off parkland:

According to the law, which was cited 100 years ago in a similar decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, if it’s dedicated parkland that is still used as a park, it has to stay that way.We’ll leave to others the questions of why neither the city nor the Fairmount Park Commission did not at least raise the question of the “public-trust doctrine” in this long-running issue. We want to focus on the future of Fairmount Park as its governance structure changes.Herron said the law wouldn’t prevent the city from selling or exchanging parkland that no longer was viable. To that end, it’s essential that the commission established by the Nov. 4 referendum to advise the new Department of Parks and Recreation establish clear criteria for determining viability and for deciding if and how to pursue divesting land.

Protecting city parkland should be the soul of the city’s park policy. The Fox Chase deal, while perhaps well-intentioned, undermined that soul. We’re grateful not only for one wise judge, and many active neighbors, but for the commonwealth’s foresight 100 years ago that has succeeded in protecting us from ourselves.

For more information on how cities have sold off or protected parkland, see this article by Peter Harnik. The organization Defense of Place is also a resource that is dedicated to park protection.