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Suburbs Creating City Parks

The Washington Post covers a new park in suburban Fairfax County outside of Washington, D.C. — the kind that we may be seeing more of in suburbs that are looking to become more city-like. Here’s an excerpt:

When you think of a suburban park, you might think of something rolling and green, with a little mulchy square for a playground and perhaps a backstop that hints at a baseball diamond.

If so, Fairfax County would like you to expand your definition.

On Saturday, the Fairfax County Park Authority dedicated Merrifield Park, a little brick plaza with benches and a fountain, hemmed in on one side by a sleek new complex of condominiums and shops called Merrifield Town Center. Though not necessarily a park in the way some might be accustomed, it performs a similar function: providing area residents with a little space and respite, somewhere to read, meet a friend or lure the kids away from their video games to enjoy some fresh air.

As the county’s first developed, public “urban park,” Merrifield is being held up as a model for the park of the future in the urbanizing areas of Fairfax, where open land is scarce, back yards are virtually nonexistent and common areas must be equally suitable for cubicle refugees at lunchtime and families out for a picnic. In particular, officials said, it is emblematic of the kind of thinking that will be necessary to make Tysons Corner, which is poised for a massive urban-style redevelopment, into a vibrant, walkable and attractive community.

“The county is changing, so our park system really needs to change,” said Sandy Stallman, the authority’s manager of park planning. “The county is moving toward more urban development in places like Tysons and some of the revitalization areas. The suburban park model just needed to be updated to coincide with that new urban paradigm.”

An Interview with Dan Biederman of Bryant Park

Want to get some insights into enlivening a signature urban park? Or a business improvement district that can fund a park? The radio program Smart City with Carol Colletta hosts Dan Biederman who has helped turn around and continues to manage New York City’s Bryant Park. The interview is available to stream through the Smart City website.

DC’s Eastern Market Reopens

A great indoor public market in Washington, D.C. just reopened (see Washington Post story) after reconstruction following a fire in 2007. An indoor-only operation during the week, and an added outdoor farmers and flea market on the weekends, Eastern Market is one of Washington’s best public spaces. Every city should have something like this. Here are some pictures from today’s opening:

Investing in Park Systems Good for Urban Economics

Anne Schwartz of the Gotham Gazette takes a good look at the economic value of parks. She covers some of the recent research showing the value of parks, including a good chunk devoted to TPL’s recent report Measuring the Economic Value of City Parks, which looks at seven factors that provide a benefit measurable in dollars. But she also raised an excellent point about how cities can actually get something back from their parks — by investing in them:

To capture the economic benefits of parks, however, a city must invest in their upkeep. Parks help the economy when they are well maintained and well used. They can have a negative effect when they are neglected, attracting vandalism, drug-dealing and other crime. During the New York City fiscal crisis of the 1970s and ’80s, dirty, worn and dangerous parks became a potent symbol of the city’s decline.

The parks system, compared to other city services, takes a relatively small amount of money to maintain. Although the parks department operating budget has increased since the lows of the early 1990s, the number of park properties has increased by 20 percent, and the department still runs on a budget that park advocates say is not adequate to keep the entire system in good repair.

It isn’t only the Central Parks of the world that have economic value. It is also the neighborhood parks, the greenways, playgrounds and natural areas that make up an entire park system that positively contribute to a city’s overall bottom line.  Shwarz’s column is worth a full read.

Some news from around…..

  • Sen. Schumer of New York likes biking around the city. (HuffPost)
  • Screen on the Green is back on the National Mall, through new partnership between HBO, Comcast and the Trust for the National Mall. Each film will begin with a fundraising message on the Mall’s needs and the Trust. Sounds like a good medium to raise awareness and money for much-needed improvement on the Mall. (Washington Post)
  • Metered parking proposed again for Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.  (City Insider at SF Chronicle)
  • Good read on reclaiming urban watersheds, from the San Francisco Bay area. (High Country News)