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More Evidence of Kids in Downtown Neighborhoods

Gold Medal Park, nestled in the Mill District mixed-use neighborhood in Minneapolis has been a draw for downtown residents.

More parents with children are living in downtown Minneapolis neighborhoods, says a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. We’ve reported on this trend in places such as Portland, and have made the case that cities need to provide the parks and playgrounds that parents want if they are to have truly diverse neighborhoods from young to old.

The article makes it pretty clear what downtown parents want — parks and playgrounds.  Given the lack of backyards and schools in the downtown Minneapolis area, a group of parents “agreed the single thing most necessary to make the neighborhood more livable was a playground” and they started lobbying the city. A playground is now being built. A city council aide says also that “there’s been a noticeable increase in the number of young children living downtown, which is supported by the number of calls we’ve gotten requesting family-friendly areas.” (The city also recently built Gold Medal Park along the riverfront, which is cited as another draw.)

There is an issue of space — and developers and planners may be reluctant to take land away from buildings. But a lot of recreational activity can fit into a one or two-acre site (i.e. about one square block), more units can be added to buildings to make up for it and more people — parents in this case — will want to live in this setting. In the end, perhaps the real test of what makes a neighborhood livable is whether it is kid-friendly — and parks are necessary to making that happen.

Imagining a Better Public Realm in World’s Cities

What would our world’s cities be like if they were filled with great public spaces, using human-dominated design instead of auto-dominated design? Our Cities Ourselves, a project of the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) imagines this in ten mega-cities across the globe, from Jakarta to Mexico City to Buenos Aires, asking some of the world’s leading architects to rethink certain areas within them. The renderings show freeways turned into “High Line” style parks, roadway areas converted to public space and new parks along riverfronts. As the project website indicates, given that 60 percent of the global population, or five billion people will live in urban areas in 2030 (mostly in the developing world) — how we build our cities is of utmost importance for public health, climate change and other big issues.

WNYC provides a nice summary of all the cities, showing the “before and after” possibilities. One is below, from Buenos Aires shows how even small changes could make a big difference:

Travel to St. Louis Parks

In our continued documentation of parks’ contribution to city tourism, we again are relaying advice in the New York Times 36 Hours series, this time from St. Louis. The Times notes that “the famous arch, of course, is still there, along with plenty of 19th-century architecture and an eye-opening amount of green space.” Interestingly, the article lists City Garden and Forest Park as the green spaces to visit, and leaves out the Arch grounds. (If the city were to do something about the freeway cutting the grounds of from the rest of the city, it is hard to argue there wouldn’t be tourism benefits.) Here’s an excerpt:

2:30 p.m.

The new jewel of downtown St. Louis is Citygarden (citygardenstl.org), a sculpture park the city opened last summer, framed by the old courthouse on one side and the arch on the other. The oversize public art, by boldface names like Mark di Suvero and Keith Haring, are terrific, but the real genius of the garden’s layout is that it reflects the landscape of the St. Louis area: an arcing wall of local limestone, for instance, echoes the bends of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

4 p.m.

St. Louis boasts 105 city-run parks, but none rivals Forest Park (stlouis.missouri.org/citygov/parks/forestpark), which covers more than 1,200 acres smack in the heart of the city. It opened in 1876, but it was the 1904 World’s Fair that made it a world-class public space, spawning comely buildings like the Palace of Fine Art, which now houses the Saint Louis Art Museum. In 2002, a $3.5 million renovation of the Jewel Box, a towering, contemporary-looking greenhouse dating back to 1936, gave it an extra sheen. Rent a bike from the visitor’s center (314-367-7275; weekends only, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; $30 per person per day) and just meander.

Some news from around….

  • Nanjing, one of the oldest metropolitan cities within China, has committed a 460 acre waterfront district to a new smart growth urban design. (The Dirt)
  • Report on upgrades made to Union Square in an effort to make it more pedestrian and bike-friendly. (Streetsblog)
  • Next American City’s Vincent Valk asks “What is Livability?”
  • A report on the increased popularity of walking and biking (hooray!). Also interesting is the report’s findings that while walking and biking has increased, the number of fatalities related to it has held fairly steady. Here’s to safer streets. (Kaid Benfield)

More Walking Loops Needed in Neighborhood Parks?

The walking loop in Seattle's Cal Anderson Park is a popular place for walking. (CalAndersonPark.org)

Diana DeRubertis has a nice post at Planetizen arguing that there’s been too much focus on providing trails in the wilderness and not enough where people can actually use them, inside parks on walking loops.

The wilderness-like parks seem to be increasingly emphasized at the expense of smaller community parks that provide the right facilities for outdoor exercise. One element overlooked by park planners is the community track or paved walking loop. In the eastern US, many high school tracks are open to the public; they tend to be safe and well-used. Out West, school tracks are unfortunately locked and reserved for student use only. Where school tracks are not an option, walking loops within parks are a good alternative. These can be placed around baseball diamonds, soccer fields, playgrounds and picnic areas.

Because park safety depends largely on visibility, walking loops should be within the sightline of other park users as well as passersby. Ideally, the park would offer a diversity of activities that attract visitors. It would also be large enough for physical activity but not so expansive that people feel lost.

Two parks here in Washington, D.C. have pretty good walking loops — Meridian Hill Park and Lincoln Park,  both are rectangular, roughly 10 to 12 acre parks that have circular (or rectangular) paths that people regularly use for exercise (sometimes in groups). Another place for this is on the roads of several parks — for instance, the loop road (shut down to cars)  in Denver’s Washington Park is very popular with walkers. But the best example may be Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park. The park was actually once a reservoir with a walking path around it, but when the city covered the reservoir the design kept a walking loop within the only 4-acre site. The gravel path is now a popular piece of this great urban space.