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Can College Attainment in Cities Increase Urban Parkland?

Last week we attended The Raben Group’s policy breakfast with Carol Coletta, president of CEOs for Cities. The purpose of the meeting was to provide an update on the Talent Dividend Prize competition, which will award $1 million in advertising dollars to the city or metro region that shows the greatest improvement in college attainment over the next four years. Research shows that a city’s economic success (measured in per capita income) is strongly correlated to the number of college graduates who live there, and the competition encourages teams of urban leaders to work together.

According to Coletta, “58 percent of a city’s economic success can be attributed to the percentage of the adult population with a college degree. In Chicago, there is a $7.2 billion annual increase in personal income when college attainment rises by one percentage point. This is greater than the payroll of the largest employer in the city.”

In New York, according to Dr. Nancy L. Zimpher, Chancellor of SUNY and Chair of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, “for every one percentage point increase in college graduation rate of the city’s population, New Yorkers will earn an additional $17.5 billion each year.”

CEOs for Cities believes there are three driving factors that influence the growth of cities: quality of talent, quality of place and quality of opportunity. We at City Parks Blog are most interested in quality of place, the parks and green spaces that attract and retain people to cities in the first place. The Center for City Park Excellence has identified seven measurable attributes of city park systems – property value, tourism, direct use, health, community cohesion, clean water, and clean air – that provide economic value to municipalities. These economic value studies have been done in 10 cities and two counties across the country.

It would be interesting to see if there is a direct link between college attainment and the quality of urban park systems. The idea is that more college graduates in a city could lead to more advocates for parks, which in turn leads to more funding and stewardship for parks, thus creating an overall stronger and healthier park system.

CEOs for Cites and its partners will host a launch event for cities that register for the Talent Dividend Prize competition on May 10, 2011 in Chicago, and the winner will be announced in September 2014.

The Talent Dividend Prize competition is open to all U.S. cities with a metropolitan population of 500,000, or the largest metropolitan area in a state based on 2009 American Community Survey data. (This equates to 108 municipalities.) Each metropolitan area is required to register and submit annual documentation of its educational attainment efforts in order to be considered for the prize.

Eligible cities may register here. As of Friday, four cities had completed the application: Little Rock, Louisville, Memphis and Milwaukee. Twenty-five other cities have begun the application process.

Urban leaders from any sector are eligible to register; however, each city is required to appoint a key liaison and a 6-8 member advisory panel composed of leaders from multiple sectors.

CEOs for Cities is a national network of urban leaders who are committed to sustaining and advancing the greatness of America’s cities. The group conducts research and advocacy and develops strategic partnerships on behalf of urban centers.

The prize competition is an outgrowth of City Dividends, CEOs for Cities research that calculated the monetary value to cities and the nation of increasing college attainment rates by one percentage point (Talent Dividend); reducing vehicle miles traveled by one mile per person every day (Green Dividend); and reducing poverty rates by one percentage point (Opportunity Dividend).

The Talent Dividend Prize competition is supported by The Kresge Foundation and Lumina Foundation for Education. Registration for the prize is now open and will close on May 1, 2011.

The Importance of Urban Green Space, Need for Funding Highlighted in America’s Great Outdoors Report

On February 16th, President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) Initiative to develop a new conservation and recreation agenda.

One of the key recommendations in the AGO report is to “Establish Great Urban Parks and Community Spaces” with a goal of creating and enhancing a new generation of safe, clean, accessible great urban parks and community green spaces.  Additional recommendations under this heading include:

  • Establish the America’s Great Outdoors Great Urban Parks and Community Green Spaces initiative by targeting increased funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund stateside grant program to leverage investment in new and enhanced urban parks and community green spaces.
  • Support and align federal agency programs and initiatives to promote the creation, expansion and enhancement of urban parks and community green spaces.
  • Target technical assistance support to communities to create and enhance urban parks and community green spaces.
  • Connect people with urban parks and community green spaces.

Last summer, urban citizens across the country attended listening sessions, enlisted the support of their mayors and posted comments online in response to the Administration’s call for public input, and as a result the report shows a clear commitment to urban parks as part of a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda to protect America’s natural and cultural heritage for present and future generations.

To learn more about the report, click here:  America’s Great Outdoors.

Walking on Water: Covering Reservoirs Can Create Parkland

A fifth excerpt from the recently released book published by Island Press called Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities. In this post, we look at some cities who have created parkland by covering their reservoirs.

Open drinking water reservoirs have been often-beloved icons in the United States for well over a century. Highland Park Reservoir (1879), McMillan Reservoir (1903), and Silver Lake Reservoir (1907), among others, were the places to promenade, picnic, see, and be seen in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, respectively.

Cool Spring Reservoir in Wilmington, Del. before it was buried. Credit: Philip Franks, Hurley-Franks and Associates.

Some, like Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park Reservoir, were located within larger park spaces; others, like Compton Hill Reservoir in St. Louis, essentially filled the entire space of their own park-like setting. It was recognized that none of them was entirely hygienic. They were fenced but, after all, at the mercy of general city dust and grime, not to mention bird droppings. But, like Ivory soap in the old commercial, 99.44 percent pure was considered good enough.

There are also numerous reservoirs that are not fenced. These reservoirs contain what is called “raw” water that is relatively clean but not yet “finished” for human consumption. At Griggs Reservoir Park in Columbus, Ohio, or White Rock Lake Park in Dallas visitors can go right to the water’s edge and dip their toes in, if they wish, or even go boating.

Then in 1993 came a highly publicized outbreak of Cryptosporidium bacteria in the Milwaukee water supply, and, soon after, heightened concerns about terrorism. Attention to public health was raised a notch. In December, 2005, after years of deliberation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published something called the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (LT2) that mandated that all newly constructed “finished water” reservoirs be built with a cover. (Finished water is clean enough for delivery to homes; raw water still needs treatment before it’s drinkable.) As for already existing finished water reservoirs, EPA gave municipalities the choice of covering them or leaving them as-is and then re-treating the water to finish it.

The requirement was greeted with dismay by many people who delight in the view of the open water, but the presence of a cover opens up the possibility for gaining parkland. Seattle, in particular, has recognized this chance to close a park gap in some neighborhoods. In fact, the city (along with the whole state of Washington) got started more than a decade ahead of the EPA rule. As former Mayor Greg Nickels put it, “This is a rare opportunity to turn public works into public parks. Underground reservoirs will not only improve the quality and security of our water supply, they will add to the quality of life in our neighborhoods.” All in all, the city is set to add 76 acres of new parkland using reservoir decks – including 4 acres in densely populated Capitol Hill, 20 acres in Jefferson Park (with a running track, sports fields, picnic grounds and a large, unprogrammed lawn), and a completely new park on top of Myrtle Reservoir. The $161-million cost is being funded via a rise in residential water use fees.

Cool Spring Reservoir in Wilmington, Del. after it was buried in a concrete tank. Note the grassy field and ornamental pond. Photo taken one month before opening day. Credit: Rory MacRory, AECOM.

Wilmington, Delaware, is getting a significant parkland boost from a similar program. Cool Spring Reservoir, which dates to 1875 and is located in a densely populated section, was buried in 2009, adding about 7 acres of parkland to the adjoining 12.5-acre Cool Spring Park. In one swoop, this conversion increased the small city’s total parkland resource by 1.6 percent. The expanded park serves about 11,500 residents within a half-mile radius.

Under the EPA rule, cities have the option of covering their finished-water reservoirs with a variety of materials, from air-supported fabric to floating polypropylene, from a dome of aluminum to a flat surface of wood, steel, or concrete. An analysis of possibilities for 15-acre Elysian Reservoir by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power pegged the cost of a floating cover at $19.6 million, a lightweight aluminum roof at $38.1 million, and a buried concrete tank at $121.4 million. Seattle, of course, found the same type of steep costs, but the mayor’s office there conducted a study that showed acquiring a similar amount of other parkland would cost about 85 percent as much as putting the reservoirs in concrete tanks. Michael Shiosaki, Seattle’s deputy director of planning said, “There’s no way we’d be able to buy properties like this, situated as they are on scenic overlooks in densely built-out locations throughout the city.” The concrete decks are covered with 8 inches to 2 feet of soil and planted with grass. They are principally used as open lawn areas, active sports fields, and game courts, interwoven with pathways. Trees are restricted to the perimeter because of the risk of root penetration of the deck.

The tension of shimmering views versus safe drinking water is not new and it’s not unsolvable. St. Louis long ago figured out how to do it: For more than 100 years, Compton Hill Reservoir has been covered, but the top of the cover is bowl-shaped and filled with water – non-drinking water – to make for a beautiful park experience. Seattle did something similar, building a small non-drinking water pond and fountain on top of its new Cal Anderson Park deck to memorialize the former reservoir. Wilmington also responded to a neighborhood outcry, putting its reservoir under just half the property and redesigning the other half as a pond with a viewing platform.

Not all reservoir stories have happy outcomes. Washington, D.C.’s McMillan Reservoir, built in the early 1900s and envisioned as a central feature in the city’s open space network, has been closed to the public since World War II. The grounds of the reservoir and its associated sand filtration site total 118 acres in a part of the city with little other usable parkland. Originally designed in 1907 by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. as a public park with promenades and places for people to sit, the facility is today encircled by a rusty chain-link fence set far back from the water pool itself, precluding any human use of the grounds. Ironically, since the water is unfinished the EPA rule does not come into play and there is no mandate to cover or bury it. The managing agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is concerned about possible water contamination and has no plans to remove or move the fence to get better use of the surrounding green space, and the neighborhood is not powerful or well-organized enough to push the Corps to think more creatively.

We’ve written before how reservoirs can be used as city parks, with some photos of the famed Cal Anderson Park. Additional Seattle reservoirs converted to parks with their opening dates include:

Magnolia Reservoir – Magnolia Manor Park (1995)
Lincoln Reservoir – Cal Anderson Park (2004)
Beacon Reservoir – Jefferson Park Expansion (October 2010)
Myrtle Reservoir – Myrtle Reservoir Park (November 2010)
West Seattle Reservoir – In design/development phase as of January 2011 (3 choices being debated in meetings)
Maple Leaf Reservoir – In mid-2011 the finished design documents will be turned into construction documents, and the reservoir is in the process of being covered.

We’ve also written about an international park-to-reservoir, Padding Reservoir Gardens in Sydney.  This historic reservoir is unique in that the underground ruins were preserved and kept publicly accessible.

The Greenbelt and Gilbert Lindsay Park Selected as “Frontline Parks”

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes two Frontline Parks to promote inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship across the country in the face of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures and urban neighborhood decay.

February’s selections highlight the importance of recreation in urban areas.

One of the primary functions of urban parks is to provide places for recreation.  The types of recreational opportunities can be influenced by park size, neighborhood demographics and demand, community design culture, and, of course, funding.  We typically think of city parks as places developed with ballfields ,sport courts, playgrounds, and swimming or spray pools.  Larger parks may have recreation centers or field houses.  But there is a different sort of urban park, too.  Across the country, cities are preserving and re-establishing natural areas and developing nature-based recreational experiences within their borders.  These parks feature trails, restored habitats, and environmental centers.  And though it seems that these types of parks would have nothing in common, this month’s featured parks share something quite significant: park partnerships that deliver results. Continue reading

Some news from around…

  • Nashville’s Centennial Park may soon have more green space around its famous Parthenon, as a new Master Plan includes proposals to reduce roads and parking (NewsChannel 5 Nashville)
  • Momentum is growing in Minneapolis for a downtown greening initiative, including a possible new central park, spurred by hopes of attracting growth and new residents (MinnPost)
  • San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is being considered for landmark status, prompting debate about how the park should evolve during lean budgetary times (San Francisco Chronicle)
  • In other San Francisco park news involving a healthy discussion, a proposal for more stringent leash rules at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area has inspired debate about whether the park is more a wilderness area or urban recreation center (CBS Sacramento)
  • Peter Harnik talks with PlanPhilly about the complexity of comparing park systems, how Philadelphia could best upgrade its parks, and what ingredients make for a strong park culture (PlanPhilly)
  • And speaking of Peter, the latest review of his newest book, Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities, considers how his insight can help British park advocates understand and improve their own urban green (Horticulture Week)