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Olmsted Park and Potomac River Waterfront 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.

March’s selections celebrate historic design and new innovations.

Olmsted Park, Brookline, Mass. Credit: Brookline Parks and Open Space Division.

Depending upon where you live in the United States, the culture of parks and open space can vary according to when the system was established and who planned it. It is not unusual to hear envy for those parks and systems designed by Frederick Law Olmsted or Daniel Burnham. Indeed, many of these parks were constructed before the cities that now surround them, shaping urban form in profound ways. Similarly, it is not unusual to hear the stewards of those legendary parks and systems struggle with how to make those spaces relevant for contemporary users. New parks have an advantage in embracing the most current engineering and technologies from the outset, rather than a retrofit. This month’s featured parks demonstrate how both old and new parks achieve relevance in cities today.

Olmsted Park in Brookline, Massachusetts began construction in 1890. As a gem in Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace in Boston, the namesake park includes three ponds and a meandering stream that were, at that time, engineered solutions to the problematic Muddy River. Olmsted linked the man-made improvements with natural formations, creating a scenic ribbon of groves, lawns, and water features. Thanks to the hard work of the Brookline Parks and Open Space division and its four partners, the historic landscape has been restored with new plantings, better views, and easier access. Click here to read more.

Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail, Oxon Hill, Md. Credit: Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Nearly 120 years later, the Potomac River Waterfront Park in Oxon Hill, Maryland opened in 2009. The site along the Potomac River features a landscaped superstructure – a deck over I-95 that links trail systems in Maryland and Virginia via a connection to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac River. It also features a unique solution to moving trail users from the ground to the deck by means of a helix of “foamed concrete.” In addition to the trail opportunities, the park features a panoramic view of Washington, D.C. and its environs. As you can imagine, this kind of project includes many local, state, and federal partners committed to creating 21st century park solutions. Read more.

Frontline Parks is generously supported by DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.

Bike to the Blossoms Campaign Brings People to Parks

Credit: goDCgo.com

Every year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC.  Originally planted along the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, the cherry trees bloom each spring and can now be found throughout the entire Tidal Basin as well as East Potomac Park.  The two-week festival includes numerous concerts, food tastings, walks and races, parades, the Blossom Kite Festival and myriad other activities, and attracts over a million people to the city each year.

As the Tidal Basin turns into a cloud of pink each spring, East Potomac Park is often overrun with cars whose drivers idle about while admiring the famous cherry trees, making it difficult for those on bike or foot to enjoy the floral display.

That’s why we are excited to learn that Capital Bikeshare, in conjunction with the District of Columbia Department of Transportation, is launching the Bike to the Blossoms campaign for the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  This campaign allows visitors (and locals) to buy a 5-day membership to Capital Bikeshare for a special rate of $15, instead of the regular $5 daily membership rate.  In addition to the special rate, there will be extra bike docks and racks downtown as well as valet bike parking.  And for the directionally challenged, there is even a reader-friendly joint transportation map available outlining the many transportation options surrounding the festival’s events.

We’ve written before about the importance of bringing bike share programs to city parks, encouraging people to visit their local urban oases by using two wheels instead of four.  And with the super helpful transportation map, riders can easily discern how to visit multiple parks and attractions in one bike ride.

The Bike to the Blossoms campaign is a good example of how an already popular bike share program can connect residents and visitors to over a dozen parks and monuments within a five-mile radius, heralding the beginning of spring and the tourist season in Washington, D.C.  This campaign is also a great example of a successful partnership between local and federal government and the private sector to support the tourism industry.  We hope other cities will consider similar campaigns this spring and summer to encourage their residents and out-of-towners to visit their own city parks from a two-wheeled vantage point 🙂

The Environmental, Financial and Health Benefits of Urban Forestry

Forest Park, Portland, Ore.

The USDA Forest Service – Northern Research Station (NRS) released a report entitled Sustaining America’s Urban Trees and Forests, offering an overview of the current status and environmental, financial and health benefits of America’s urban forests and how these forests vary in different regions of the country. The report defined urban forest as “all publicly and privately owned trees within an urban area – including individual trees along streets and in backyards, as well as stands of remnant forest.” Providing essential services to more than 220 million people (supporting 79 percent of the population), urban forests in the U.S. are estimated to contain about 3.8 billion trees and worth an estimated $2.4 trillion.

According to the report, urban forest services and benefits include (but are not limited to):

  • Local climate and energy use—Trees influence thermal comfort, energy use, and air quality by providing shade, transpiring moisture, and reducing wind speeds. The establishment of 100 million mature trees around residences in the United States is said to save about $2 billion annually in reduced energy costs.
  • Air quality—Trees improve air quality by lowering air temperatures, altering emissions from building energy use and other sources, and removing air pollutants through their leaves. Urban trees in the conterminous United States remove some 784,000 tons of air pollution annually, with a value of $3.8 billion.
  • Climate change—Urban trees can affect climate change by directly storing carbon within their tissues and by reducing carbon emissions from power plants through lowered building energy use. Urban trees in the conterminous United States currently store 770 million tons of carbon, valued at $14.3 billion.
  • Water flow and quality—Trees and soils improve water quality and reduce the need for costly storm water treatment (the removal of harmful substances washed off roads, parking lots, and roofs during rain/snow events), by intercepting and retaining or slowing the flow of precipitation reaching the ground. During an intense storm in Dayton, OH, for example, the tree canopy was estimated to reduce potential runoff by 7 percent.
  • Noise abatement—Properly designed plantings of trees and shrubs can significantly reduce noise. Wide plantings (around 100 ft) of tall dense trees combined with soft ground surfaces can reduce apparent loudness by 50 percent or more (6 to 10 decibels).
  • Wildlife and biodiversity—Urban forests help create and enhance animal and plant habitats and can act as “reservoirs” for endangered species. Urban forest wildlife offer enjoyment to city dwellers and can serve as indicators of local environmental health.
  • Soil quality—Trees and other plants help remediate soils at landfills and other contaminated sites by absorbing, transforming, and containing a number of contaminants.
  • Real estate and business—Landscaping with trees—in yards, in parks and greenways, along streets, and in shopping centers—can increase property values and commercial benefits. One study found that on average, prices for goods purchased in Seattle were 11 percent higher in landscaped areas than in areas with no trees.
  • Individual well-being and public health—The presence of urban trees and forests can make the urban environment a more aesthetic, pleasant, and emotionally satisfying place in which to live, work, and spend leisure time. Urban trees also provide numerous health benefits; for example, tree shade reduces ultraviolet radiation and its associated health problems, and hospital patients with window views of trees have been shown to recover faster and with fewer complications than patients without such views.
  • Community well-being—Urban forests make important contributions to the economic vitality and character of a city, neighborhood, or subdivision. Furthermore, a stronger sense of community and empowerment to improve neighborhood conditions in inner cities has been attributed to involvement in urban forestry efforts.

The specifics of how urban trees provide these benefits have been discussed at length, but this report adds value by comparing different urban forestry areas and their management, which vary by size and region across the United States.

The report determines which urban forestry areas provide the greatest relative canopy cover, as well as the areas that have the most potential for future tree coverage. Results indicate the area of tree cover in cities within naturally forested areas was nearly twice the percentage of cities in grassland regions, and more than three times the cover of cities in desert regions. Regional climate and landscape is not the only influence on urban forests, as land-use activities such as development play a large role. Overall, the regions with the greatest amount of tree cover for urban areas are the Southeast and New England states.

These findings would lead some to believe that it is the rest of the country that urban forest advocates need to focus on, however certain precautions need to be taken into account, such as fire risk, energy cost and water usage. Therefore, “maximum tree coverage may not be optimal tree coverage.”

Even though there is a widespread acknowledgment of the benefits of urban forests, the level of resources allocated to the management of these areas varies greatly by region. The report suggests a long-term comprehensive urban forest management plan for cities, though it recognizes that these plans can be complicated, especially for forested areas that cross multiple government jurisdictions.

Cities that choose to increase their urban forests face many challenges with comprehensive management, such as lack of funding, volunteer time and initiation, completion or implementation of a management plan. Most of the innovation comes in the form of software and websites, such as i-Tree and CITYgreen, a program used to calculate the monetary values of the economic and ecological benefits provided by trees in specific locations.

In this report, the USDA Forest Service shows how urban forestry decisions made today impact the future of cities and the well-being of their residents. It shows that only by collaboration between local governments and communities, as well as planners and landowners, can we hope to make urban areas more sustainable and desirable places to live.

Some news from around…

  • Seattle’s voters approved the Parks and Green Spaces Levy in 2008, financing the development of more than 20 new neighborhood parks – but is new construction coming at the expense of existing parks? (The Seattle Times)
  • In reaction to public opposition to financing Brooklyn Bridge Park by building high-rise apartments, a consulting agency has released a report detailing a number of alternative strategies – none of which, it turns out, seem to be any less controversial than the towers (Gothamist)
  • In Miami, parks officials are surprised by the outcry over the installation of public exercise equipment in a neighborhood park (The Miami Herald)
  • An article from The Dirt highlights two competing visions of future urban development: high-tech greenfield developments or investments in the livability of existing urban areas, exemplified by TPL’s schoolyards-to-playgrounds initiative in New York City (The Dirt)
  • As a much-publicized feud over a bike lane alongside New York’s Prospect Park unfolds, another debate about the conduct of cyclists, cars and pedestrians is playing out in Central Park (Gothamist)
  • Working to increase park access and improve public health, Louisville is starting a new weekend bus route (featuring buses capable of holding up to six bicycles) that will connect numerous neighborhoods with trails and parks (Louisville Courier-Journal)
  • Santa Monica has released plans for an oceanside central park that is being financed with city redevelopment funds – a resource whose future is uncertain as California tries to reduce its budget shortfall (LAist)

Cahuenga Peak Nominated for “2011 Heart of Green” Award

The Hollywood sign draped to read SAVE THE PEAK from Gower Avenue in Los Angeles. Credit: Rich Reid

The famous Hollywood sign has stood for decades in regal solitude on Cahuenga Peak, gazing out over Los Angeles. When the land surrounding the “H” was threatened by a luxury housing development in 2009, The Trust for Public Land stepped forward to lead the effort to purchase the 138 acres surrounding the iconic letters.

The year-long campaign, which culminated in April 2010, involved thousands of donors – including some high-profile figures like Hugh Hefner and Governor Schwarzenegger, who announced “I am proud we were able to come together and create a public-private partnership to protect this historic symbol that will continue to welcome dreamers, artists and Austrian bodybuilders for generations to come.” The land is not just a pretty backdrop for the sign that beckons aspiring stars; it is a popular hiking area and wildlife corridor.

Now the 138-acre addition to Griffith Park has been nominated for The Daily Green’s 2011 Heart of Green Award in the Best New Parks category. Go here to vote, and take a moment to check out some of the other urban parks success stories from the past year. While there, feel free to vote for your favorite Best New Trail as well.

Voting is ongoing through March 27th, and winners will be announced on April 4th.