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Frontline Park for May: Hunting Park

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.

Community Garden Dedication

This 87-acre North Philadelphia park is located in one of the city’s most challenged areas. In the 1940s and 50s, the park was a magnet for activity and a destination for tourists, boasting a popular carousel, ball fields, playgrounds, and John Philip Sousa’s music wafting from the bandstand. As the neighborhood lost population and the landscape deteriorated, it became a place that was to be avoided at all costs—and had come to represent the worst of urban decay. Once a space that was the neighborhood’s biggest liability, today Hunting Park is becoming a source of community pride again and it is setting a new standard for Philadelphia’s 10,200 acre urban park system.

The transformation has been made possible through the Hunting Park Revitalization Project, an initiative led by the Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. The Hunting Park Revitalization Project aims to create a safe and well-maintained park space that will provide a place for healthy recreation for children and families, bring neighbors together and serve as a catalyst for larger neighborhood renewal. To date, the Fairmount Park Conservancy has raised $4 million for capital improvements in the park and Phase One of the project is nearly complete.  Site furnishings in the park were manufactured by DuMor Site Furnishings.

Ryan Howard with the Hunting Park Indians

Through Phase One of the Hunting Park Revitalization Project, the Fairmount Park Conservancy managed the creation of a new community garden, farmers’ market, two playgrounds and a brand new baseball field. Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and his Family Foundation helped kick off the park’s renovations with a grant to rebuild the baseball field. Currently, the Fairmount Park Conservancy is managing the reconstruction of the park’s football field and the installation of new lighting around the park’s loop road. The success of the Hunting Park Revitalization Project to-date is due to the leadership of the Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and key partnerships with the park’s civic group Hunting Park United, Philadelphia city officials, national sports figures and community members.

Hunting Park is being featured on CPA’s website, www.cityparksalliance.org, during the month of May.

The “Frontline Parks” program is made possible with generous support from DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.

What is Your City’s ParkScore?

How many people in your city live within walking distance of the nearest park? In what neighborhoods should park improvements or additions be targeted to maximize impact? How well is your city’s park system serving the needs of its residents? Are there disparities between the inner-city core and the lower-density urban fringe, or between different demographic groups?

Today, with the launch of The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore, it became easier to answer these questions – and more importantly, to begin to develop solutions to park shortages. ParkScore is the most comprehensive park rating system ever developed, combining advanced GIS analysis and data collected by the Center for City Park Excellence.

San Francisco came out on top of the ParkScore rankings, edging out Sacramento, Boston, and New York. Credit: Flickr user Phillie Casablanca.

The Trust for Public Land analyzed the park systems of the nation’s forty most populous cities, and ranked them according to three categories:

Acreage: a city’s acreage score is based equally on two data points – median park size and the percentage of the city’s area covered by parkland.

Access: a city’s access score is based on the percentage of the city’s population that lives within a half-mile walk of the nearest park, taking into consideration the layout of the road network and barriers to access such as railroads, freeways, and fences.

Service & Investment: a city’s service & investment  score is based equally on two data points – total spending per resident and playgrounds per 10,000 residents.

Park access in Dallas, which placed 21st overall in ParkScore. Areas without walkable park access are either red (very high need) or orange (high need), depending on three demographic factors: density, income, and presence of children. Interactive maps for all cities are available at the ParkScore website.

Combined, these factors provide a fair and comprehensive basis for comparison within cities, between cities, and over time. ParkScore is designed to help city residents quantify their need for more and better parks, and for city governments to craft effective and efficient plans to create excellent park systems.

There is a wealth of information in ParkScore that we will delve into in much greater detail in the coming months. For now, here’s an overview of the best urban park systems and those most in need of improvement. Visit the ParkScore website for all the in-depth rankings, maps, and information.

Celebrating National Urban Biodiversity Week

Sunday marked the beginning of the first-ever National Urban Biodiversity Week, a seven-city collaboration to bring urban dwellers into contact with local flora and fauna, from fungi to salamanders to old growth forests. The week-long series boasts dozens of events including lectures, nature walks, art projects, and children’s programs, in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, and Seattle.

National Urban Biodiversity Week evolved from New York City Wildflower Week, a 10-day annual event now in its fifth year. The event is sponsored by Nature Block Party, a non-profit organization, in partnership with Project Noah, an interactive web and mobile application that enables users to track wildlife sightings, and the National Wildlife Federation, a grassroots conservation advocacy organization.

According to Marielle Anzelone, the event’s founder, the goals of National Urban Biodiversity Week are to:

  • Create an urban constituency for nature by connecting people through hands-on opportunities
  • Build a national conversation around urban biodiversity issues
  • Encourage new ways of thinking about urban environments

Creatures from gray squirrels to roosting red tailed hawks remind us that nature is everywhere (the Project Noah sightings for New York alone show species as diverse as great egrets in Prospect Park to osage-orange in Inwood Hill Park).  Events like those that comprise Urban Biodiversity Week highlight opportunities for ordinary citizens to protect urban wildlife; we can create and improve urban habitats in our parks and community gardens as well as street medians, roof gardens, and window planters.

Engaged urban constituents can also support large-scale habitat conservation and improvement. For example:

  • In response to community priorities, the current plan for the new downtown waterfront park in Seattle includes marine features to provide safe passage for salmon.
  • The volunteer-supported Native Plant Nurseries program sponsored by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy propagates approximately 270,000 native plants per year to aid restoration projects within the park, maintaining the quality and integrity of the Bay Area’s protected natural lands.
  • In recent years, private advocacy and fundraising has supported urban conservation land acquisitions across the country.  Last fall, The Trust for Public Land led efforts to conserve a 570 acre parcel 5 miles from downtown Albuquerque in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The new Middle Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge will protect critical habitat of the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher and provide new recreational opportunities for over one million local residents.

Spring Sprucing “America’s Front Yard”: Finalists Announced for National Mall Redesign

East view of the Mall from the Washington Monument. Credit: Coleen Gentles

Eighteen months ago, the National Park Service (NPS) in conjunction with the Trust for the National Mall, created the 2010 National Mall Plan, a vision for the kinds of resource conditions, visitor experiences, and facilities that would best fulfill the purpose of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Stretching west from the U.S. Capitol to the Potomac River, and north from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial to Constitution Avenue, the National Mall is primarily under the jurisdiction of NPS, but multiple governmental agencies and organizations also have ownership over lands and roads within and adjacent to the National Mall.  These other entities, the Architect of the Capitol, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Department of Agriculture, the General Services Administration, the District of Columbia, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, all provided critical input into the National Mall Plan.

A nine-month National Mall Design Competition targeted three focal sites for redesign, and in April, the Trust for the National Mall chose four finalists for each area from a pool of 58 entries.  Those finalists were on display for public comment, until a panel of eight judges consisting of landscape architects, academics, architects, critics, and historians, selected the three winning teams last week.  The three sites to be redesigned are:

  • Constitution Gardens, a natural area adjacent to the Reflecting Pool and World War II Memorial, which has suffered from poor drainage and underuse.
  • Washington Monument Grounds, including Sylvan Theater, an underutilized performance space near the National Monument.
  • Union Square, located directly west of the Capitol building, home to the Capitol reflecting pool and Grant memorial.

And the winners of the design competition are:

  • Rogers Marvel Architects & Peter Walker and Partners for Constitution Gardens near the Lincoln Memorial, whose designs include an overhauled water basin for model boats and ice skating, and a new restaurant pavilion to overlook the park.
  • OLIN & Weiss/Manfredi for the Washington Monument grounds, whose designs include a wooded canopy for Sylvan Theater, and a new pavilion with a cafe for the walkway to the nearby Tidal Basin.
  • Gustafson Guthrie Nichol & Davis Brody Bond for Union Square Union Square and the Capitol Reflecting Pool, whose designs remove the reflecting pond that lies parallel to the Capitol and adds a pond at the nearest grass panel on the Mall.  (This design plan will be forwarded to the Architect of the Capitol.)

The Trust for the National Mall, NPS’s not-for-profit fundraising and advocacy partner, will conduct a $350 million fundraising campaign over seven years to support the capital costs of revitalizing these three spaces.  The Trust will begin fundraising for its two projects, while the Architect of the Capitol will handle fundraising for Union Square.  The entire National Mall Plan should cost about $700 million.  The next phase of the competition will identify and evaluate costs ahead of implementation, with roughly half of the costs coming from the private sector.

West View from Washington Monument, with World War II Memorial in foreground, Lincoln Memorial in back, and Constitution Gardens on right. Credit: Coleen Gentles

The National Mall Plan aims to better accommodate the high level and diversity of use the National Mall receives.  With 25 million visitors each year, the National Mall is one of the most highly trafficked parks in the country.  As a result, it requires resilient design and a variety of visitor-serving facilities.

To this end, the National Mall Plan proposed enhanced circulation and access for pedestrians, a goal the NPS had already begun to support through park-wide investments in new signage.  It also proposed new performance space, food and beverage concessions, shaded seating areas, restrooms, and recreational opportunities and facilities.

The Plan recommends specific uses for each of the design competition sites, which are reflected in the designs of the finalists.  It prioritized improved food venues and enhanced pedestrian access at Constitution Gardens.  The redesigned Sylvan Theater will better accommodate local events, and additional facilities will offer food service, retail, and other visitor services.

Union Square was planned as a First Amendment demonstration and event space; however, in December, jurisdiction over the site was transferred from the National Park Service to the Architect of the Capitol due to security concerns.  It remains unclear whether the proposed plans and winning design for this location will be implemented.

The Mall’s scale and formality, combined with large-scale federal/institutional and roadway adjacencies, create a space that is most successful at showcasing monuments and memorials, and perhaps less effective at welcoming visitors and providing community space.  It provides few dedicated places to stop and linger: to have a picnic, play recreational sports (the Mall is particularly ill-configured for the kickball games it so often hosts), enjoy a cultural program, or rest between site-seeing destinations.

If properly executed with quality design, active programming, and able stewardship, the rehabilitation of these spaces will provide new destinations with food, seating, programming, and signature design.  These amenities can anchor and sustain the strong tourist economy and provide authentic and desirable gathering places for local and regional residents.  This constitutes a unique and untapped opportunity to integrated community spaces and national icons at the heart of the city.

This will be the Mall’s first major renovation in nearly 40 years.  Groundbreaking for the first project will take place by 2014, with the first ribbon-cutting expected by 2016, the Mall’s centennial anniversary.

View renderings of the winning designs here.

Park Conservancy Models Part II: Madison Square Park Conservancy and The Civic Center Conservancy

This is part two of a three-part series looking at the histories of six different city park conservancies.  Read part one here.

Madison Square Park Conservancy, Madison Square Park, New York

Jaume Plensa’s Echo sculpture in Madison Square Park, New York. Credit: Tom Giebel (Flickr Feed)

Madison Square Park was officially dedicated in 1847. In 1870, soon after the creation of New York City’s first Department of Public Parks, the 6.2-acre park was re-landscaped with well-defined walkways and open lawns to capture both formal and pastoral elements. In the late 19th century, the neighborhood surrounding Madison Square Park was one of Manhattan’s most elite, flourishing as a bustling commercial district with fashionable residences and hotels.  But by the 1990’s, despite its prominent location and cultural significance, the park had fallen into disrepair with cracked and broken asphalt, eroded lawns, decaying monuments, visual clutter, insufficient lighting, and confusing signage.

In response, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation asked the City Parks Foundation to take the lead in organizing a revitalization campaign in 1999.  The “Campaign for the New Madison Square Park” led to restoration in 2000-2001 and the creation of a “Friends” group in 2002.

The renovation restored elements of the original 19th century design, and the park now features lush green lawns, colorful flowering shrubs and plants, World’s Fair-style benches, a restored fountain, a contemporary reflecting pool, new gateways, new paving, and ornamental lighting.  Another major accomplishment included the reinstallation of the 1920s-era Eternal Light Star (commemorating the end of World War I) with financial support from ConEdison, New York City Parks and Recreation, and Sentry Lighting.  Additional amenities in the park include six statues/monuments, a playground (with a Playground Associate during the summer), Star of Hope, a temporary outdoor art installation, and the Shake Shack food stand.

The “Friends” group was renamed the Madison Square Park Conservancy in 2004 to move from general advocacy for the park to more long-term care and maintenance. In addition to its annual budget, the Conservancy has raised over $10 million for capital improvements and for a permanent fund to support park maintenance.  (Any surplus revenues from operations go into the capital budget.)  Donor companies have included Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, New York Life Insurance Company, Credit Suisse First Boston, Rudin Management, and Union Square Hospitality Group.

The Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, financed and built by the Conservancy for $750,000 in 2004 (and operated by a third-party) was an instant success and is one of the highlights of current restaurant concessions in New York City parks.  It usually features long lines of customers waiting for frozen custard, shakes, concretes, Shack burgers, Chicago hotdogs, and “shroom burgers.”

A dense mix of office buildings, retail establishments and restaurants border Madison Square Park.  Restoration has also spurred new residential development, including approximately twenty luxury condominium buildings in the surrounding area over the past five years, with two more coming in 2012-13.  New hotels have also opened in the neighborhood.

A Business Improvement District surrounds Madison Square Park Conservancy, but there is no formal connection to the Conservancy.  There is more business retail than residential development surrounding the park, so visitation counts fluctuate throughout the year.  After two surveys of users last summer, the Conservancy estimates 1.25 million visitors during peak months (May through September).

The Civic Center Conservancy, Civic Center, Denver

Colorado tribute to Veterans Monument and the City and County Building in Civic Center Park, Denver. Credit: Cliff (Flickr Feed)

Civic Center Park fills the grand space between Denver’s two most important civic buildings – Denver’s City and County Building and the Colorado State Capitol. Accented with tree groves, its structures include the Greek Theater and its Colonnade of Civic Benefactors, the Voorhies Memorial and adjacent “Seal Pond,” a historic balustrade wall and historic Carnegie Library turned municipal building. With the Pioneer Monument nearby, the park itself contains three bronze sculptures: “Broncho Buster,” “On the War Trail,” and the Columbus Monument. It has an illustrious history, including designs by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., but in recent decades the 12-acre park was largely empty, lacking amenities, programming, and connectivity. With the City’s operational and capital budgets shrinking, there was a backlog of deferred maintenance.

In response, a group of private citizens passionate about revitalizing Civic Center Park – including Elaine Asarch (founding Conservancy board chair and current board member), Dennis Humphries (architect and recent chair of Denver’s Landmark Preservation Commission), Chris Frampton (current board chair and local real estate developer) and others – founded the Civic Center Conservancy in 2004. “We wanted to reintroduce people to this historic urban oasis and engage the community in its future,” said Conservancy Executive Director Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, who came to the job from the Denver Mayor’s office in 2009.

The Conservancy partners with the City and County of Denver to restore, enhance, and activate Civic Center Park, with efforts focusing on four key areas:  advocacy around design/infrastructure/policy; events and programming to activate the space; marketing and public engagement; and fundraising for capital improvements/activities/initiatives to support Civic Center’s ongoing revitalization.

Some major accomplishments of the Conservancy include advocating for Civic Center’s inclusion in the 2007 Better Denver bond initiative (which voters approved, resulting in almost $9.5 million for restoration), and providing input into the 2009 design guidelines for the park.

In its quest to elevate and sustain Civic Center as the vibrant cultural and community hub its founders envisioned more than a century ago, the Conservancy hosts a variety of arts and cultural programs, including the twice-weekly summer Civic Center EATS Outdoor Café (with 20+ food trucks, bistro-style seating and live music), an annual Independence Eve Celebration (featuring a free Colorado Symphony concert and a fireworks/light display that attracted more than 100,000 people in its second year and was broadcast live throughout Colorado), and a new Bike-In Movie Series on summer evenings. With these new programs, combined with longstanding annual festivals and general traffic resulting from the surrounding cultural and civic attractions, the park attracts over a million visitors a year.