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Greater & Greener: Re-Imagining Parks for 21st Century Cities

Nearly 900 lovers of city parks descended on New York City this past week to share stories, learn best practices, commiserate over problems and tour the green spaces and waters of the Big Apple for “Greater and Greener,” the largest-ever international urban parks gathering.

Organized by the City Parks Alliance and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the four-day event featured U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and nearly 200 other speakers and presenters on virtually every aspect of modern big-city park systems and their interconnection with urban areas.

Speaker after speaker demonstrated the many ways that parks are dramatically changing cities and improving the lives of millions of urban residents and visitors.

Mayor Bloomberg, for instance, reported that New York has invested more than $3 billion in parks over the past five years, adding more than 700 acres of new parkland, fostering innovative public-private partnerships, and approaching the goal of having every New Yorker live within a 10-minute walk of a park.

Secretary Salazar discussed the Obama administration’s vision to build and expand America’s great urban parks so that they are accessible to every American, part of the President’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative to support locally-driven projects and strengthen economies by creating greater access to open spaces and parks and providing more opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Manhattan skyline. Photo credit: flickr user cbruek. 

The conference included more than 40 tours of innovative area parks, including the “adult playground” at Macombs Dam Park in the Bronx, the new Brooklyn Bridge Park, the “art park” on Governor’s Island, the “Trail of the Squares” going up Broadway, the Fresh Kills Park being fashioned from a closed and capped landfill into the largest park in New York City, the Greenbelt Native Plant Center, the Greenmarket, the newly daylighted Saw Mill River in Yonkers, and the new park being created along the Passaic River in Newark, N.J.

Other noted speakers included Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett; former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy; Madrid’s head city architect Emilio Martínez Vidal; eco-entrepreneur and Sustainable South Bronx Founder Majora Carter; California urban development leader and regional vice president of Lennar Urban Kofi Bonner; Guadalajara open space advocate and sustainability manager at Casas GEO Celida Gomez; co-founder and executive director of Friends of the High Line Robert Hammond; and renowned architect and playground designer David Rockwell.

Educational workshops covered more than 50 topics such as weaving parks into the urban fabric, reducing the impact of cars, getting the greatest environmental benefit from parks, managing animals, promoting community gardens, rethinking playgrounds, building a federal parks agenda, building a winning coalition, getting help from developers, creating an equitable funding infrastructure, and many more.

Future blogs will explore many of these topics in detail.

In addition to the organizing groups, the conference was supported by: Rockefeller Foundation, Speedwell Foundation, Tiffany & Co. Foundation, National Parks Conservation Association, Bloomberg, J.M. Kaplan Fund, The Bette Midler Family Trust, Con Edison, FedEx, Governing Magazine, REI, HR&A Advisors, MetLife Foundation, S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, California State Parks Foundation, Colorado Health Foundation, Fresh Air Flicks, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Student Conservation Association and Trust for Public Land.

The next international urban parks conference will take place in 2014 in a location yet to be named.

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