City Parks Blog

Giving thanks for our city parks

It’s the busiest travel day of the year as I write this, and I’m looking out from my window at the Trust for Public Land offices in Boston over the historic Granary Burying Ground and its amazing canopy of trees which is a historic park and a very popular tourist destination in its own right. I can see people walking along the paths, looking for final resting places of John Hancock, Sam Adams and Paul Revere.  At some point, we’ll hear tour guides in colonial dress talking about the site and its place in history.  It’s great to have a window seat overlooking a city park, given my work at the Trust for Public Land.

2017 has been filled with highs and lows, but I’m thankful for my job – researching trends, best practices and the many ways that park agencies continue to care for our urban park systems. Since late September, we have been conducting our annual city parks survey which provides the data for creation of our two big annual “publications” – City Park Facts – an almanac of the parks systems of the 100 largest U.S. cities as well as the ParkScore Index , a ranking of the park systems of those same 100 largest U.S. cities.

For the first time this year, we’re surveying several hundred non-profit park foundations and conservancies that work hand in hand with the city, county, state and federal agencies that operate, maintain and program our 2 million acres of parks in our 100 largest cities. For the nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population that lives in those cities, parks are both natural refuges as well as playgrounds for 60 million people who live in those 100 largest cities, as well as millions more in the communities that surround them.

It takes a lot of work to keep our parks and public spaces in good working order. And, a string of natural disasters have challenged our parks agencies in a number of communities for sure. Severe wind, rain and flooding have knocked parks, trails and indoor facilities out of commission for weeks and months.  Park agency employees have lost cars, their homes, and personal possessions. Tons of debris and silt have clogged waterways and linear parks with flooding. National parks, preserves and forests in Florida and Puerto Rico have been severely damaged. And then, there is the cycle of drought and flood that parts of the U.S. experience with seasonal regularity, often resulting in the loss of homes, loved ones and beloved public spaces.

That said, we as a country continue to rise to the challenge and look for ways to donate, volunteer and vote for our parks. As Adrian Benepe, SVP at the Trust for Public Land noted in a recent Huff Post piece, voters in 26 communities approved $1.5 B in bonds for parks and conservation in November elections. In both Houston and south Florida, people contributed to funds to help park staff who lost their homes and possessions with donations – over $95,000 raised in Houston and thousands raised for National Park Service staff in south Florida and the keys.

In addition, many Americans contribute their time (16.4 million hours donated to the 100 largest U.S. city parks systems in 2016 alone), and donate funds to both public and non-profit parks agencies. Here’s two things you can do for your own parks over the next week.

First, while the day after Thanksgiving is usually known as Black Friday (when the holiday shopping season begins officially) is also known as #OptOutside day, begun by REI three years ago when they decided to close all of their stores and give their employees a day off. I am planning on going on a hike, myself, but it can be any activity and if the weather is cooperating where you live, you should too!  Bring your family, friends, dogs. Take photos. Tell others. (My helpful tip – bring a trash bag and pick up any trash or recycleables that you find along the way.)

The second day is next Tuesday, November 28, as known as #GivingTuesday. Started by the 92nd Street YMCA in NYC, it is a global day of giving, with many parks and environmental non-profit organizations participating.  Please consider a donation to The Trust for Public Land and the City Parks Alliance (the two parks non-profits that bring you this blog) as well as the many great parks foundations and conservancies doing work in our cities and communities across the US. They need your help more than ever.

Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy your parks!

The author (Charlie) and one of his hiking partners (foster dog Remy)