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Houston’s Park Partners: Greening for the Future

Something is up in Texas.  Philanthropy has discovered parks.  In Dallas, the Belo Foundation, looking to build on the success of Klyde Warren Park, Belo Garden, and Main Street Garden, has just announced an ambitious plan – and $30 million in funding – to realize a vision for downtown by creating 17 acres of new green space through the construction of four major parks.

And in Houston, Hermann Park recently opened McGovern Centennial Gardens after a $31 million renovation.  Memorial Park has a new master plan and funding stream; and the Kinder Foundation, which provided substantial funding for Discovery Green, has also funded the new Buffalo Bayou Park and the Bayou Greenway 2020 Plan.

HPB1Discovery Green changed the way people think about parks in Houston, and making the transition from being a city known for having the widest freeway in the world to a city that understands parks is fundamental to its prosperity.  Leading the charge has been the philanthropic community which sees that “green is good” for health, recreation, and the economy, allowing the city to enhance its quality of life in order to attract and retain engineers, scientists, and other professionals.   Continue reading

Returning the Boldness of the World’s Fair to a San Antonio Park

“…the fair is fun, southwest style, but what San Antonio does with the center-city site after October will be the real measure of Hemisfair’s success.”

Ada Louise Huxtable, Architecture Critic
New York Times, April 4, 1968

Hemisfair1The 1968 world’s fair is the beginning of this story. The fair was built on a 92-acre site on the southeastern edge of downtown San Antonio, acquired mainly through eminent domain. Many structures in what was considered a blighted area were demolished and moved to make room for the fair, with some more important historic sites spared and preserved.

From April to October in 1968, about six million visitors came to the city. In typical fair planning, once the fair was complete the city lacked a good transition plan. So they put a fence around it and the site sat unimproved for 47 years.

It was a fantastic location for the fair, on the River Walk and near the convention center. In fact, the fair changed perceptions about the struggling River Walk and the city that reinvigorated its draw as a tourist destination.  Continue reading

August’s Frontline Park: Emerald View 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.

Overlooking Pittsburgh

Emerald View Park, Pittsburgh’s newest regional park, is a model of steep hillside conservation. When completed, the Park will result in 280 acres of playgrounds, playing fields, and landscaped lawns connected by 19 miles of wooded trails in a healthy forest wrapping around Pittsburgh’s most visited neighborhood. It will also provide bicycle and pedestrian connections to downtown Pittsburgh and regional trail systems. Over the last 150 years, the land has been denuded, mined, settled (and vacated), and dumped upon. The Mount Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC) and the City of Pittsburgh have met this challenge head on, and in the last five years have restored nearly 6 acres of view corridor and native hillside habitat, planted over 4,200 native trees and shrubs, removed 160,000 pounds of dumpsite debris, engaged nearly 6,000 hours of volunteer service and 4,000 hours of youth workforce development, purchased an additional 28 acres of land for permanent greenspace, completed a 19-mile trail plan, constructed the first new mile of trail, and enabled $3.6 million in investments to further the Emerald View Park initiative.

Trail crew

1.4 million visitors a year come to the unfinished park to enjoy sweeping views of Pittsburgh and her rivers and bridges, so it’s clear that the economic development potential of Emerald View is significant. However, through a partnership with the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, Student Conservation Association, and GTECH Strategies, the MWCDC is ensuring that these benefits are leveraged and experienced equitably. They are training and hiring young at-risk adults to construct the park’s trail system and to restore healthy forests. By providing green jobs training resulting in actual employment, this program is helping to build confidence, skills, and abilities for at-risk young adults, increasing the likelihood that they will ultimately compete successfully in today’s job market.

Emerald View Park is being featured on CPA’s website, www.cityparksalliance.org, during the month of August.

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

Parks Breathe Life (and Jobs) into Cities

The South Platte River has become a cherished recreational asset for residents and visitors to Denver. Thoughtful, visionary planning and public-private partnership have restored and transformed the city’s waterfront from what was once called an “urban dump” to refuge for wildlife and people alike. Local efforts to improve the river have created new jobs and inspired economic development, and places for picnicking, biking, boating, dining, entertainment and even sunbathing on a sandy stretch of beach.

Much of this progress would not have been possible, however, without essential funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the nation’s primary tool for protecting open space in urban and rural communities nationwide. Denver, like cities across the country, relies on the fund to match state and local dollars to create and enhance urban parks and restore waterways.

Instead of using taxpayer money, the little-known LWCF is funded with fees paid by oil and gas companies drilling offshore. For nearly 50 years, the fund has protected national parks, wildlife refuges, rivers, parks, and ball fields in every state.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund continues to be an essential tool to meet the increasing demand for livable communities in cities all across this country,” Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock said recently. “In Denver, we value our great open spaces and recreational facilities. These investments are as much economic investments for the city as they are quality of life investments for our residents. “

Denver isn’t alone. Recognizing the importance of parks to the vitality and health of their communities, 50 U.S. mayors joined Mayor Hancock in appealing recently to President Obama and Congress to maintain funding for LWCF during these difficult economic times.

With cities facing depressed property values, reduced tourism, and lower tax revenues, urban parks have incurred approximately $6 billion in deferred maintenance costs, according to Will Rogers, president of The Trust for Public Land. Newly released data from TPL’s Center for City Parks Excellence show that many city park systems are struggling to deal with budget shortfalls, resulting in fewer people employed in full-time and seasonal positions, and potential impacts on programs and services.

At a time when the nation is looking for every opportunity to create new jobs, mayors assert that parks are just as important to a city’s prosperity as banks, coffee shops, department stores, and corporate headquarters. In addition to luring tourists, parks bolster community home values. Mayors know that could mean more real estate tax revenue.

Furthermore, parks breathe life into communities. Urban parks are not just safe and beautiful retreats, but also help to address nearly every critical urban need from health to housing, education and environmental justice, countering sprawl, and combating crime.

Just last month, Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa announced a plan to create dozens of new parks throughout the city. The initiative is part of his goal to create a livable, vibrant and prosperous community, and at the same time drive economic development and create new jobs.

“Urban parks are more important than ever as cities grow larger and denser,” said Rogers. “Though budgets are tight everywhere, urban parks have consistently proven to be a wise investment, helping to improve health, increase environmental quality, and sustain property values.”

Are President Obama and Congress listening? Working together, we can revitalize and green our cities and create jobs. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is an essential tool for realizing that vision.

–  Catherine Nagel, Executive Director of the City Parks Alliance

This article was originally published in “The Hill” on December 20, 2011.

City Parks Alliance Seeks Nominations for “Frontline Parks” Section on Website

“FRONTLINE PARKS” highlights urban parks that are creating economic, environmental and social capital through new kinds of partnerships.  This feature on CPA’s website (www.cityparksalliance.org) promotes inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country.

Twelve parks – one each month – will be featured on CPA’s website home page in 2012.  Each “Frontline Park” story will show how parks and their stewards are on the forefront of creating healthier, more sustainable cities.  With each month’s feature, CPA will coordinate with each park partner a joint press release for local, national, and social media to announce their selection as a “Frontline Park.”  Featured parks will also be included in CPA’s quarterly e-newsletter Benchmarks distributed to hundreds of CPA members and on the City Parks blog.

We are looking for the best stories.  Is there a non-traditional leader who has helped to bring about change in your local park?  How has park programming helped to address pressing urban issues, such as public health, job creation or community revitalization?  Have you done something really fun and innovative to increase revenue, cultivate volunteers or educate young people?  How did a crisis create an opportunity to build a new partnership?  Stories should be related to one or more of the following topics:

  • Community Capacity Building
  • Design
  • Economic Development
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Funding
  • Health
  • Maintenance
  • Programming
  • Public/Private Partnerships
  • Safety
  • Transportation
  • Workforce Development

For more information about application guidelines, please click here: Frontline Park Nominations

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