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The Value of Volunteers in City Parks

Every year, we ask a series of questions in the 100 largest US cities about parks. We ask those questions of city, county, state and federal parks agencies as well as non-profit partners including park foundations, park friends group, park conservancies and business improvement districts (BIDs). Since 2008, we have asked for volunteering numbers. We have not, to date, reported on these numbers in our annual City Park Facts. We wanted to share the latest years results since we think it’s pretty impressive.

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Planting in Republic Square, Austin

Overall, we had 85 out of the 100 largest cities submit volunteer numbers.

All told, over 16.4 million volunteer hours were recorded, up from 15.5 million hours recorded in 2015.

These hours are equal to 7,895 additional full-time staff that would need to be hired by the 100 largest cities. [This was calculated using the following formula: one full-time staff person works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year or 2,080 hours per year. We realize that this is a very conservative calculation.]

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Volunteers, Barton Creek Greenbelt, Austin

Another way to look at the contribution of volunteer hours is to assign a monetary value to them. We did this using numbers from Independent Sector. Independent Sector calculates the value of volunteering by state annually, so the amount varies in many of the 100 largest US cities, with the latest national (overall) value being $23.56 per hour. So, those 16.4 million volunteer hours are worth $411 Million using 2015 amounts.

In the meantime, we’re looking for volunteer reports from the following cities (park agencies, park conservancies, friends groups, BIDs, etc. working with volunteers) – Boise, Buffalo, Chesapeake, Chula Vista, El Paso, Fremont, Garland, Gilbert, Honolulu, Irvine, Irving, Laredo, Lubbock, Reno, and  Richmond.

Learn more about City Park trends in the 2017 edition of City Park Facts, coming in April to tpl.org (weblink: https://www.tpl.org/keywords/center-city-park-excellence)  If you have questions or comments about this or other city park facts, contact us at ccpe@tpl.org

The Frontline Parks of 2016

Each month, City Parks Alliance names one “Frontline Park” as a standout example of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship. The program highlights parks and programs that find innovative ways to meet the unique challenges facing city park professionals and their communities. In 2016 we focused on successful park partnerships including local museums, fire departments or transportation agencies.

City parks play a vital role in the social, economic and physical well-being of America’s cities and their residents. As cities become more densely populated, planners, elected officials, and community advocates are taking a fresh look at parks and their potential to help address critical urban infrastructure and public health issues. City parks provide access to recreational opportunities, increase property values, spur local economies, combat crime, and protect cities from environmental impacts. Parks are now recognized as powerful tools for urban communities and local economies and our 2016 Frontline Parks are great examples for cities of all sizes.

As we gear up for a new round of features, we want to congratulate all of our 2016 Frontline Parks and we hope they inspire you to nominate your favorite park in 2017!

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Buhl Community Park
(Pittsburgh, PA)
The Children’s Museum teamed up with the community to turn a dilapidated plaza into a new park. Best museum entrance ever!

 

 

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Crissy Field
(San Francisco, CA)
It’s hard to believe now, but this section of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area was a military airfield before it was cleaned up and restored. A+ view.

 

 

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Kathryn Albertson Park
(Boise, ID)
This gem in a ribbon of parks named for prominent Boise women was designed as a sanctuary for migratory birds and other wildlife.

 

 

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Avalon & Gage Park
(Los Angeles, CA)
A partnership between community members, the city, and a land trust turned this traffic island into a much needed park and playground.

 

 

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Buffalo Bayou
(Houston, TX)
The re-greening of Houston begins with the bayou. Take a pontoon boat tour to see the full scope of this network of waterways and parks.

 

 

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Westown Commons Park
(Grand Rapids, MI)
Thanks to a new tax levy and community volunteer effort, Westown Commons has an updated look, more visitors, and a popular new skate park.

 

 

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Frogtown Park & Farm
(Saint Paul, MN)
Why stop at gardening? The residents of this diverse community have a new park for recreation, and a working 5-acre farm for growing produce. Attending Greater & Greener, sign up for a tour!

 

 

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Buchanan Mall
(San Francisco, CA)
This activation project is revitalizing a stretch of parkland for 30,000 people in the Western Addition neighborhood of San Francisco.

 

 

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Webber Park
(Minneapolis, MN)
Three words: Natural. Swimming. Pool. Go to Webber Park when the ground thaws, or as part of your Greater & Greener experience next summer.

 

 

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Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge
(Fort Worth, TX)
This park partnered with the fire department for prescribed burns, keeping the park clear of fire fuel and urban firefighters prepared for extinguishing property-threatening wildfires.

 

 

Bremen Street Park
East Boston Greenway
(Boston, MA)
Not only does it link new, old, and improved parks together, the Greenway also allows bike and pedestrian access to three ‘T’ stations as well as Logan Airport.

 

 

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Tanner Springs Park
(Portland, OR)
This model of park sustainability sits atop a former railyard and brownfield in northwest Portland. It’s a nice, quiet place to read those new books from Powell’s.

 

 

The Frontline Parks program is made possible by DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.

City Parks in the News

Catherine Nagel, Executive Director of City Parks Alliance, writes about the need to fund park development and management, the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and thanks Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell for her leadership in supporting urban parks in her latest opinion, For Most Americans, Their Closest Park is a City Park. The piece was published in City Parks Blog and Medium.


The Mayors for Parks coalition recently released a statement inviting Presidential candidates to answer questions about how they plan to support urban parks and recreation. The Clinton campaign responded with an outline of Secretary Clinton’s plan to increase federal investment in urban parks by creating a new American Parks Trust Fund, funding the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Program (UPARR), and providing an additional $10 million annually to AmeriCorps. The Trump campaign has not responded to the coalition’s request.


Next City published 5 Ways U.S. Cities Are Paying for Parks, a piece that highlights some of the innovative ways agencies and communities are paying for the development and management of urban parks. The piece quotes Catherine Nagel, saying “it’s heartening to see how the growing demand for parks is driving innovative approaches to funding.” This article is part of a series of sponsored posts by City Parks Alliance.

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