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New Public and Private Funding Strategies for Urban Parks

By Catherine Nagel. Originally published: Meeting of the Minds 

Across the country, urban parks are enjoying a renaissance. Dozens of new parks are being built or restored and cities are being creative about how and where they are located. Space under highways, on old rail infrastructure, reclaimed industrial waterfronts or even landfills are all in play as development pressure on urban land grows along with outdoor recreation needs.

These innovative parks are helping cities face common challenges, from demographic shifts, to global competitiveness to changing climate conditions. Mayors and other city officials are taking a fresh look at parks to improve overall community health and sense of place, strengthen local economies by attracting new investments and creating jobs, help manage storm water run-off,  improve air quality,  and much more. When we think of city parks holistically, accounting for their full role in communities, they become some of the smartest investments we can make. Continue reading

Why Urban Parks Are Essential Infrastructure

As we talk about rebuilding our infrastructure, we need to remember that parks are as important to our cities as roads and bridges.

By Catherine Nagel, originally published: Voices of the Governing Institute

The new presidential administration has signaled a strong desire to rebuild our infrastructure, especially in our cities. This is sparking a renewed and welcome national conversation on how to make it happen. But along with roads, rails, bridges and water systems, let’s remember the profound role that city parks play as a necessary ingredient in those plans. Urban parks are not luxuries; they are essential infrastructure for 21st century cities.

Nearly 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas. Increasingly, many of our cities are challenged by aging water and transportation systems that are nearing or exceeding their designed capacity. Complicating the picture, a new focus on environmental resilience to flooding and other natural disasters is driving city planners to more strongly consider “mixed-use” infrastructure. Urban parks are the very definition of mixed use.  Continue reading

ParkScore: St. Paul is #2

ParkScore badges_Instagram_2017_2 St. Paul

Repeating their number 2 position again in 2017 is St. Paul Parks & Recreation! Congratulations!  St. Paul has a park within a ten-minute walk of 96 percent of their citizens, with 15 percent of the city as parkland and a median park size of 3.7 acres.  You can check out all of the details here or check out their map here.

You can experience all that St. Paul has to offer in their award winning Parks department by attending the City Parks Alliance Greater & Greener International Urban Parks Conference July 29-August 2. Over 1,000 parks advocates, designers, programmers, planners and professionals will be there and it’s a great way to learn more about what our urban parks are doing.

mears-park-st-paul

Mears Park, downtown St. Paul

And check out The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore with the 2017 rankings of the 100 largest US city park systems. Questions? contact us at ccpe@tpl.org

st-paul-bikeway

Separated bikway nearing completion in downtown St. Paul.

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ParkScore: Minneapolis is #1

ParkScore badges_Instagram_2017_1 Minneapolis

Congratulations to the Minneapolis Parks Board and the City of Minneapolis for being number one for the FIFTH year in a row! Minneapolis has a park within a ten-minute walk of 97 percent of their citizens, with 15 percent of the city as parkland and a median park size of 6.6 acres.  You can check out all of the details here or check out their map here.

Click on the photo to view the Minneapolis ParkScore profile and score results or here.

Better yet, make plans to join 1,000 park advocates, planners, programmers and managers at the Greater & Greener Parks Conference in Minneapolis and St. Paul (#2) July 29-August 2 and see the number 1 and 2 city parks systems for yourself.

Sheridan Memorial Park_Trust for Public Land Event_05-24-2017_61H

Micheal Langley (Greater MSP), Charlie McCabe (The Trust for Public Land), Jayne Miller (Minneapolis Parks Board) and Melvin Tennant (MeetMinneapolis) celebrate the fifth #1 win in a row)

City park facts: spending for public parks, part 1

2017-CPE-Spending

Part of our annual City Park Facts report focuses on spending in public parks in the 100 largest US cities. This includes park agency spending on parks and recreation specifically at the city, county, state, and federal level, as applicable in a given city.

Total spending* reported in our 2017 report is $7.09 Billion, which is up slightly from $7.07 Billion in 2016. Based on the population of the 100 largest cities (currently 63.57 Million or about 20 percent of the population of the US) this works out to $76 per person in our 100 largest US cities.

*It is important to note that the spending total doesn’t include other maintenance and operation expenses that parks and recreation agencies might be responsible for, including cultural institutions, maintaining rights-of-way or street trees. Further, it is only public agencies, no non-profit conservancy or foundation totals are included.  We’ll cover the scope and role of non-profit parks foundations, conservancies and friends groups in a future post. A good source of additional information is our 2015 Report: “Public Parks, Private Money: The Triumphs and Pitfalls of Urban Park Conservancies.”

The bulk of spending in parks (just under 75 percent in this year’s report) in the 100 largest US cities is for operation and maintenance – often called O & M. O & M includes everything from lawn mowing, to bills for water, heating and air conditioning, keeping pool and fountain systems working and painting the lines on playing fields. It also includes all programmatic spending, from running recreation programs to hiring and managing life guards and running swimming classes.

The remaining 25 percent of the budget is capital spending, which covers the replacement of existing facilities, like a playground, playing field or recreation center or construction of a new facility. Generally, city parks departments have both capital and operating and maintenance budgets and they are approved by elected city officials separately and come from separate funding sources.

The challenge for many city, state and federal parks agencies is in the operation and maintenance categories. For many years the approach, when revenues are down or declining, is to defer or delay maintenance. Over time, if budgets are increased to previous levels, deferred maintenance can easily lead to capital replacement costs.

Primarily, O & M funding comes from general revenue sources in our cities.  This is primarily property and sales tax receipts. There are lots of competing interests for these general revenue dollars and the top of the list is usually public safety (fire, police and ems) and a close second is public schools. Depending on the state that a given city is located in, there may be fewer general revenue dollars coming into a given city with a higher need from the public safety agencies. Further, there may be additional demands on that local pool of funds given that fewer contributions have been coming to cities through state or federal programs, which have been generally shrinking, in the past 20 plus years.

There is also stiff competition for capital dollars. Capital expenditures in our largest US cities focus primarily on infrastructure: ranging from bridges and roads to fire stations and yes, parks. And infrastructure spending remains very low in the US.  The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) publishes a report every four years on the state of infrastructure in the US and in 2017, they give Public Parks & Recreation a D+.

Depending on which state a city is located in there are a range of methods for raising capital money. The most common is through municipal bonds, in which the city borrows against its bond rating for money that it pays back at a low interest rate. Bonds can be authorized through a public vote of a city’s citizens or in some cases, through a vote of its city council. The Trust for Public Land has worked on hundreds of campaigns for bond elections, much of which is documented in our website, LandVote.

We’ll continue this topic in a future post focusing on public/private partnerships with non-profit foundations and conservancies.

You can download the 2017 City Park Facts report for free on the Trust for Public Land website.

The Center for City Park Excellence is part of The Trust for Public Land, which creates parks and protects land for people.

Questions, comments or ideas: Contact us at ccpe@tpl.org.