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Rose Kennedy Greenway’s New Business Partner

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Aerial Photo of Rose Kennedy Greenway, by Hellogreenway – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

In 2013, I interviewed Jesse Brackenbury, Executive Director of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy in Boston, for a City Parks Alliance blogpost about the challenges of operating a city park owned by the state – the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In 2008, legislation established the Conservancy as the official steward of the Greenway.  This year, Brackenbury told me, the Conservancy added a new partner to help fund operations of The Greenway – the Greenway Business Improvement District (BID) – which brings the Greenway partnership to four: the city, the state, the Conservancy, and now the abutting property owners.

The Funding Challenge

Despite efforts over the years, The Greenway has never been supported by a long-term funding plan. Since its inception, The Greenway has been financed by a series of agreements with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and supplemented by the Conservancy’s own fundraising and revenue as well as unstructured contributions from abutters. A June 2017 memorandum of understanding solidified six months of discussions regarding a sustainable funding solution involving the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, City of Boston, Greenway Conservancy and commercial property owners. By April 2018, the new BID was created and a plan was in place.

MassDOT had been granting the Conservancy short-term agreements for the park property, and under the new collaborative agreement, the state has now agreed to a 10-year lease with two 10 year renewals to the Conservancy.  “We now have the stability to engage philanthropists and innovative partners in continuing to improve the Greenway over the long-term,” Brackenbury said.

Brackenbury and other Greenway supporters long realized that a BID was a good idea and in fact started working on it 8 years ago.  But Boston only had one BID in place and wasn’t yet comfortable with using BIDs to help fund parks; in the aftermath of the Great Recession, conversations about a BID became even more challenging.

In 2008, Charlie Baker, a founding board member of the Conservancy and now the state’s Governor, foresaw the future with his comments in a Commonwealth magazine article, “As the value of the land surrounding the Greenway increases, I would hope we would see more enthusiasm from the abutters in the future.”   He understood the funding challenge from the beginning and when he became Governor, he saw both the Conservancy and the state’s challenges and created the momentum for addressing the Greenway’s needs. f property owners did not figure out a way to meaningfully contribute to a project that was hugely successful – including throwing off lots of added value to adjacent parcels – the state would stop its contributions.

The Solution

“What made the idea of creating a BID easier to do at this time,” Brackenbury says, “is that the Greenway Conservancy now has a successful track record. In 2016 we welcomed 1.3 million users and the numbers keep going up.”  The Greenway hosts over 400 free events annually and in the last five years the Conservancy has won seven awards from Americans for the Arts for its public art commissions.

Park-attendence-01-900x720“Others began to believe that the Conservancy was a credible negotiating partner,” said Brackenbury.

Before reaching a city council or other local governing board, a BID effort in Massachusetts must generate support from at least 60% of property owners representing at least 51% of the total asset value within a proposed BID district. The Greenway BID exceeded these legal thresholds by a significant margin, securing support of 82% of owners representing 89% of total asset value.

Most of the property owners surrounding the Greenway are members of A Better City, an organization originally set up made up of a diverse group of business leaders united around a common goal — to enhance Boston and the region’s economic health, competitiveness, vibrancy, sustainability and quality of life. A Better City has a long history of influence on shaping the Greenway, helping to craft its master plan and design.  Brackenbury says, “They have a history around this project and a stake in making the Greenway a success; they understand that their future is tied up in the greenway and they are keenly interested in making the greenway work.  But they wanted to make sure that their dollars weren’t going to simply substitute for the public funding.”

As a result of the negotiations, the City of Boston committed annual funding to the Greenway for the first time. The property owners had also expressed interest in the City contributing directly to care of the Greenway. A planned development project will allow the city a source of revenue to contribute five million dollars, money which has gone into a trust expected to generate $250,000 a year for the Conservancy.

The Funding Formula

So how did the Conservancy make its case in the face of little familiarity with BIDs in Boston? They made the economic case.  The conservancy gets credit for re-introducing the idea of a BID and making it a priority.  The state has been asking them for a solution for a long time and had been talking about cutting back for a long time but no agreement had been found. If they really stopped providing funding to the Conservancy it would go away and the property owners would be some of the biggest losers with reduced Greenway operations and maintenance.  The state’s most recent argument was the most credible that property owners finally took serious.

“The value of having a BID was to look ahead at capital maintenance.  The state had a desire to spend fewer tax dollars, so how could this happen,” said Brackenbury.  “Property owners did not want to do more than the state and city combined.  We had to determine a future budget of what the capital costs could be and then propose a funding allocation.”

As negotiated, the Greenway BID will contribute $1.5 million to the Greenway each year. The geographic boundaries of the BID will extend approximately one block off the park on either side. The BID will include commercial properties and rental residential properties, consistent with Massachusetts law.

In addition to the BID, the funding agreement for the Greenway includes an annual state contribution of ~$1 million for operations and up to $500,000 in funding for capital repairs; the city will contribute $250,000 annually.  The Conservancy will continue to raise/earn $3M+/year. Annual funding for Greenway operations will be approximately 80% private and 20% government funds.

“Decision-making about the Greenway remains with the Conservancy; our volunteer Board of Directors has representatives appointed by community groups, government agencies, and elected representatives,” says Brackenbury.  “The BID will have nominees in 2 of the twenty-one Board seats. If the property owners are contributing $1 million to maintenance and horticulture they should have a seat at the table.”  The Conservancy leads all park services and programming and will continue to do so — in the same spirit of accessibility and inclusivity with the BID in place.

“In the first year all BID funds will be for foundational maintenance & horticultural care (M&H) for the park. After the first year, $1 million will be for M&H and $500,000 will be for enhancements to the park.” Greenway enhancements will be mutually agreed upon by the Conservancy and the property owners on the board of the BID Corporation.

The funding solution for the Greenway will keep it a vibrant and thriving space welcoming visitors from neighborhoods throughout Boston and beyond.

More BIDs Working on Behalf of Parks

BIDs have emerged as one of the most important developments in urban governance over the past two decades. They are galvanizing private-sector creativity to solve public problems – and increasingly they are taking on public parks.  Across the nation, BIDs and other special taxing districts, originally focused on creating safer and more vibrant downtown neighborhoods, are now seeing public space as vital to community and economic development.

In New York alone, contrary to Boston’s two BIDs, there are 75 BIDs investing nearly $150 million in public spaces, including the famed Bryant Park with the highest BID budget in the city. The Center City District (CCD) in Philadelphia, established in 1990 enlivens its city and manages Dilworth, Sister Cities, John F. Collins and Cret Parks.

The Downton Detroit Partnership, a BID, operates, maintains, and programs downtown Detroit’s parks — Beacon Park, Campus Martius Park, Cadillac Square, Capitol  Park, and Grand Circus Park — providing world-class public spaces that help the city attract businesses and residents as well as catalyze new investment and development.

In Washington, D.C., a planning partnership was formed in 2012 between the National  Park Service, the District government and the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID) to transform Franklin Park, downtown D.C.’s largest park with a sustainable maintenance and operation plan for the park. Earlier this year, Congress approved a partnership between NPS and the District, allowing the DowntownDC BID to move forward with an anticipated annual $750,000 budget to operate and maintain the park.

Moving west across the country, Downtown Des Moines manages and programs Western Gateway Park; and in Minneapolis, the Downtown Business Council recently created Green Minneapolis, “…to advance the vitality of downtown Minneapolis through parks, greening and program activation.

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The Commons, Minneapolis, MN.

There are no single models for operating and maintaining parks but special taxing districts are increasingly a solution that harnesses the property value – thrown off by successful parks – and the private sector interest in economic development. The goal of BIDs has always been to keep a city’s public spaces in line with private investment – either driving or managing that commitment – to enliven the civic experience.

Public parks are very much a part of that experience and the fact that BIDs – existing or new like The Greenway BID – are choosing to invest in parks is confirmation that their success is important to a city’s image, quality of life and economic development – further driving the role that collective endeavors involving nonprofits, private business and public agencies are already leveraging on behalf of city parks.

Kathy Blaha Consulting: Strategic Solutions for Park Partnerships 


Stay Tuned for an upcoming City Parks Alliance webinar on October 17: Funding Parks through Special Tax Districts. 

City Parks Alliance members enjoy free access to the webinar, others may join for $50. Join to hear about how special tax districts can fund the development, programming, and long-term operations of parks. Presenters will discuss lessons learned from special district establishment to implementation, and how their parks benefitted as a result. From business improvement districts to park districts, tax districts that support parks can be helpful mechanisms for ensuring park sustainability.

ASCE Infrastructure Report Card on Parks

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers puts together an National Insfrastructure Report Card assigning individual letter grades on a variety of insfrastructure categories and an overall letter grade on the USA infrastructure overall.

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Since 2005, Public Parks and Recreation have been one of the categories evaluated, earning a C- grade for 2005, 2009 and 2013. Sadly, in 2017, it’s gone to a D+, which mirrors the national overall grade. You can read the highlights of the report here and download a full copy here.

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A couple of key points here. First, the ASCE considers public parks and recreation as infrastructure, providing a wide variety of environmental and economic services, as we all know.  One example highlighted by the report is the work of the Trust for Public Land in Newark, NJ along the Passaic River, developing the Newark Riverfront Park.

Second, they focus primarily on federal and state reporting of parks – primarily drawing on work done by the National Park Service and supporting non-profit foundations, as well as State park systems. US city park systems aren’t included, but the Trust for Public Land through the Center for City Park Excellence will work to provide that information through our City Park Facts and ParkScore projects.

More importantly, they recommend a number of action items, including one that the Trust for Public Land and the City Parks Alliance are actively advocating for, including the reauthorization and full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund to support acquisition of land and easements on land at the federal, state, and local levels.  

More of their recommendations are here. 

Questions, comments?  Contact the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land via email at ccpe@tpl.org

 

 

 

The Importance of volunteers in parks, continued.

By Charlie McCabe

Last week, as part of our press release for the 2017 edition of City Park Facts, we touted a number of examples covering the growing role and importance of volunteers in parks in the 100 largest US city park systems. Given that we’re nearing the end of National Volunteer Week (Apr 23-29), we wanted to add another post in what will be an ongoing series on volunteers working in parks.

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Volunteers planning bulbs on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, Boston

Today, we’ll take a quick look at how park conservancies are working with volunteers. As part of a master’s thesis in 2016, I looked at what were the best practices of organizing and managing a volunteer program. I studied nine different parks conservancies in Austin, Boston, Brooklyn and Houston. I found a number of common practices and methods used, which we’ll cover in a future set of posts.  But, like our findings on the impact of volunteer in our 100 largest US cities, I found substantial impact for these nine park conservancies.

First, it’s very important to stress that all of these organizations work in partnership with their local park agencies to achieve mutual goals. As Doreen Stoller, Executive Director of the Hermann Park Conservancy noted in our 2015 publication, Public Parks/Private Money: “the City of Houston has allowed Hermann Park Conservancy to perform many duties on its behalf. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that our work is ‘on its behalf.’”

So, what’s the impact?  I looked at five years worth of data from each of the park conservancies.  The results are impressive.

  • In 2012, 12,250 volunteers donated 44,668 hours worth $1.04M or 21.47 FTEs
  • in 2013, 16,836 volunteers donated 49,767 hours worth $1.21M or 23.9 FTEs
  • In 2014, 15,426 volunteers donated 53,688 hours worth $1.34M or 25.81 FTEs
  • In 2015, 16,098 volunteers donated 59,461 hours worth $1.55M or 28.58 FTEs
  • In 2016, 18,727 volunteers donated 67,541 hours worth $1.75M or 32.47 FTEs

Overall, during the five year period, 79,337 volunteers donated 275,125 hours worth $6.9M.

(The value of hours is calculated using data collected by Independent Sector, a non-profit that calculates the annual hourly value of donated labor by state. FTE stands for full-time equivalent or one person working fulltime, calculated as 2,080 hours a year or 40 hours per week times 52 weeks in a year.)

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Tree mulching demonstration at the start of volunteer workday, Pease Park, Austin.

In future posts, we’ll get into the details of what tasks volunteers tackle, how these non-profits organize and manage their volunteer programs, how they work with park agency and park conservancy staff and a host of other topics, including the origin of volunteers in our parks.

Further, one of our efforts in the coming year at the Center for City Park Excellence will be looking at park conservancies and their continued impacts alongside parks agencies in the 100 largest cities, we working to get a more complete picture of what all non-profits working in parks contribute in terms of funds, volunteer hours and “on the ground” work.

Note: The nine park conservancies studied in my thesis were: the Austin Parks Foundation, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, the Fort Greene Park Conservancy, the Hermann Park Conservancy, the Hill Country Conservancy (for the Violet Crown Trail, specifically) the Pease Park Conservancy, the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, and the Trail Foundation.

The Center for City Park Excellence is part of The Trust for Public Land, which creates parks and protects land for people. You can contact us at ccpe@tpl.org.

 

Please Be Seated

By Charlie McCabe

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Parc Centre chairs and tables, The Rose Kennedy Greenway, Boston

Last year, the Center for City Park Excellence wrote a great article titled “If It Doesn’t Have a Bench, Is It Still a Park?” that appeared in Parks and Recreation Magazine (you can download it here.

The good news is that benches aren’t the only seating possibility in our parks and public spaces.

My personal experience in working in parks in Austin, TX, Boston, MA, and  New York City has certainly given me the opportunity to consider (and fix, sand, re-paint, and clean) many a bench. While park benches are iconic, more and more parks and public spaces in cities and towns across the United States are using moveable chairs. Over the past decade, I’ve used three different types of these chairs, and thought it would be helpful to weigh in on the pros and cons of each and why you should consider moveable chairs for your park or public space.

We’ll always have Paris The moveable seating movement (if you will) came from several parks in Paris, most notably Luxembourg Gardens. The bistro chair, often paired with small round tables and manufactured by Fermob , is portable, foldable, and easy to move and manage. With the re-birth of Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, this became the chair of choice and about 10 years ago, cost about $35 each, making them reasonably affordable and relatively easy to replace.  [Currently, the metal bistro chair is just over $108 retail.] Fermob has a wide variety of chairs and tables; another style we see more and more in city parks and in public spaces is the Luxembourg (as in Garden) side chair, which currently retails for about $350.

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Fermob Bistro Chairs (and Tables), The Boston Common.

Midwestern Roots

A more recent competitor is the Parc Centre Chair by Landscape Forms. More durable than the Fermob Bistro chair, as well as easy to slide across park spaces and stackable, they are also very durable and cost about $245 each, retail.There’s also a matching table in varying sizes which cost up to $690 retail. The design is such that it’s hard to stack and carry more than two, which makes them much more likely to stay put.

I’ve seen the Parc Center chairs in many colors in parks and plazas across the US in the past few years; I would bet they are the most popular currently. You can’t go wrong–if you can afford them.

Inexpensive yet trendy

The Plastic Resin Adirondack Chair rounds out our options. Weighing in at just a few pounds, they cost $20 and are able to seat people up to 250 pounds. You can buy five for the price of one Fermob Bistro chair or 12 for the price of one Parc Centre chair. No, they won’t last as long and yes, they can walk away. But, there are so many of them out there in our cities and towns that they probably won’t, and, they are very awkward to carry, which make it harder for them to be “liberated.”

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Relaxing in Adirondack Chairs, Dewey Square Park, Boston

These are my “go-to” option currently, as they allow you to experiment with seating in parks and plazas where there currently isn’t any. And, they are stackable and lockable to pass the “300 pound drunk sailor rule”–a common saying by the Director of Operations for a park where I used to work.

One caveat: some people think they’re tacky. Maybe, but with careful color choice and good care they will provide long lasting and attractive seating anywhere, for even the lowest budget.

Lock things up

After spending plenty of money on park seating, the last thing that you want to do is lose what you have.  Generally, the ability to stack the seating and use loop cabling and a strong padlock will do the trick.  For any of the chairs, just stack them so the pile is too heavy to pick up. Then, slip a cable around the seat and through the back opening and secure it with a padlock.

For the Parc Centre Chairs and Tables, put four chairs around the table and use a cable that pulls one leg of each chair tight under the table and secure it with a padlock.  The Rose Kennedy Greenway uses this approach and it works great, since the combined weight of the table and four chairs is at least several hundred pounds.

Do you have a favorite chair for parks and public spaces? Or more questions?  Write us at ccpe@tpl.org

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.