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Urban National Parks: The 21st Century Face of the National Park System

The following is the first in a series of blog posts highlighting urban units of the National Park System.

By Beth Porter, National Park Service, National Capital Region
Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program

Urban national parks are often the unsung heroes of America’s national park system. As Americans continue their migration to cities in pursuit of economic opportunity, our national parks are rising to meet their needs. These ever-increasing urban populations are composed of longtime city residents, rural transplants, and newly arrived immigrant populations who cluster together in the urban core to cope with a country unfamiliar to them. Now, more than ever, America’s urban national parks are striving to serve these new, dense and diverse populations, while staying true to the National Park Service mission of preserving America’s special places for present and future generations.

The Urban Agenda is part of the National Park Service Centennial goal to connect with and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates. Today’s urban national parks are engaging with their surrounding communities in new and innovative ways and actively identifying opportunities to contribute positively to their quality of life.

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Rosie the Riveter/WWII Homefront National Historical Site
Richmond, CA

The National Park Service is not only in the business of caring for America’s special places, it is in the business of telling our special stories. The combination of these two roles can make a powerful difference to a community that is still working to become its best self.  An example of this power can be seen with Rosie the Riveter WWII Homefront National Historical Site in Richmond, California. In World War II, Richmond, California was a factory town. The factories employed African-Americans and women, most of whom were entering the workforce for the first time. This role is what defined the city and drew people to settle there. After the war, the factories were no longer necessary and Richmond slid into a long term economic slump that spawned high unemployment, high crime, and a general lack of community pride for many years.  Continue reading

“Ralph, Meet Sparky!” – Making the Most of Your Dog Park

By Lisa Neiman, City of Boulder Parks & Recreation

It’s early afternoon on a warm, sunny Wednesday. Couples are out for a glimpse of the iconic Flatirons, folks gather to debate the best coffee roasters in town and other groups are sitting on lawn chairs in a nearby grassy area.   But the real “community gathering” is among the 40+ dogs chasing each other, hopping in a kiddie pool, competing for tennis balls and lounging around. Welcome to Boulder, Colorado’s Valmont Dog Park.

Always in search of enhancing our visitor experience, I set out to find out document our doggie-destination journey and to find out what makes a great Dog Park (and what could make ours even better).
Continue reading

Business Improvement Districts: Driving Investment in Public Parks

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Michael Stevens walks CPA board members through waterfront development plans

On a cool and rainy afternoon, the City Parks Alliance Board of Directors traveled to the DC waterfront to visit a few of the city’s newest parks and to hear how they are being managed in a creative partnership with the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (BID). Michael Stevens, President, Capitol Riverfront BID and Dan Melman, Vice President of Parks and the Public Realm for the BID, were our hosts for a tour of Canal and Yards parks and a discussion about the BID’s role in parks.

The Capitol Riverfront BID manages 10 acres of parks, including Yards Park and Canal Park, which are considered the “front yards” for the growing neighborhood and regularly host events attracting over 75,000 people.    Continue reading

Islands in the Street: Turning Gray Space Green

Each month, City Parks Alliance names one “Frontline Park” as a standout example of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship from across the country. In recognition of its partnership and community engagement efforts, Avalon & Gage Park has been named a Frontline Park.

AG1IntAvalon & Gage is a vibrant, eco-friendly oasis and public green space situated on a traffic island at a busy intersection in South Los Angeles. Built in partnership between the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT), and nearly a dozen local organizations and businesses, this 1/3-acre lot has been transformed from a barren plaza into a welcoming neighborhood park with amenities for all ages.  Continue reading

Change the Culture and the Rest Will Follow: Park Departments and Equity

If a Google search of parks and equity was your only measure of who is taking on this issue, it would seem that New York is miles ahead of other cities, as it appears over and over in the search results. But in fact, New York is one of many major cities in the US focusing on the equity issue as best as they can.

Norm Krumholz, Cleveland city planner in the 1970s, was one of the first to define “equity planning,” which he described this way: “You keep your eye on who gets helped and who gets hurt and for the people who usually get hurt – you try to make sure they don’t get hurt as bad.”

Who gets helped and who gets hurt in a city may best be seen through the lens of our public parks – a potent symbol of a city’s equity balance.  In this ongoing struggle, two park agencies, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) and Portland (OR) Parks and Recreation, have hired staff specifically to address equity.  Art Hendricks is the Equity and Inclusion Director for Portland Parks & Recreation, and Michelle Kellogg is the Equity and Inclusion Project Manager for MPRB.  Continue reading

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