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New publication: Creating Parks & Public Spaces for people of all ages

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Public parks are important places for building a sense of community and social belonging. They are spaces that belong to everyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion or income.

However, the way parks are designed, maintained and programmed doesn’t always reflect the purpose and promise of such uniquely public spaces. Pinched for funds by competing priorities, many municipalities neglect their park networks or fail to invest in these vital places as their communities grow and change.

With the publication of Creating Parks and Public Places for People of All Ages: A Step-by-Step Guide, AARP Livable Communities8 80 Cities and The Trust for Public Land have come together to highlight the importance of parks — and give community leaders (and park advocates from all corners) tools they can use to both create and improve green spaces and public places for people of all ages.

Download your copy from AARP.org

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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.

Wintertime in our Parks

As we rush headlong into a week bookended by two long holiday weekends, we might not think first of what continues to happen in our parks, whether we’re in the colder northern parts of the United States or the warmer southern reaches. Increasingly, there are more and more outdoor activities during the winter months that you can enjoy in parks across the United States. So, dress appropriately and come out to work off that eggnog and pie!

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Photo courtesy of  Bryant Park

Ice Skating is a long-standing popular activity.  Close our Boston office is the Frog Pond on the Boston Common. Also popular are the LeFrak Center at Lakeside in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and Bryant Park in New York City. New on horizon, with a twist is bumper cars on ice at the ice skating rink in downtown Providence, Rhode Island.

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Picture courtesy of Frog Pond, Boston Common

San Francisco is another city that combines ice skating with a variety of other activities during the holiday week at Embarcadero Plaza, a variety of free activities are offered on selected days with Tuesdays for Disc Golfing, Wednesdays: Skateboarding, Thursdays: Rock Climbing, Fridays: Skateboarding, and Saturdays for Slacklining.

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Winterfest at the Arch (courtesy of Gateway Arch Park)

Not to be outdone, Gateway Arch Park in Saint Louis Winterfest at the Arch at the Kiener Plaza in downtown Saint Louis from December 21st through January 1st has a skating along with special events including food trucks, live music, and giveaways.

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Skijoring in With Park (courtesy of the Loppet Foundation)

The Minneapolis Park Board partners with the Loppet Foundation to sponsor winter activities including cross-country skiing, hiking and skijoring in Wirth Park in Minneapolis.

Later this winter, Saint Paul will host their annual Winter Carnival (Jan 25-Feb 10) and they are working to raise funds to build a multi-story peoples’ ice palace. The center of activities is Rice Park in downtown Saint Paul.

 

There’s many, many more activities and events planned and we’d love to hear about them as we’re (the Center for City Park Excellence at The Trust for Public Land) working to compile a longer report on winter activities in city parks. Please contact us at ccpe@tpl.org

 

 

City Parks: Important Foundation for Youth

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By Catherine Nagel. Originally posted on Together We Play

As more people are moving back to urban areas, the importance of close-to-home parks is increasing – perhaps most for children. For those who don’t have a backyard to play in, the local park serves myriad functions: a portal to experiencing the natural world, a community hub where families and neighbors get to know each other, and a place for outdoor learning to help build skills of all kinds through organized activities.  But beyond their role in recreation and social well-being, city parks also help grow local economies, create new transportation options, combat crime, and reduce environmental impacts such as storm water runoff. Urban planners, elected officials, and community advocates recognize these benefits and are taking a fresh look at parks as an important part of civic infrastructure. Continue reading

City Park Facts: Volunteering in Parks

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Volunteers on the Barton Creek Greenbelt, Austin, TX 2011

In our press release announcing the 2017 edition of City park facts, we focused on the role and the importance of volunteers working in park systems in our 100 largest US cities. We have not reported this information in prior years, but we’ve included it in the downloadable spreadsheets at www.tpl.org/cityparkfacts/  We also wanted to expand upon the data a bit this blog post.

Volunteers in parks and recreation perform a wide of variety of roles, from coaches, referees and volunteer groundkeepers to helping plant, weed, mulch and water.  Volunteers work alongside park staff as individuals and groups.

So, here are theshighlights of the impact that volunteers make in our park systems by highlighting the results in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2016:

Volunteer hours have risen from 9.8M in 2008 to 16.4M in 2016.  (It was 11.2M in 2010 and 15.5M in 2013.)

The value of those hours has risen from $206M in 2008 to $411M in 2016.  The value is calculated using data from Independent Sector, which calculuates the value of an hour of volunteer time by state every year.  (It was $250M in 2010 and $282M in 2013.)

Assuming that a full-time parks staffer worked 2,080 hours a year (40 hours times 52 weeks), volunteer hours are equal to an additional 4,733 full-time positions in 2008, growing to 7,895 positions in 2016. (It was 5,391 positions in 2010 and 7,440 positions in 2013.)

Looking at the value of volunteer hours as a percentage of the operational budget for parks in the 100 largest US cities, it was 4.1 percent in 2008, growing to 5.8 percent in 2016.

City Park Facts is a collaboration between the many city, county, state and nonprofit parks agencies and conservancies that work with us to submit their data and we appreciate their continued help and involvement. The staff of the Center for City Park Excellence works to present this information in a thorough yet easy-to-use format, and your feedback is important for future editions. You can contact us at ccpe@tpl.org