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Is Your Park System Fair?

Probably not. Maybe in the historically ethnic sections of town too many parks have broken-down playgrounds or a few too many weeds. Maybe over the past couple of years, dollars have been flowing heavily to the same few parts of town. If so, your city wouldn’t be alone in this. Many places are trying to do better. In Minneapolis, this has meant a revamped approach to park projects.

Since there is never quite enough funding to go around, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board’s new 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan includes a rigorous system to prioritize capital investment and large rehabilitation projects for neighborhood parks. The system is uniquely point-based, and also stands out in its emphasis on racial and economic equity. 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

Stormwater in Parks: Is There Reason to Worry?

The following is an excerpt from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence that examines the role of urban parks in managing stormwater. This is the fourteenth installment in a series of 19 posts.

When a park is doing double duty as both a recreation space and water management area, certain citizen concerns may come to light. Worries regarding standing water, salt or chemical residues in runoff, and previous site contamination are all valid, and certain precautions must be taken to prevent any health impacts. Continue reading

Soil, Stormwater, and City Parks

The following is an excerpt from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence that examines the role of urban parks in managing stormwater. This is the tenth installment in a series of 19 posts.

Across the country, and across all sizes and shapes of parks, there are a few key elements to getting green infrastructure right. Some of them begin in the site survey and design process. These considerations include getting the soil right, creating or ensuring that there is enough space for the planned improvements, and the maintenance of green infrastructure, which can have both pros and cons when compared to traditional “gray” infrastructure. In this week’s post, we will discuss ways in which soils can be modified to improve the water management qualities of a park.

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Pounding feet compacts the soil in parks, often preventing it from performing properly. Amended or otherwise modifed soils can ensure proper filtration and drainage. (Flickr user Humanoide)

Continue reading

Renovating Existing Parks With Stormwater in Mind

The following is an excerpt from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence that examines the role of urban parks in managing stormwater. This is the ninth installment in a series of 19 posts.

Existing parks can offer all of the same benefits as brand new parks designed with stormwater in mind, but may need to be upgraded or modified slightly in order to be most effective. Certainly it makes sense to first approach parks that are severely affected by flooding, washouts, or erosion, but even parks without significant water issues can benefit.

Mill Creek Canyon credit City of Kent

Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks Park was renovated to manage flooding, and has remained a popular attraction for both residents and visitors. (City of Kent)

Modifying a current park to handle stormwater has advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, the land is available at no cost. On the downside, the park’s existing features and uses may be sacrosanct to current users who then resist any design or management changes. The process, therefore, requires a strong administrative hand, a good public information process, and top-notch scientific analysis and explication. Chances are that there is a strong legal or financial justification to take remedial steps since stormwater from the park is negatively affecting downstream resources.

A typical passive stormwater management features modifications that keep rainwater within the park for a longer period of time. Doing more than that – filtering and absorbing water from beyond the park’s boundary – generally requires more space or more complex systems, as at Echo Park in Los Angeles.

Echo Park Lake collects stormwater from a large surrounding uphill neighborhood – a swath of about 770 acres. The 125-year-old facility, which began as a reservoir of drinking water from the Los Angeles River but is now a discharging pond to that same waterway, was renovated in 2014 to handle more runoff and improve water quality through sediment traps, constructed floating wetlands, and better circulation. The upgrade improved the look and smell of the park and also allowed more boating. However, the lake can only manage rainfall from smaller storms; in a major deluge it can hold only about 25 percent of the neighborhood’s water, with the rest shunted straight to the river.

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The new design of Echo Park Lake has improved the water quality, helping to bring back the beloved but dwindling lotuses, among other benefits. (KCET)

In Milford, Connecticut, Eisenhower Park along the Wepewaug River was vastly improved when Connecticut Light & Power Corp. agreed to invest $800,000 as mitigation for installing a new overhead transmission line. The company paid to convert an unattractive and unusable abandoned gravel pit in the park into an ecologically active artificial wetland. The wetland served as such successful water storage that the old river levee could be partially punctured, reconnecting the Wepewaug to its historic floodplain. Kent, Washington, did something similar, though with more artistic flair, at Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks Park (pictured above). In the early 1980s, faced with the need to protect its downtown from flooding by Mill Creek, the city rejected the idea of building a traditional engineered dam and opted for a park that could do the same thing. The 2.5-acre, sculptural earthwork park contains enough detention basins and berms to accommodate a 10,000-year storm, and grassy lawns and hillocks provide an attraction to residents and visitors alike during the majority of times without flooding.

The renovation of Discovery Park in Seattle started with a minor departmental work order to repave a parking area. But when environmental engineer Andy Sheffer discovered that culverts under the park were washing out, the repair was completely re-conceived. The city tore out the culverts, brought the water back to the surface, stabilized the slope, and transformed the creek into a cascade of pools. “This began as a maintenance project but it resulted in an accessible water feature,” explained Sheffer. “It’s been highly acclaimed. People love hearing that good environmental deeds are being done, but above all, they really love watching moving water. As soon as we daylight a stream, people want to see more of the riparian corridor exposed. These projects catalyze park projects further downstream.”

When faced with problems such as flooding, runoff, washouts, or poor quality water features (to list only a few), an existing park may be renovated for water management and greatly improved. It can be challenging to work with already established places, but often has benefits for everyone involved.

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