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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.

Park Profile: Underground at Ink Block

A few years ago, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) decided to create some public space out of the darkened areas under the 1-93 overhead highway just south of downtown Boston.  It wasn’t the first place you’d expect a new public space.

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Location of Underground at Ink Block in Boston (from their website)

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Murals on highway retaining walls and on the hike and bike footpaths.

The space that they had in mind was surrounded by commuter rail lines running to nearby South Station, waterfront along Fort Point Channel, and South Boston on the other side, and surface streets and the rapidly revitalizing “New York Streets” section of the South End of Boston, home to both restored factory buildings as well as new development.

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One of the landscaped rain garden / storm water garden areas.

The resulting 8-acre Underground at Ink Block, which formally opened in the fall of 2017, is part park, part water garden/filtration system, part art project, part paid parking lot, part-secured bike storage, and part dog park – all nestled under I-93 in between the South End and South Boston, owned by MassDOT,  and operated by a local property owner, National Development

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The parking lot provides weekly parking (and resulting) revenue as well as an expanded area to hold weekend festivals, when the need for parking isn’t so great.  A series of murals, to be updated on a regular basis, cover highway retaining walls, the foot paths in and out of the Underground, as well as storage containers and electrical service utility boxes.

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Then there’s the goal of managing storm water. Downspouts from the highway above are channeled into a new of large, landscaped water gardens that hold runoff and slowly release it back into the ground via drains.  Signage explains how the system works.

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One of the largest rain garden / storm water garden areas.

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Stormwater Management – Interpretive Signage

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How highway maintenance is performed without damaging the park and gardens.

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Waterfront path and views (looking north)

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Dog park double gate and “king of the mountain” mound directly behind.

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Paths along Fort Point Channel, looking south.

For further information on the Underground at Ink Block, visit the official website or Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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.

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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

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Separated bikway nearing completion in downtown St. Paul.

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7,453 Miles of Parkland Bikeways

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Butler Trail at Lady Bird Lake, Austin, TX

The growing popularity of bikeways (often called hike and bike trails or linear parks) in our parks continues to climb, based on our annual surveys for City Park Facts and Parkscore. Please note that parkland bikeways don’t include bike lanes, sidewalks and other on-street or off-street portions of a city bicycle network or system.

In terms of total miles Irvine leads the pack with 324 miles, Phoenix has 310 miles, Anchorage 295 miles, Scottsdale 269 miles, Jacksonville 244 miles, and Philadelphia 241 miles.

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Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System, Minneapolis

In the Per 10,000 residents column, Number one is Irvine with 13.4 miles per 10,000 residents,  Scottsdale is second with 11.6 miles per 10,000 residents.  Third is Anchorage with 9.7 miles per 10,000 residents.

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Beltline Map, Atlanta

Here are a few of our favorite bikeways, among hundreds to choose from.

Learn more about City Park trends in the 2017 edition of City Park Facts, coming in April to the Trust for Public Land website. If you have questions or comments about this or other city park facts, contact us at ccpe@tpl.org. The City Parks Blog is a joint project of the City Parks Alliance and the Trust for Public Land.

The Frontline Parks of 2016

Each month, City Parks Alliance names one “Frontline Park” as a standout example of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship. The program highlights parks and programs that find innovative ways to meet the unique challenges facing city park professionals and their communities. In 2016 we focused on successful park partnerships including local museums, fire departments or transportation agencies.

City parks play a vital role in the social, economic and physical well-being of America’s cities and their residents. As cities become more densely populated, planners, elected officials, and community advocates are taking a fresh look at parks and their potential to help address critical urban infrastructure and public health issues. City parks provide access to recreational opportunities, increase property values, spur local economies, combat crime, and protect cities from environmental impacts. Parks are now recognized as powerful tools for urban communities and local economies and our 2016 Frontline Parks are great examples for cities of all sizes.

As we gear up for a new round of features, we want to congratulate all of our 2016 Frontline Parks and we hope they inspire you to nominate your favorite park in 2017!

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Buhl Community Park
(Pittsburgh, PA)
The Children’s Museum teamed up with the community to turn a dilapidated plaza into a new park. Best museum entrance ever!

 

 

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Crissy Field
(San Francisco, CA)
It’s hard to believe now, but this section of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area was a military airfield before it was cleaned up and restored. A+ view.

 

 

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Kathryn Albertson Park
(Boise, ID)
This gem in a ribbon of parks named for prominent Boise women was designed as a sanctuary for migratory birds and other wildlife.

 

 

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Avalon & Gage Park
(Los Angeles, CA)
A partnership between community members, the city, and a land trust turned this traffic island into a much needed park and playground.

 

 

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Buffalo Bayou
(Houston, TX)
The re-greening of Houston begins with the bayou. Take a pontoon boat tour to see the full scope of this network of waterways and parks.

 

 

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Westown Commons Park
(Grand Rapids, MI)
Thanks to a new tax levy and community volunteer effort, Westown Commons has an updated look, more visitors, and a popular new skate park.

 

 

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Frogtown Park & Farm
(Saint Paul, MN)
Why stop at gardening? The residents of this diverse community have a new park for recreation, and a working 5-acre farm for growing produce. Attending Greater & Greener, sign up for a tour!

 

 

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Buchanan Mall
(San Francisco, CA)
This activation project is revitalizing a stretch of parkland for 30,000 people in the Western Addition neighborhood of San Francisco.

 

 

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Webber Park
(Minneapolis, MN)
Three words: Natural. Swimming. Pool. Go to Webber Park when the ground thaws, or as part of your Greater & Greener experience next summer.

 

 

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Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge
(Fort Worth, TX)
This park partnered with the fire department for prescribed burns, keeping the park clear of fire fuel and urban firefighters prepared for extinguishing property-threatening wildfires.

 

 

Bremen Street Park
East Boston Greenway
(Boston, MA)
Not only does it link new, old, and improved parks together, the Greenway also allows bike and pedestrian access to three ‘T’ stations as well as Logan Airport.

 

 

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Tanner Springs Park
(Portland, OR)
This model of park sustainability sits atop a former railyard and brownfield in northwest Portland. It’s a nice, quiet place to read those new books from Powell’s.

 

 

The Frontline Parks program is made possible by DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.