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Your Input Needed: Are public golf courses being converted to Parks?

applewood-golfcourse

Applewood Golf Course, Golden, Colorado – photo credit: Brian Melody

Back in 2011, the Center for City Park Excellence wrote about a growing number of public golf courses being converted to parks.  In advance of the April release of the 2017 City Park Facts, we’re looking for more recent examples of US cities converting their golf courses to parks, so if you know of a recent example, please write to us at ccpe@tpl.org.

Here’s why we’re asking.

We’ve continued to hear about the closing of many privately owned golf courses over the last decade or so, the current total number of golf courses (according to a 2015 study by The R & A titled “Golf Around the World” is currently 15,372, down from a high of 16,052 courses around the year 2000.  We do know of many stories documenting  the transformation of  private golf courses into public parks. In fact, the Trust for Public Land was a partner in acquisition projects in Portland, Oregon,  Rancho Canada, California, and Golden, Colorado.

That said, the number of public golf courses in the 100 largest cities is currently 413, but the net decrease over the past five years is just three. Some cities have closed or transferred ownership and some cities have built or rebuilt golf courses as well.

Do you have an example or a story about new uses for a public golf course?  Let us know at ccpe@tpl.org.

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

Parks as Community Development

Parks equal “conservation,” right? Not always.

In cities, the more accurate word is often “development.” Rather than being a pristine swath of nature, the underlying property was something that had been previously built upon. Rather than being conserved and protected, the land was scraped, cleaned and sculpted. Rather than being saved and preserved, the trees and horticulture were chosen and planted.

For this reason, a small but significant percentage of city parks are being paid for out of a federal funding source known as the Community Development Block Grant program, or CDBG.

CDBG is not well known among conservationists and park people, but it is a huge engine of federal revenue sharing for cities. Administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), it is the premier source of direct aid for lower-income city neighborhoods. At its zenith (in 2002) it distributed more than $5 billion per year to more than 1,200 so-called “entitlement communities.”

As “entitlement” implies, CDBG spending must benefit people of low and moderate income, and it is most commonly associated with affordable housing projects. But HUD lists 25 eligible activities and reports that about one-third of the money ends up going for public facility improvements, including parks. “One of the great hallmarks of the CDBG program,” according to Marion McFadden, deputy assistant secretary for grant programs, “is local discretion.”

CDBG Funding for Parks & Recreation, 2005 - 2013

CDBG Funding for Parks & Recreation, 2005 – 2013. Click to enlarge.

Between 2005 and 2013, more than $864 million in CDBG funding was spent on parks and recreation, an average of just over $96 million a year. While that’s a small percentage of the $6-billion-plus spent annually by big-city park agencies, it is much more federal money than comes in to city parks from conservation programs through the U.S. Department of the Interior.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that there has been a steady decline in CDBG funding, from $4.84 billion in 2005 to $3.56 billion in 2013. As one of the premier “domestic discretionary” programs on Capitol Hill, CDBG is a fat target for budget cutters, particularly since many cities are jurisdictions that are less than bipartisan.

Remarkably, park spending from CDBG has held up over the nine years, meaning that the percent going for parks has in fact increased sharply (see table). Combining the money with other funds, cities have built everything from recreation centers to neighborhood parks and skating zones to splash parks. Of the country’s 100 largest cities, 57 have used at least some CDBG money for parks in the past five years. Los Angeles spent more than $6.8 million in CDBG on improvements to athletic fields and parks. St. Paul invested $2.5 million into playgrounds. Atlanta used $6.1 million to improve a dozen parks and replace 18 playgrounds.

Major cities using the greatest share of CDBG funding on parks, 2008-2012. Click to enlarge.

Major cities using the greatest share of CDBG funding on parks, 2008-2012. Click to enlarge.

New York City used $580,000 in CDBG money to operate 11 mini pools in 2014. The city also granted more than $1.9 million to nonprofit organizations working to improve parks, build community gardens, and lead recreation activities. Seattle goes even farther, annually allocating $800,000 in CDBG funds into a parks improvement program that helped 20 parks in 2014 alone.

The situation in New Orleans is unique. Beyond its traditional CDBG distribution, the city also receives CDBG Disaster Relief funds to help with Hurricane Katrina recovery. Through this, over the past five years, New Orleans has allotted more than $60 million toward new parks and bike paths, added tree canopy, and improved existing parks. “Good recovery starts with good investment,” says William Gilchrist, New Orleans’s director of place-based planning, “and parks are a good investment.”

In Newark, New Jersey, The Trust for Public Land partnered with the city, Essex County, and the Ironbound Community Corporation to develop the Newark Riverfront Park. Located on a brownfield next to the Passaic River, the park added much-needed greenspace while linking residents for the first time to the water. $2.6 million of the city’s CDBG funds were combined with $4 million in other public money and $2.7 million in private money, and the project’s first phase was completed in 2013.

While CDBG is still a relatively modest funding source for city parks as a whole, its low-income requirement makes it special. These, after all, are areas that arguably have the highest need for quality recreation space. They typically lack the opportunity for special taxing districts or the private philanthropy of wealthy neighbors. Thus, CDBG is emerging as a powerful tool for providing quality park space to those who need it most.

This analysis was written by Peter Harnik and Kyle Barnhart. Harnik is director of the Center for City Park Excellence at The Trust for Public Land. Barnhart is a former intern at the center.

This article also appears on American City and County’s Viewpoints blog and is available for download from The Trust for Public Land.

Greater and Greener: A Victory Lap in San Francisco’s Parks

GGPost1It was a kind of Bay Area parks ‘lovefest’ that evoked images of another set of park lovers from the 1960s. But this time the peace loving vibe was coming from civic leaders and park professionals attending  City Parks Alliance’s international urban parks conference, Greater and Greener: Innovative Parks, Vibrant Cities, a few weeks ago in sunny San Francisco – a city with more public open space than any metro area in the country.

One thousand global park leaders, city planning and design professionals, and urban park advocates from more than 200 cities and 17 countries shared stories, photographs, lessons, data and some good humor about how parks change and enhance our urban quality of life.

GGPost2The diversity of participants made for a vibrant and robust conversation about parks and their link to just about everything in our lives that has value – health, recreation, learning, clean water, play, education, economic development, social cohesion, urban resilience, and on and on. By making parks broadly relevant, the conference attracted and engaged leaders from health, science, technology, and other fields to collectively re-imagine parks in a new context of economic, environmental and social opportunities.

In addition to the 150 speakers leading workshop sessions inside classrooms, the conference also offered more than 80 expert-led tours of parks, mobile workshops and special events that featured San Francisco’s beautifully groomed parks and community facilities. Continue reading

Economic Value of San Francisco Parks Approaches $1 Billion Annually

San Francisco’s park system plays a particularly outsized role in the City’s economy and is worth almost $1 billion a year, according to a recent report.

The report, by The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence in partnership with the San Francisco Parks Alliance, said the value of San Francisco’s parks is $959 million a year.

The report incorporates data from San Francisco’s entire park and recreation system: everything from destination icons like Crissy Field and Coit Tower, to trails, natural areas, neighborhoods and community parks, and even hardscape downtown squares. Seven major factors are analyzed and enumerated in the report: property value attributable to parks, revenues from park-related tourism, the value citizens derive from direct use of free or very low cost park resources (called “direct use”), health benefits resulting from active recreation in parks, community cohesion from gathering together in parks, clean water and clean air. Continue reading