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Joint-Use Agreements- Best Practices

By Erin Cameron

In the interest of providing a quality park within a 10-minute walk from all, the Center for City Park Excellence conducted research in joint-use agreements. To do this, the Center gathered 33 agreements from 20 of the largest US cities and analyzed the best practices within those agreements. A joint-use agreement (JUA) binds school districts or independent schools with their local government for the maintenance and usage of parkland. Communities benefit because they often lack funding and land for new parks, limiting opportunities for growth of public spaces in dense and low-income neighborhoods. JUAs allow the community to capitalize on existing schools with playgrounds and fields without further development and spending. While The Center primarily focuses on the practices of cities, in rural areas where funding is limited JUAs offer the same benefits as they do in dense urban regions. The Center encourages cities and school districts interested in adopting a JUA to use the below practices in their agreements, as well as mimicking the most adaptable and useful agreement from the City of Durham. The Center published its findings in this post, as well as further research and notable cases. Continue reading

100 Largest Cities: Albuquerque

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Tricentennial Park Panorama

We’re profiling some of the 100 Largest Cities for parks that are featured in both City Park Facts, 2017 edition which will be available on April 19 at tpl.org and ParkScore, the ranking of parks systems from 1 to 100 for these cities on May 24th.

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Neighborhood Park, between Old Town and Downtown

We recently had the opportunity to visit Albuquerque for a day while on a trip meeting with our GIS/Planning team in nearby Santa Fe. In the 2016 (and current) edition of ParkScore, Albuquerque is tied for 20th place with Denver.

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Old Town Plaza

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Bosque Trail along the Rio Grande River

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Bosque Trail signage

With a population of 557,169 and a total land area of 120,147 acres, parks occupy over 18,633 of those acres with city park land joined by lands owned by National Park Service as well as Bernanillo County.  In terms of a 10-minute walk, 82% of Albuquerque residents live within a 10-minute walk, which ranks them 23rd in terms of that specific score.

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Exercise Equipment Trail, Tricentennial Park

Parks vary in size and shape, from the first park in the city, Robertson Park to Open Space with paved trails running alongside and through the flood plain of the mighty Rio Grande River.

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Oldest City Park, Robinson, Downtown

For further information about parks in Albuquerque, visit the City Parks Department. The City Parks volunteer program is here and Open Space volunteering information can be found here. Bernalillo County Parks information is here.  Park volunteers donated over 29,716 hours in Albuquerque in the most recent reporting year.

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One of the drainages alongside the path.

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Crossing over a broader stream into the floodplain of the Rio Grande.

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The edge of the mighty Rio Grande River

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

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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.