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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

Creating and Financing Infill Parks in the Bay Area: Part I

San Francisco was just crowned the greenest city in the U.S. and Canada by one large study, a nod to its policies that require recycling, ban plastic shopping bags, and provide incentives for solar roofs.

But the Bay Area is also thinking of sustainability in terms of smarter growth throughout the region as a whole. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has identified Priority Development Areas to encourage infill development, combining housing, amenities, and transit in a walkable environment.

These increasingly dense areas will need carefully planned parks. Some jurisdictions have done little more than hope for additional green space, while others have worked diligently but unsuccessfully to acquire parkland. Still others have succeeded in creating new parks but now have difficulty funding their maintenance.

To provide some guidance, The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence performed a study for ABAG, one component of which was identifying examples of how recently-completed infill parks were financed. We will be publishing each of the four case studies over the next several weeks. First up is Doyle Hollis Park in Emeryville.

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Tiny Emeryville, squeezed between Oakland, Berkeley and the Bay Bridge, has 10,000 residents and 20,000 daytime workers on only 1.2 square miles of land. For most of the 20th century it was an industrial center, famous for meatpacking plants and a Sherwin-Williams paint factory. It has since evolved into a hub for biotech and software companies, including Pixar Animation Studios, as well as a major shopping destination.

Emeryville has a dearth of parkland, particularly parkland away from San Francisco Bay, east of Interstate 80, since that highway is a significant physical and psychological barrier to the enjoyment of green space along the waterfront. The city also has a demand for auto parking because of the daily commuter influx. Doyle Hollis Park grew out of the competition between these two forces.

The park site was slated to become a parking structure. Credit: MIG, Inc. Courtesy Emeryville Planning and Building Department.

In 1999, when the city’s planning department began to develop the North Hollis Area Plan, situated in the transition zone from commercial to residential, it focused upon a warehouse in the block bounded by Doyle and Hollis Streets. In 2002, the warehouse site was slotted for a parking structure and steps were taken to relocate the tenant and arrange acquisition.

During this time, citizen opposition to the idea of a parking structure in the geographic heart of the North Hollis Area grew. The proposed six-story, 700-vehicle building abutted a low-density neighborhood and stood across from a middle school that lacked playing fields. It would have also shaded the new Emeryville Greenway and a pocket park.

“We first considered putting the garage beneath the park,” said Planner Diana Keena, “but the site is so narrow that just the entryway would have consumed a third of the space.” The city also considered building a smaller structure or allowing diagonal street parking around the perimeter of the park, but those, too, would have swallowed most of the park.

Neighbors, who had coalesced a few years earlier to redesign the greenway as a park rather than as a tree-lined auto-oriented street, arose again, voicing opposition to the parking structure, lobbying individual councilmembers, and gaining the support of the school board. “With persistence and a lot of hard work, we eventually convinced the City Council that a park — not a parking structure — was the right thing for the neighborhood,” recalls Jim Martin, one of the original leaders of Doyle Street Neighbors. The group ultimately convinced the City Council to rezone the block to open space.

Kids Playing at Doyle Hollis Park

Kids playing at Doyle Hollis Park. Credit: MIG, Inc. Courtesy Emeryville Planning and Building Department.

From then on, things moved relatively quickly. In 2005 the site, which had already been on the city’s acquisition list, was bought by the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency for $5.1 million, using capital improvement funds from a combination of tax revenue and bond proceeds. That same year, Economic Development Coordinator Ignacio Dayrit, now with the non-profit, San Francisco-based Center for Creative Land Recycling, secured a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) brownfield assessment grant for Emeryville, $75,000 of which was applied to the Hollis Doyle parcel. (The site was found to have some petroleum contamination.) Also in 2005, Gates Associates was hired to do planning and community workshops for the park. Later, a $200,000 brownfield cleanup grant was used for site remediation, along with a $500,000 loan from the EPA’s Brownfield Revolving Fund, which was matched with $100,000 from the redevelopment agency. (The loan has since been repaid by the city.)

Design, construction, and remediation added up to $5.25 million, some of which was paid for through the city’s community development block grant program ($109,557), the California workforce housing benefits program ($37,000), and the StopWaste.org Bay-Friendly Landscaping program ($25,000). All told, $10.35 million was spent on the park. Day-to-day park maintenance is handled by the Emeryville Department of Public Works and costs approximately $53,000 a year.

Basketball court at Doyle Hollis Park, with fountain in foreground. Credit: MIG, Inc. Courtesy Emeryville Planning and Building Department.

Opened in 2009 after a year of construction, the 1.25-acre park includes a children’s play area, restrooms, a recreation lawn, a basketball court, a rain garden that processes 85 percent of stormwater runoff on-site, and a striking public art fountain designed by artist Masayuki Nagase. It opened “to great fanfare,” according to City Manager Pat O’Keefe, and Diana Keena remembers that eager children crawled under the construction fencing to play on the climbing structures before it was dedicated.  Since then, park use has exceeded all expectations. “During lunchtime on a sunny day the place is packed with workers, kids, and food vendors,” notes Jim Martin.

As for the existing parking concerns, the city is attempting to address them through transit improvements, including the free Emery-Go-Round shuttle that links downtown to the MacArthur BART station one mile away, partnering with developers in providing public parking components to private parking structures, and prodding employers to offer their workers free transit passes. Finally, Emeryville plans to install meters for all street parking to nudge more drivers into existing garages that traditionally have been underused. The efforts are already successful – recent statistics show that the single-occupancy-vehicle commuting rate of employees to Emeryville is only 36 percent, well below the East Bay average.

Former Brownfield Becomes a Park with Music to Senator’s Ears

Concert in East River State Park, Brooklyn

The New York Times had an nice story over the weekend about Senator Chuck Schumer’s interest in music in a Brooklyn park. The Senator has fervently supported (and attended) the indie-music series popular among many of the city’s younger crowd in East River State Park. Interestingly, the part of this park home to the concerts was a brownfield only a few years ago, that the Trust for Public Land helped turn into this great riverfront venue.

Here’s a bit of history. The six-acre site was home to the Eastern District Terminal, a major rail-to-barge shipping facility until the middle of the 20th century and  abandoned for decades after shipping moved to the west side of New York Harbor. In the 1990s, a  waste transfer station was proposed for the property — a plan that the community organized successfully to oppose. With the support of local and state politicians, TPL negotiated to acquire the property. After the site was found to have soil contamination, remediation measures were taken and the property conveyed to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.  The parcel is now the core of a seven-block park along the waterfront in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, one of the hottest areas to live in the city.

The best areas for public land in many older industrial cities have in the past been taken by these industrial uses. For other cities looking to revive their once industrial waterfronts, parks are a great way to turn eyesores into assets.

Report: the Cleanup War Chest

How can states become more involved in funding environmental “cleaning and greening” efforts? A new report (pdf) by the Northeast-Midwest Institute addresses the question by looking at states that have issued bonds for brownfield redevelopment, park creation, conservation and clean water initiatives. The below table from the report provides a summary of these programs and a checklist of their key elements. Almost all of them include trails and parks. Parks can be stand-alone projects, part of a brownfield redevelopment, or part of a riverfront clean-up. The report notes that development in the country must turn to reuse of land rather than development of greenfields. In doing so, parks also will be created from reuse instead of virgin land – and can be used to make projects attractive and economically feasible.