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Business Improvement Districts: Driving Investment in Public Parks


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

Making Room: Finding the Space in Urban Parks for Stormwater Management

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 twelfth installment in a series of 19 posts.

In all considerations of urban stormwater management, space is a factor. A prime difficulty with liberating a stream from a fortified channel is that it then requires a wider footprint – but over the years that historic floodplain has usually been covered with housing, shops or industry. Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority Landscape Architect Brian Baldauf has calculated that the present 50- to 100-foot-wide riparian corridor of the Los Angeles River and its tributaries (including Tujunga Wash) would need to be five to seven times wider to be naturally resilient against flooding. The problem is more severe in arid regions with their wider fluctuations between droughts and deluges, but the challenge reaches from coast to coast. In the Charlotte, North Carolina area, which has seen rapid recent development (including a widespread increase in new pavement) and higher water levels, Mecklenburg County has an aggressive program to buy out willing sellers in the flood zone, remove built structures, and turn the land into open space (often resulting in the construction of a natural greenway to be maintained by the parks department).  Austin and El Paso similarly have created broad swaths of parkland from former residential neighborhoods decimated by floods.


Saipan-Ledo Park in El Paso, TX was created when low-lying homes were destroyed in a flood. (El Paso Water Utility)

Continue reading

January’s Frontline Park

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.

Canal Park

Canal Park

In 1815, the Washington City Canal opened and connected the Anacostia and Potomac rivers via the National Mall.  In the early 1900s, the canal was paved over to create Canal Street and has served many different purposes over the years, including as a holding area for idling buses.  The site’s newest function as a park began back in 2000, when a developer formed the nonprofit Canal Park Development Association, which secured the site and was tasked with overseeing development of the park.  Funding came from many different sources, including some not traditionally associated with funding for local parks; the District and Federal governments, the DC Housing Authority, and private developers contributed funds in addition to neighborhood stakeholders.  The design competition opened in 2004, and in 2010, the project finally broke ground.  The park is owned by the District of Columbia, but Canal Park Development Association and the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District will be responsible for programming and management.

Canal Park isn’t a typical neighborhood park, and not just because of its history and public-private partnership management structure.  The park serves as a pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) and is a candidate for LEED Gold certification, thanks to some innovative features:

  • Underground cisterns collect water from the park and neighboring city blocks.
  • Water is treated and reused, satisfying the park’s water needs for fountains, irrigation, toilets, and the ice skating path.  It is estimated that the system will generate 1.5 million gallons of reused water annually.
  • Heating and cooling for park amenities will be generated by 28 geothermal wells, reducing the park’s energy consumption by 40%.
Skating in DC

Skating in DC

Canal Park was designed to be the leader in urban environmental strategies: stormwater management, energy efficiency in its programming and structures, and soil remediation, but was imagined to be a great space in a city full of iconic spaces that would give an individual identity to a newly revitalized community.

To learn more about Canal Park, click here: www.canalparkdc.org

The “Frontline Parks” program is made possible with generous support from DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.