• Who We Are

    City Parks Blog is a joint effort of the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land and the City Parks Alliance to chronicle the news and issues of the urban park movement. Read more about us.
  • Urban Park Issues

  • Enter your email address to receive notifications of new City Parks Blog posts by email.

  • Archives

  • Urban Green Cover Ad

13,544 Playgrounds

768_x_auto-ca_larch_10262016_10

Larch Park, Los Angeles

What feature of a park does everyone expect? A playground of course!  Playgrounds have grown in both number and sophistication over the years that the Trust for Public Land has been working on building and re-working them.  While the focus on safety as well as accessibility (as governed by local and state guidelines for the Americans with Disabilities Act (or the ADA as we often refer to it), there’s increasingly a fun element to them, as shown by these pictures.

In terms of our City Park Facts measurement of “per 10,000 residents,” Madison is #1 with 7.1 playgrounds per 10,000 residents (173 playgrounds), Cincinnati is #2 with 5.0 (152 playgrounds), Detroit #3 with 4.7 (309 playgrounds), Omaha #4 for 4.4 (193) and Norfolk #5 with 4.2 (103 playgrounds)

720xauto-nj_sussexaveopening_112514_40

Schoolyard Playground, New York City

In terms of overall numbers, New York City is first with 1,669 playgrounds, Chicago second with 660, Houston third with 452, Los Angeles fourth with 433 and Detroit fifth with 309.

Overall, there are 13,544 playgrounds in the 100 largest US cities. Since 2010, the number of playgrounds has increased over 17%, from 11,160, with 2,394 additional playgrounds added.

Some recent Trust for Public Land playground projects include New York City, Philadelphia, East Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Learn more about City Park trends in the 2017 edition of City Park Facts, coming April 20 to tpl.org. If you have questions or comments about this or other city park facts, contact us at ccpe@tpl.org

playgrounds

Infographic from City Park Facts

Friends of the Parks Welcomes Obama Library to the South Side

On August 3, Friends of the Parks, an open space advocacy group in Chicago, announced that it will welcome the Obama Presidential Library despite misgivings about the location of the building.

Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry stated that though the organization opposes building the library on existing parkland when there is vacant space nearby, “…the organization will not sue as it is our understanding that the site that was chosen apparently is not public trust land—unlike the proposed sites for the Lucas Museum.”

The group will continue to urge the library foundation to work closely with the surrounding community to address community benefit agreements, public access to the affected parks as well as regular communication with all stakeholders, and to maintain the design integrity of the historic park.

Read the full statement here.

A Different Kind of Tragedy of the Commons?

606lineThe new 606 is open in Chicago – a mix of 2.7 miles of elevated trail with four ground-level parks along the route. Amidst the excitement of this new linear park, which will bridge four neighborhoods historically underserved by parks, is the familiar cautionary tale about its potential gentrifying impact. Like New York’s High Line, the badly needed park amenity is being viewed partly in light of its negative effects on the neighborhood it was designed to serve. (The New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl said about the High Line, “As a catalyst of neighborhood change, the High Line has been to usual gentrification what a bomb is to bottle rockets.”)

But the issue of the impact of a new park on property values – and the resulting displacement of longtime residents by the rising cost of housing – is worth a thoughtful analysis. Are we blaming parks for increasing property values, or might that be better explained as the result of the state of the housing market and public policy?  Continue reading

Parks: One of the Most Important Ingredients of a Successful City

(Republished from NextCity)

An audience member at the Philly Parks Future Forum last week called the panelists assembled a “dream team.” The experts represented parks agencies from Seattle, New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Chicago. Presented by the City Parks Alliance, the forum wasn’t so much an event to unravel the issues that Philly parks will face specifically, but to discuss how city parks are one of the greatest assets to our country and how they are progressing nationally. Philadelphia Daily News writer Sandra Shea moderated the panel of parks and recreation officials, who shared what’s been working in their necks of the woods. Here are five important takeaways from the Forum.

1. Seattle’s New Park District Was 20 Years in the Making
Proposition 1, which called for the creation of a Seattle Park District, passed with 53 percent of the vote in August. Prop 1 did away with the need to return to voters to secure funding, permanently backing parks through property taxes. (This new source of revenue will be in addition to the $89.5 million that Seattle already receives each year from the city’s general fund.)

What turned the tide? Seattle Parks and Recreation Acting Superintendent Christopher Williams said it was Mayor Ed Murray’s outspokenness on the issue. Since city officials at Parks and Recreation don’t run for their jobs, they don’t campaign on their stances. Williams said having a public face mattered. “I can’t say enough about advocacy,” he stated.

Williams said the Seattle department knows it still answers to voters, and because of that responsibility, he suggested, parks departments everywhere should be using a strong performance management model, relying on spreadsheets and data and report cards to track success.

2. 96 Percent of San Franciscans Can Walk From Their Homes to a Park in 10 Minutes or Less
According to The Trust for Public Land, close to 10 million Americans live within a 10-minute walk to a park. According to San Francisco Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg, some 800,000 of them live in San Francisco. Ginsburg got more than a few laughs from the Forum audience when he pointed out that many of those park visitors have four legs: San Francisco’s a city of 80,000 children … and 150,000 dogs.

Of course, just having abundant park space isn’t enough. Ginsburg pointed out that as San Francisco’s population continues to grow, his department is focused on modernizing one of the oldest park systems in the U.S. by acquiring more land to create new parks. He pointed out that prioritizing long-term capital planning (thanks to former Mayor Gavin Newsom and current Mayor Ed Lee) is making that expansion possible. Ginsburg emphasized that investing in children — in their health and public safety — with parks improvements was better than paying on the “back end in emergency rooms.”  Continue reading

A Park for the Ages

Mil1According to Wikipedia, Anish Kapoor’s contract to create the popular sculpture, Cloud Gate (more commonly known as the “Bean”) for Millennium Park, stated that the constructed piece should be expected to survive for 1,000 years.  Even the name for the park reflects a longevity that is visionary – and forever – as it approaches its tenth anniversary.

I recently caught up with Ed Uhlir, Executive Director for Millennium Park, Inc. (MP, Inc.), to talk with him about lessons learned at the Park and what has surprised him about its success.  “The biggest thing is that it turned out to be such a huge economic engine for the city,” he said. Uhlir recognized the importance of high quality design in creating real estate value but he’s not sure anyone would have predicted the size of the impact that Millennium Park has had.  A 2011 Texas A&M report on the impact of the park tells us,

…it is clear that Millennium Park has generated the following economic impact on the City of Chicago: $490M in total park construction; $ 2.45 Billion in new construction near the park; 70,070 direct, indirect and induced jobs created by new construction in the area; a 57% increase in new residential units near the park (3,587 units since 2005); 29% premium on park units sold with views of the park; five million annual visitors which generate $1.29B in tourism dollars; $5.9M in annual operations costs that feed the local economy; 2,126 new underground parking spaces at Millennium Park; an 11% increase in hotel rooms (751 rooms) near the park; $173.5M donated by 115 founders to specific projects within the park; and 11 fortune 500 companies that donated to the park.

How did that happen?  Ed says, “It’s the world-class art and design.  It has branded the park and added value to the image of Chicago.”  And, I would add, it represents the kind of success that results from effective leadership and a strong public/private partnership. “The private partnership enabled us with flexibility and the ability to be more selective in getting great design.”

One of the things that the Millennium Park planners did so well was to incorporate great art and design that gives the park a sense of beauty beyond its landscaping and gardens.  The challenge now is to continually position the park as cutting edge, with more creative contributors.  “We do have new ‘beans’ every couple of years,” said Ed.  The formal Boeing Galleries in the Park – two outdoor galleries designed for public exhibitions – are a home for changing shows of contemporary art.  Every two years a new show is staged, generally from an artist outside the United States.

Mil2
And Millennium Park continues to expand its brand by making connections to the properties around it.  The elegant Nichols Bridgeway leads south to the new addition of the Art Institute.  East of the Park, and across Frank Gehry’s BP Bridge over Columbus Drive, there are plans for transforming Daley Bicentennial Park into Maggie Daley Park, a thirty-acre park and children’s play space, with a better connection to the city’s lakefront.

The increase in surrounding property values and the creation of new jobs is one important gauge of the park’s success, but just as important has been the impact the park has had on tourism.  One interesting measure for this, says Ed, is Trip Advisor.  There are over 2,600 reviews for the Park on Trip Advisor, with almost all of them calling their visit “excellent” or “very good.”  Ninety-eight reviewers called their Millennium Park experience “average.”  Out of curiosity, I checked out Trip Advisor reviews for a few other signature parks around the country: New York attractions take the cake with the High Line receiving 5,300 positive reviews, and Central Park has over 12,000 reviews; Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle has 152 reviews; and Discovery Green in Houston has 60 reviews.

With park visitation up to 5 million annually, the City of Chicago is focusing on its “brand” across the country and world and is opening tourism offices with one of their pitches being, “Come visit Millennium Park.”  Foreign visitors are the fastest growing group of visitors and – though still a small number in comparison to local and regional visitors – they spend more money.

Ed believes that in addition to great art and design, great programming is what brings people to the park, which hosts over 600 free events annually.  “There are lots of opportunities in this small space and everything is free thanks to donors who sponsor many of the programs,” he says.  But there is a potential conflict between donors who made gifts and wanted everything to be free for park users, and the city which needs to balance its budget to keep the programs running.  Endowments, not just for the art but for programs, are now a key part of fundraising.

MP, Inc. currently has $25 million in restricted and unrestricted endowments (not including a $10 million pledge for the outdoor concert pavilion).  Their goal is to double that.  “The private-public partnership is important to making the park work and endowment money helps assure that the partnership continues into the future.”

Half of the board of MP, Inc. is original to when work on the park began in 1996.  Some of them feel like they have accomplished what they set out to do and are ready to move on.  Now, younger family members of original donors are joining the board as membership diversifies from those who built it to those who are committed to enhancing it.  Program endowments – such as the one from McDonalds to manage the Cycle Center and present free morning exercise programs, or Boeing’s endowment of the outdoor art gallery – are increasingly important to keeping the park successful through high quality programs.

When the park opened, The Financial Times described Millennium Park as “…a genuinely 21st-century interactive park [that] could trigger a new way of thinking about public outdoor spaces.”  These days Millennium Park is as much a venue for driving economic impact in the city as it is a respite from the tall, dark skyscrapers that surround it.  Keeping the park vibrant will require the same kind of focus on excellence that made it a success.  Like a museum, the Park will have to manage its art and attractions to keep them fresh – and cutting edge – in order to keep people coming and driving its economic impact.  And that will take new and committed public-private partnerships for managing the park for the next 1,000 years that Cloud Gate shines.

KBlahaKathy Blaha writes about parks and other urban green spaces, and the role of public-private partnerships in their development and management. When she’s not writing for the blog, she consults on advancing park projects and sustainable land use solutions.