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The Creative Culture of Parks: Moving from Pop-ups to Permanent

Can pop-up parks and public space projects trigger investment in new public parks?  Is there a role for community-generated projects in the formal planning process?

ccop2The Miami Foundation is working to find out with its Miami Public Space Challenge, now going into its fifth year.  The Public Space Challenge uncovers the best ideas for creating, improving and activating parks, plazas, and local gathering places. Since 2013 more than 1,432 project submissions have been made and $870,000 awarded for 70 projects.  Continue reading

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

City Park Conservancies: A Treasure Trove of New Knowledge

Peter Harnik at The Trust for Public Land has once again added to the foundation of knowledge about city parks with a new report issued by the Center for City Park Excellence. Public Spaces/Private Money: The Triumphs and Pitfalls of Urban Park Conservancies is a report by Harnik and Abby Martin that looks at 41 organizations from around the nation that are partnering with public agencies to plan, design, operate and manage city parks.

Starting with the ‘roots’ of the conservancy movement in New York and San Francisco, the report provides a good overview and much data about the growing number of park conservancies. Most conversations about the history of park conservancies start with the formation of the Central Park Conservancy in 1980 but Harnik and Martin’s report enlightens the discussion with what was happening on the west coast with the creation of the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy at roughly the same time in 1981.  Continue reading

Toward a Useful Teaching Strategy: City Park Partnerships

Last month the City Parks Alliance (CPA) held a pilot workshop in a concerted effort to develop a teaching strategy for helping park professionals learn and understand partnerships and collaboration.  More than twenty participants attended the day-long event held at Augustus Hawkins Natural Park in Los Angeles, supported by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and hosted by the Los Angeles Parks Foundation.

(L t R): Jackie Carrera, Gordon Robertson, and Dale Larsen

(L to R): Jackie Carrera, Gordon Robertson, and Dale Larsen

I had the privilege of facilitating the discussion and was supported by City Parks Alliance staffers, Executive Director Catherine Nagel and Outreach & Program Manager Angie Horn, as well as a team of three experienced urban park professionals: Jackie Carrera, a recent transplant to Los Angeles after 21 years as CEO for Parks and People in Baltimore; Gordon Robertson, Director of Planning and Design for Denver Parks and Recreation; and Dale Larsen, Professor of Practice & Honors Faculty at Arizona State University and former Director of Parks & Recreation in Phoenix.  Collectively they represented more than 100 years of experience in city park partnerships!

We structured an agenda based on surveying park partners in California to find out what they wanted to learn.  Response to the survey centered on four ideas for shaping an agenda:

  • Understanding the need for partnership; why and how partners should work together
  • Getting started by scoping out responsibilities and structuring agreements
  • Working together day to day, communicating, team-building, and establishing trust
  • Building a culture of collaboration and shared vision for the long run

And so for the day-long session we shaped our workshop around these four areas.  The small size of the group meant that we could use our time for discussion, storytelling, and sharing successes and failures.  The experts in the room shared lessons and reflected on their experiences with public and private partners.   Continue reading

Brooklyn Bridge Park: New York’s Latest Innovative Harbor Attraction

One of New York’s newest parks, Brooklyn Bridge Park blends the historic with the latest in landscape innovation to create what the weblog Gothamist calls “the most spectacular and stunning addition to the city’s parks system in recent memory.” Located on the site of a former port that shuttered in the 1980s due to dramatic shifts in shipping practices, the work-in-progress park opened its first two sections in 2010, the culmination of more than 20 years of sustained community advocacy to persuade elected officials at the city and state level to support and implement an 85-acre park plan.

Sunset on the pier. Photo Credit: Julienne Schaer

The resulting master plan mixes active and passive recreation in a sustainably designed site that incorporates vestiges of its industrial past and capitalizes on the singular vistas to the harbor, bridge and Lower Manhattan skyline. With a 50-yard-line view of nearly every architectural marvel and monument New York City has to offer, it’s no wonder the park averages 60,000 visitors per summer weekend, even though its first phase of development won’t be fully completed until 2013.

Beyond the views, the park has also drawn favorable attention for its lush plantings and innovative playgrounds. The park is further distinguished by its self-sustaining financial model, which uses carefully selected development sites within the boundaries to generate revenues for its ongoing maintenance.

At this summer’s Greater & Greener: Re-Imagining Parks for 21st Century Cities, the international urban parks conference being presented by the City Parks Alliancefrom July 14 to 17, park professionals, environmental advocates and attendees from all over the world will get to see all this first hand, with several featured events taking place at Brooklyn Bridge Park to show off its various aspects, including a guided tour with planners and designers, and an outdoor screening of the documentary “Olmsted and America’s Urban Parks.”

Jane's Carousel.
Photo Credit: Julienne Schaer

New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has stated a particular fondness for Brooklyn Bridge Park, referring to it as a “true 21st Century park model,” and praises the partnership behind it. “It [the public-private model] doesn’t work in all applications, but particularly in the case of Brooklyn Bridge Park [and Hudson River Park on Manhattan’s west side], the properties were formerly shipping piers, so they used to be income-producing. So when the city and state no longer needed them, the land could have been just sold off to the highest bidder. But we didn’t.  We have parks instead…. Hundreds of millions of dollars in public investment [was spent] to build fabulous waterfront parks. And when you see a beautiful park, you also see growth in property values, and then that spurs more new development.”

To learn more about Brooklyn Bridge Park, visit www.brooklynbridgeparknyc.org

For more information on how to register for Greater & Greener: Re-Imagining Parks for 21st Century Cities, please visit www.urbanparks2012.org.