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For Most Americans, Their Closest Park is a City Park

By Catherine Nagel, Executive Director City Parks Alliance

For many Americans, access to the outdoors is not a long drive away but can be found close by in their neighborhood park. As more people are moving back to urban areas without the luxury of a backyard the importance of close-to-home parks is only increasing. Parks are where people gather on weekends to spend time with family, exercise, and connect with their community. They are where children first experience nature. But beyond their role in recreation and social well-being, city parks also help grow local economies, create new transportation options, combat crime, and reduce environmental impacts such as storm water runoff. Urban planners, elected officials, and community advocates recognize these benefits and are taking a fresh look at parks as an important part of city infrastructures.

philly-stormwater-lwcf-graphicOne of the critical funding sources for parks, playgrounds, urban wildlife refuges, greenways, trails, and open spaces in all 50 states is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF is funded through revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling royalties. Those funds are leveraged with state and municipal funds—public and private—to  provide close-to-home recreational opportunities and open space, which in turn benefit urban communities even more: attracting investment, creating jobs, spurring tourism, reducing public health expenditures, mitigating storm surges, and keeping the air and water cleaner. Permanent reauthorization and full funding of this important piece of legislation is critical for our nation’s future health and growth without tapping U.S. tax dollars.

Philadelphia’s 10,334 acre park system, for example, was developed in part with $12 million in LWCF funds and is saving the city $6 million per year in stormwater management costs. As part of its Green City, Clean Waters initiative, over the next 25 years Philadelphia will be investing $2 billion in parks and green infrastructure to capture 85% of the city’s stormwater, saving the city $16 billion that would otherwise be spent on underground pipes and tunnels. LWCF grants can match these water utility investments to ensure that stormwater management investments are simultaneously creating outdoor recreation opportunities.

nagel-secjewell-tight-shot-10-18-2016

Catherine Nagel presents award to Secretary Jewell, photo credit Julie Waterman

This week, I was able to thank Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell for her leadership in supporting urban parks around the country. She has been a strong advocate for permanent reauthorization and full funding of the LWCF, and an active participant in many Mayors for Parks Coalition events.

Mayors for Parks, a project of City Parks Alliance, is a national bipartisan coalition of mayors who understand the importance of urban parks in their communities, and are advocating for a strong LWCF.  Secretary Jewell participated in events around the country with Mayors for Parks Coalition members Mayor Betsy Price of Fort Worth, TX, Mayor William Bell of Birmingham, AL, Mayor Jim Brainard of Carmel, IN and Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix, AZ to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of LWCF. Secretary Jewell also joined me and fellow mayors in a press event for the release of City Parks Alliance’s report “A Smart Investment for America’s Economy:  The Land and Water Conservation Fund.”

Urban parks are dynamic institutions that play a vital role in the social, economic and physical well-being of America’s cities and their residents. Secretary Jewell understands the multiple benefits of urban parks and the critical role they play inspiring and offering youth in particular a chance to interact with nature. As development pressures on urban land continue to grow, we must find new and innovative ways to make sure that our parks have the funding they need and the benefits of green space are integrated in development decisions. For most Americans, the closest park will continue to be a city park.

Getting Creative to Fund Water-Smart Parks

This is the final installment in a 19 part series on urban parks and stormwater. The following is excerpted from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence.

Parks can help solve some city stormwater problems, and sometimes stormwater agencies can actually contribute funds to redesign or upgrade parks. However, stormwater funding alone is rarely sufficient for an entire park project, so it is usually necessary to piece together funding from multiple opportunities.

In many places, small-scale construction happens frequently and with little fanfare. Philadelphia’s water department routinely pays for park upgrades in conjunction with stormwater projects – from basketball courts to splash-pads to quaint pedestrian bridges. So do agencies in Austin, the Boston area, and Milwaukee (even if the water bureaus sometimes do so on their own land and avoid using the word “park” for legal reasons).

In Baltimore, a small but unusual source of funding is the Maryland Port Administration, proving that the number of possible cooperators is limited only by people’s imaginations. Because the Port of Baltimore is unable to operate without maintaining a vast acreage of paved surfaces, and because the state has a strict law protecting a 1,000-foot buffer around Chesapeake Bay, a compromise needed to be worked out. Thus, after doing everything possible to capture storm runoff on-site, the port agreed to remove hardscape elsewhere, depaving an acre for each acre it surfaces at the port. After experimenting in a rural state park’s parking lot, the port implemented the program in Baltimore, tearing out swaths of asphalt in nine schoolyards, trucking in good soil and providing the students with green ballfields and play areas. Next on the greening list may be venerable Patterson Park which over the years has accumulated more than an acre of miscellaneous asphalt that is ugly, unneeded, and adding to the runoff burden in the city and in Chesapeake Bay.

“We do a good job,” said Phillip Lee, a consultant to the port. “We’ll spend up to about $150,000 an acre taking out pavement and replacing it. Sometimes we put in swales, too. The rules are that the land has to be public and they have to promise that it will stay unpaved in perpetuity.”

Port-of-Baltimore

The Port of Baltimore requires extreme amounts of paved land. (Portstrategy.com)

In order to reduce delays to its own construction program, the port has gone a step further and created a “bank.” Now, when it completes a pervious project in advance, it puts the credits into the bank, allowing it to pave another acre of port land when needed without delay.

Funding may often pose a challenge for water management projects, but with some creative thinking there may actually be a win-win solution for everyone involved.

Using Funding From Water Agencies to Help Parks

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 eighteenth installment in a series of 19 posts.

Some city water agencies financially reward park agencies for collecting stormwater and keeping it out of the sewer system. That’s the procedure in Cincinnati, Minneapolis, and Chesapeake, to name just a few, with credit programs being planned in other cities across the nation. In Austin, where the water utility often uses parkland to manage stormwater, the Parks and Recreation Department has a formalized procedure to charge mitigation fees based on the level of damage to the park and the length of time that the park is impacted. Fees range from 35 percent of the park’s calculated annual value if a park is temporarily inaccessible (such as for underground utility work) to 75 percent if future park development is severely precluded, to 100 percent if the park becomes fully subsumed by an installation. Calculations are based on the number of square feet involved and the going price per square foot of private property adjacent to the particular park. Funds generated are spent to improve the affected park or a nearby site.

“Our mitigation fees aren’t popular with the other agencies,” admitted Parks Director Sara Hensley, “but this policy makes sure we take care of residents when their parks are temporarily closed.” The mitigation requirement has been used to acquire more land or install needed improvements. “We wanted to install a reclaimed water irrigation system at Hancock Golf Course – where we were irrigating with precious and expensive potable water – but we couldn’t afford the upfront costs to build the separate pipes,” she explained. “The water utility covered the $300,000 for us in exchange for easements to construct sewer lines under parkland.” Continue reading

How Cleveland is Paying For Water-Smart Parks

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 seventeenth installment in a series of 19 posts.

Installing natural stormwater controls within a park is not inexpensive and is usually not a quick process. But the relevant comparison of costs and impacts must be made against any typical park improvement project, as well as against traditional gray approaches, which are usually much more expensive and take far longer. How much a water-smart park costs and how long it takes to build depends on innumerable factors of geography, geology, weather, bureaucratic rules and, often, city and neighborhood politics. Nothing about urban water management is easy, but the evidence shows that the natural approach is more economical.

A survey of 20 stormwater park projects in 13 states, carried out by The Trust for Public Land, illustrates the variety of forms a water management project can take, as well as the relative cost effectiveness of green versus gray infrastructure. The parks ranged in size from half an acre to more than 300 acres, with stormwater management features ranging from only a small corner of some facilities to the whole park in others. The median size of the parks is 8 acres, and the median size of the stormwater portion is 2.5 acres. The following charts compare some of the costs of traditional gray infrastructure vs. green infrastructure in selected projects.

CSO cost

(The Trust for Public Land)

Continue reading

Can Parks Do Double Duty? Philadelphia Shows How

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 fifteenth installment in a series of 20 posts.

Can a park be both a stormwater management unit and a recreation area? With proper negotiation, conversation, and careful planning, yes! However, it’s not common that goals easily jibe and that multiple benefits are received enthusiastically by every constituent. A rain garden can be beautiful, but if it replaces a soccer field, it might raise objections unless that sports venue is replaced. Philadelphia handles this problem with a Stormwater Plan Review Team, which brings together water department and parks department staff to evaluate green infrastructure projects for potential conflicts with park uses.

The city has not canceled any stormwater management projects because of recreation conflicts. However, Jessica Brooks, manager of the Green Stormwater Infrastructure program at the water department, says, “We’ve definitely moved them, made the surface portions smaller, or made them completely subsurface in order to allow for other uses to be maintained.” She notes, “We need to be very sensitive that we’re not taking out a space that is used for picnicking, sports, or other gatherings. This is often less obvious than you might think. It requires us to talk to the park users to really understand what they do and what they love.”

Cliveden spring rain 6 - credit Jessica Brooks

Terraced weirs in Philadelphia’s Cliveden Park slow water during a rainstorm. (Jessica Brooks)

Continue reading