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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)

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Maintaining 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 thirteenth installment in a series of 19 posts.

Finding space isn’t the only difficulty in designing water-smart parks. Green infrastructure needs to be kept green in order to function properly and to remain attractive. Swales, rain gardens, and detention ponds are critical components for stormwater management. Long-term aesthetics may take a back seat, especially for wastewater utility staff focused primarily on regulatory compliance, but many such landscape components that are beautiful in initial design renderings will over time start to look mangy. To keep these park areas attractive, experts must choose plants carefully and support good maintenance. Smart planting design (choosing a mix of woody, evergreen, and perennial plants, for example) and rigorous attention and maintenance—especially in the first few years—are important to the success of a water-smart park.

Buffalo BAyou flooding - cred Melissa Phillip, Houston Chronicle

Buffalo Bayou in Houston is designed to flood – and the parks department is prepared for that. (Melissa Phillip, Houston Chronicle)

And what about maintaining the rest of a park’s green infrastructure? 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

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

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