• 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

A Park in Cairo Leads to Renewal & Development

A former dumping ground in Cairo becomes a park.

A former dumping ground in Cairo becomes a park.

The story of Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt offers an interesting case study into how improving quality of life through parks¬† and green spaces can lead to positive impacts in cultural and community development. Back in the mid-1990s, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture started construction on turning a derelict space in the middle of one of the densest and most open space deprived cities in the world into a central public space. From the Trust’s overview of the project (pdf):

…..the city was confronted by the array of contemporary development challenges faced by many cities, not least population pressures, a decline in the quality of housing and the attendant problems these conditions create…….. It was clear that Cairo needed more green space. One study found that the amount of green space per inhabitant was roughly equivalent to the size of a footprint. It is one of the lowest proportions in the world.

It was on the occasion of the conference that His Highness the Aga Khan announced his decision to finance the creation of a park for the citizens of the Egyptian capital. The only central location which was of suitable scale and which lent itself to rehabilitation was the derelict Darassa site, a 30-hectare (74 acre), 500-year-old mound of rubble in the inner city.

The now-completed park has spurred reinvestment in housing and buildings in the surrounding neighborhood, and is now considered a key cultural and public space in the city. The project has shown how well such places can contribute to an improved quality of life, especially in the developing world where urban greening has not been a priority in many places. The PBS series E-squared produced a whole episode on the park. (A video podcast and trailer of the episode can be seen here.)

Extreme Makeover: Dump to Park in 24 Hours

Parks Director Luther Williamson

Parks Director Luther Williamson

The Parks Dept. in Johannesburg, South Africa created a new five acre park from an illegal dumping ground in Soweto, the park poor half of the city in….guess how long? One day. After being inspired by the show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, where homes are rapidly transformed in 7 days, the the city’s parks director Luther Williamson thought of creating a new park in 24 hours, in an effort to bring notice, nature and place into underserved areas. According to the Washington Post article:

Last year, after three months of calculating just how many seconds it takes to plant a tree and lay a brick, Williamson directed 200 park workers in an overnight transformation of what had been a five-acre, illegal dumping ground in Soweto.

Today, the “Diepkloof Xtreme Park” is a grassy expanse with fountains, a soccer field, still-spindly trees and a permanent, large-screen television that broadcasts children’s educational programs each afternoon and soccer matches on weekends. Before school let out on a recent afternoon, adults picnicked and snoozed in the shade of the park’s trees as workers trimmed the grass and emptied trash bins. The $450,000 project is one of several that have brought his department international awards, not to mention plaudits from neighbors.

“There was nothing. There was just rubbish. There was no place for kids to play,” said Dorothy Nkabinda, a Soweto resident who works at the park, keeping its bathrooms clean. “It was a miracle.”

Apparently nothing’s been stolen or vandalized.¬† There’s probably thousands of opportunities for something similar in other parts of the world. Of course, some might take more than 24 hours to build.

Parks & Public Spaces in Abu Dhabi

Interesting article here on parks and public spaces in Abu Dhabi, a city of almost one million in the United Arab Emirates. Basically, the city was designed around the car, and now the most popular public spaces are not the parks but so-called “leftover spaces” that appear where people are but weren’t really meant to be people places. The parks, rather, are said to be ill-designed and ill-connected.

When you think of Central Park in New York City, or Bryant Park — the most used park in the world perhaps — it seems that there are two reasons for people being there: 1) features and uses that attract people, and are designed to do so; 2) good urban design connecting people to the parks; and 3) other people — that is, once people are there, more people will come (if you have 1 and 2, you most likely will get 3 automatically.)

In any case, the article seems to hit on these themes.