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Change the Culture and the Rest Will Follow: Park Departments and Equity

If a Google search of parks and equity was your only measure of who is taking on this issue, it would seem that New York is miles ahead of other cities, as it appears over and over in the search results. But in fact, New York is one of many major cities in the US focusing on the equity issue as best as they can.

Norm Krumholz, Cleveland city planner in the 1970s, was one of the first to define “equity planning,” which he described this way: “You keep your eye on who gets helped and who gets hurt and for the people who usually get hurt – you try to make sure they don’t get hurt as bad.”

Who gets helped and who gets hurt in a city may best be seen through the lens of our public parks – a potent symbol of a city’s equity balance.  In this ongoing struggle, two park agencies, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) and Portland (OR) Parks and Recreation, have hired staff specifically to address equity.  Art Hendricks is the Equity and Inclusion Director for Portland Parks & Recreation, and Michelle Kellogg is the Equity and Inclusion Project Manager for MPRB.  Continue reading

Beyond Fairness: New Strategies for Achieving Equity in City Parks

Despite widespread acceptance regarding the value of city parks, we have surprisingly few ways to measure their individual and collective success. The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore Index is one tool that measures how well the 75 largest cities are meeting their park needs. The City Parks Project’s green access and equity maps for Los Angeles Equity1also look to capture equitable access to parks. These and other efforts are finding ways to measure access and investment to help guide city spending. But equity is more than access and even more than spending.

At a time when cities are looking to new models for operating their parks more equitably and efficiently, more effective tools and data are needed to make the case for strategic investment.  In particular, making the case for equity is important since new strategies are often employed in those neighborhoods where there is a strong voice, potential partners and a perceived greater chance of success, leaving neighborhoods that lack resources – and clout – behind.  Continue reading

Houston’s Park Partners: Greening for the Future

Something is up in Texas.  Philanthropy has discovered parks.  In Dallas, the Belo Foundation, looking to build on the success of Klyde Warren Park, Belo Garden, and Main Street Garden, has just announced an ambitious plan – and $30 million in funding – to realize a vision for downtown by creating 17 acres of new green space through the construction of four major parks.

And in Houston, Hermann Park recently opened McGovern Centennial Gardens after a $31 million renovation.  Memorial Park has a new master plan and funding stream; and the Kinder Foundation, which provided substantial funding for Discovery Green, has also funded the new Buffalo Bayou Park and the Bayou Greenway 2020 Plan.

HPB1Discovery Green changed the way people think about parks in Houston, and making the transition from being a city known for having the widest freeway in the world to a city that understands parks is fundamental to its prosperity.  Leading the charge has been the philanthropic community which sees that “green is good” for health, recreation, and the economy, allowing the city to enhance its quality of life in order to attract and retain engineers, scientists, and other professionals.   Continue reading

Toronto’s Park People: Making Sense of Community Engagement in the Parks Business

Involving citizens and communities in the process of managing city parks may represent a new way of doing business for public park agencies, but it is an increasing necessity to have a constituency that supports and advocates for what the agency does. How a parks department is organized to accept and use different kinds of resources – including funding and volunteer support – will require unprecedented collaboration between the networks of public, private, and philanthropic actors, with a strong community base. Cities across the U.S. are coming to understand this, and so are some of our neighbors to the north.

In 2011, Peter Harnik at the Center for City Park Excellence suggested to Dave Harvey that he “throw everyone into a room” to talk about the need and value of a park partnership organization in Toronto. And he did. Representatives from 25-year old friends groups met newer friends of the parks’ groups and none knew of the existence of the others. As one person noted, “I’ve been working for years on my parks friends group and you are the first person to call and offer help.” The first meeting offered an opportunity for a wealth of pent-up sharing that turned into Toronto’s Park PeopleContinue reading

Returning the Boldness of the World’s Fair to a San Antonio Park

“…the fair is fun, southwest style, but what San Antonio does with the center-city site after October will be the real measure of Hemisfair’s success.”

Ada Louise Huxtable, Architecture Critic
New York Times, April 4, 1968

Hemisfair1The 1968 world’s fair is the beginning of this story. The fair was built on a 92-acre site on the southeastern edge of downtown San Antonio, acquired mainly through eminent domain. Many structures in what was considered a blighted area were demolished and moved to make room for the fair, with some more important historic sites spared and preserved.

From April to October in 1968, about six million visitors came to the city. In typical fair planning, once the fair was complete the city lacked a good transition plan. So they put a fence around it and the site sat unimproved for 47 years.

It was a fantastic location for the fair, on the River Walk and near the convention center. In fact, the fair changed perceptions about the struggling River Walk and the city that reinvigorated its draw as a tourist destination.  Continue reading

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