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Planning for the Urban Century

The 21st century will be an urban century.

In the urban century, cities that build and maintain great park systems will be great, livable cities. Those that do not will ultimately fall behind and be forced to catch up through retrofitting, a politically challenging and expensive process that is limited in terms of design and ecological outcomes.

Central Park under construction (Smithsonian Collection)

Central Park under construction. (Smithsonian)

Planning for the urban century requires a global revival of two critical concepts pioneered by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. in the 19th century, as the United States went through a similar shift of rural to urban migration that the rest of the world is experiencing today. Olmsted recognized that parks are city-shaping infrastructure, and like all forms of infrastructure, they work best when installed before the city grows. Central Park in New York, Olmsted’s most famous park, epitomizes this vision. It was built 30 blocks north of the edge of the city, but named Central Park, reflecting his confidence that the park would become the heart of the city.


Cherokee Park in Louisville, KY (Olmsted Online)

Fast forward almost half a century to Olmsted’s last design for a park system, in Louisville, KY. Olmsted had by this stage of his career firmly arrived at his second major realization: Parks designed as complete integrated systems result in the best outcomes. So in Louisville, he envisioned three major parks, each one serving a different section of the city, and each encompassing a unique natural landscape–limestone uplands, shale knobs, and the Ohio River floodplain. All of the parks in Olmsted’s vision were connected by a series of parkways, and together they sketched a framework of urban form. Many cities engaged Olmsted in park design, but few actually carried it out; Louisville did build out his vision. The result: In the 20th century, Louisville formed around this system, making it one of the few cities in the world to have its period of industrial growth completely shaped by a grand Olmstedian vision.   Continue reading

October’s Frontline Park: The Parklands at Floyds Fork

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.

Photo Courtesy of 21st Century Parks

The Parklands at Floyds Fork is one of the nation’s largest metropolitan parks projects – scheduled to be completely open to the public by the end of 2015.  The Parklands is comprised of four major parks in Louisville, connected by a park road, an urban trail system, and a canoe trail centered on a broad stream called Floyds Fork.  Floyds Fork is a tributary of the Salt River (which drains into the Ohio River), running through eastern and southeastern portions of Jefferson County, Kentucky. It is the largest and least-polluted watershed in Louisville, but one which, formerly rural, is now undergoing rapid residential and commercial development.

Photo Courtesy of 21st Century Parks

Founded in 2004, 21st Century Parks is the nonprofit responsible for the creation and long-term operations of a system of new public parks in Louisville.  The organization employs best practices in land use and infrastructure planning, watershed protection, education programming, historic preservation, multi-modal trail development, and design of recreational spaces. Working with their strategic partners, Louisville Metro Government and the nonprofit Future Fund, 21st Century Parks has acquired and protected into perpetuity nearly 3,800 acres of new park land in the Floyds Fork watershed corridor, resulting in one of the nation’s five largest new metropolitan parks projects – the only one that is 90% funded and scheduled to open to the public within five years.

To date, 21st Century Parks has secured $113 million for land acquisition and park development, and they hope to push toward a goal of $120 million by the end of 2012.  From educational programs to world-class trail systems, they are building one of the finest and most exciting new park systems in the country; providing wellness, environmental, economic, and educational benefits that will thrive for generations.

To learn more about The Parklands at Floyds Flork, please visit 21st Century Parks.

The “Frontline Parks” program is made possible with generous support from DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.