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Why a 10-minute walk to a park?

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With the announcement on Tuesday of San Francisco becoming the first US city to achieve a 10-minte walk to a park for all citizens, we thought we’d provide the background on how we arrived to the 10-minute walk standard.  This research is also available on our parkscore website under the methodology section.

And we’ll be talking about this a lot more beginning next Wednesday, May 24th, when we unveil the 2017 edition of Parkscore.

Why a 10-minute walk to a park?

We have identified a half-mile, or 10-minute, walk to a park as a common national standard.

As cities vie to attract talented college graduates and sustain population growth, they are focusing attention on parks to increase livability and support a strong economy. Since parks must be convenient if they are to provide their benefits, many places have set goals for the maximum distance any resident should be from the nearest park. Although individual cities’ goals vary with population density, from a remarkable eighth of a mile in Chicago to two miles in Atlanta, our data supports a standard of no more than a half-mile as a reasonable distance to walk to a park.

Among the 100 largest cities in the U.S., 70 have explicit distance goals, with 43 (61 percent) using a half-mile standard. Of the remaining 27 cities, 12 have a standard of less than a half-mile (many using a quarter-mile), and 15 have a standard greater than a half-mile.

We identified several studies suggesting that most people are willing to walk half a mile to a park. The largest, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2012 National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behavior, surveyed almost 10,000 people about their general walking habits.[1] The average trip length was 1.3 miles—roughly equivalent to the round-trip walk to a park located a half-mile from home. Of the walking trips reported in that study, 61 percent were for exercise, recreation, or walking the dog, with the remainder of trips split between commuting and errands.

A study of the Bay Area transit system found that 80 percent of transit riders who walked to the station lived within a ten-minute walk, or approximately a half-mile.[2]

Walking preferences are variable, with people willing to walk further for greater amenities in commuting, and even further for recreation. A planning study for a Seattle suburb found that people would walk nearly double the distance to a commuter rail station (1,700 feet) as they would to a bus stop (1,000 feet).[3] Looking beyond commuting, a study from Austin, Texas found that “utilitarian and recreational walk activities have been found to have distinct structural characteristics…Walk distance and duration for commuting, shopping, and reaching transportation are shorter, and recreational walks for exercise, walking the dog, and socializing are longer (71).”[4]

Some lower density cities have longer goal distances to a park, on the theory that suburbanites are more likely to drive to a park. However, the same Austin, Texas, study suggests that spatial and environmental factors are more important than individual factors” in determining walk length and duration (71).[5] That study found that people in modern suburban neighborhoods walked twice as long with their dogs and one-and-a-half times as long for exercise as those in more traditional urban neighborhoods.

Converting these distance standards to time standards hinges on how fast different people walk. The National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behavior assumes an average walking speed of 0.53 miles in 10 minutes. The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices guidelines, which are calculated to ensure that slow walkers can safely cross streets, uses an average walking speed of 0.45 miles in 10 minutes.[6] By any of these estimates, a 10-minute walk is a half-mile or close to it.

[1] U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors (2012).
[2] California DOT, BART’s First Five Years; Transportation and Travel Impacts (DOT-P-30-79-8), (1979).
[3]The Snohomish County Transportation Authority, A Guide to Land Use and Public Transportation for Snohomish County, Washington (1989), http://ntl.bts.gov/DOCS/GL.html.
[4] Shriver, K., “Influence of Environmental Design on Pedestrian Travel Behavior in Four Austin Neighborhoods.” Transportation Research Record (1997), 64-75.
[5] Shriver, K., “Influence of Environmental Design on Pedestrian Travel Behavior in Four Austin Neighborhoods.” Transportation Research Record (1997), 64-75.
[6] LaPlante, J. and T. Kaiser, “A history of pedestrian signal walking speed assumptions,” 3rd Urban Street Symposium (Seattle, WA), (2007).

 

Crowdsourcing Park History

Do you know when your childhood playground was created? How about when that large natural area at the edge of town was given benches and trails and turned into a state park? Or maybe the year they tore out the old railroad tracks downtown and christened the new bike trail park?

Here at the Center for City Park Excellence we are establishing the year of creation of every park in every big city in the U.S. That’s about 23,000 parks. This new database will serve as a priceless historical record of the growth and evolution of the American urban park system – its ebbs and its flows during different political periods, both on a national basis and city-by-city. We already have the “birth year” for 17,627 parks.

“You can’t figure out where you’re trying to go if you don’t know where you’ve come from,” said CCPE Director Peter Harnik. “There’s great documentation for national parks, but most city parks have been taken for granted. We aim to change that.”

In some cities, park departments responded to CCPE’s inquiry with enthusiasm and alacrity, either because they had already compiled the information on their own or because they had good retrieval systems and the capacity to answer our question. (New York, for instance, has an existing historical record on every one of its 1,978 parks; Philadelphia, in contrast, did not, but the agency saw the value of the research and specially brought on an archivist to carry out the work.) Other cities have struggled to find the information, either because the records have been misplaced or destroyed, or because the staff is stretched too thin to take on one more challenging project. Washington, D.C. proved to be a special challenge because every park there grew out of federal laws that sometimes preceded the building of a neighborhood. In some older cities, navigating the labyrinth of public records was just too much for the agency.

In Jersey, City, N.J., we had to come up with a completely different approach – crowdsourcing.

Jersey City’s Department of Recreation was able to supply a list of parks but not much more. It was Brian Platt, director of the city’s New Innovation Team, who had the idea to turn to the public for help. On June 1, Platt brought together local park organizations and members of a Jersey City park coalition to describe what information we were looking for and how to substantiate it.

Responses poured in, and 10 days later we had creation dates (and verifying sources) for fully half of Jersey City’s 64 parks. We still don’t have them all, but the picture of the city’s parkland evolution continues to become more clear.

Crowdsourcing is not free from challenges, of course, but it can prove valuable as a last resort. Currently, we are struggling to find park creation dates in Anchorage, Atlanta, Baltimore, Laredo and Newark. If you live (or have friends) in one of those cities and might be interested in joining a Crowdsourcing Park History project, please let us know by emailing max.ewart@tpl.org or calling Max at 202-330-4722.

Cromwell Park, Shoreline, Wash.

Cromwell Park

(City of Shoreline)

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 fifth installment in a series of 19 posts.

After the Seattle suburb of Shoreline passed a parks and open space levy in 2006, the city sought renovation projects that could meet multiple city goals. One opportunity arose at 9-acre Cromwell Park, a flat field on the site of a former school in a neighborhood with frequent floods. The surrounding Meridian Park community had already been targeted for a major stormwater upgrade by the city’s public works department.

CromwellDrainageProblem before

Before renovations. (City of Shoreline)

“It was filled with a lot of dead grass and not much else,” laughed Kirk Peterson, who oversaw the project for the parks and recreation department. The two agencies partnered on Cromwell Park’s redesign, radically restoring the site’s natural topography and redirecting runoff to a wetland for treatment. They built new inlets from adjacent residential streets and a nearby county building, where most of the runoff percolates into the ground. (In a deluge an overflow outlet releases excess water to the sewer system.) The 1.33-acre wetland can hold an acre-foot of water (almost 435,000 gallons), enough to eliminate the neighborhood flooding problem.

Most noticeable to residents are the recreational improvements. The renovation added a new playground, a full-size basketball court, and a new baseball field. Walking trails encircle the wetland, even crossing it on a bridge. Neighbors were adamant that the wetlands not be fenced off, Peterson noted, although the city eventually had to install safety cables by a particularly steep-sided section. One of the best investments, Peterson added, was the selection of diverse, native wetland vegetation that makes the park look good even in dry spells.

Changes in the park sacrificed some recreational space, but Peterson said the wetlands have become one of its most popular features. “In the design process, neighbors were skeptical. They were worried about mosquitoes and bad smells. But now people love the space. There is often interesting wildlife, and people are fascinated to see the basins fill up with water after a rainstorm.”

Design and construction, which lasted from 2007 to 2010, cost $1.6 million, with about
two-thirds coming from the park bond and one-third from the Surface Water Utility Fund. The two agencies share maintenance responsibilities, with the park costing about $60,000 a year and the stormwater features about $11,000.

Cromwell Park credit City of Shoreline

This sculpture helps show the wetlands’ work, disappearing and reappearing with fluctuations in water levels. (City of Shoreline)

 

Alewife Stormwater Wetland, Cambridge, Mass.

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 fourth installment in a series of 19 posts.

Before the development of today’s Massachusetts communities of Cambridge, Arlington, Medford, and Somerville, the area was a low-lying, spongy wetland. Over the years its ecology was severely disrupted by dredging, mining, and dumping, and most of the land — which once protected the water quality and modulated the flow of Little River, Alewife Brook, and the Mystic River — has since been developed for housing and industry.  However, back in the 1890s the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had the foresight to preserve 130 natural acres, now managed as the Alewife Brook Reservation by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

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Atlanta’s Historic Fourth Ward Park

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 second installment in a series of 19 posts.

New plants and water fountain at the Historic Fourth Ward Park

One of several water features in the park. (Darcy Kiefel)

One of the nation’s most celebrated marriages of recreation and green infrastructure,
Atlanta’s Historic Fourth Ward Park is a $23-million triumph of engineering over flooding and landscape design over stop-gap asphalt.

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