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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 20 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 20 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 20 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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Developer Impact Fees Pay for Parks

Residents in downtown Los Angeles are leaping for joy because a brand new park is coming to the revitalized historic core.  Spring Street Park, which broke ground last October, will be the first public park in the neighborhood.  According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 15,000 residents moved into downtown between 2000 and 2010, without the addition of new public greenspace.  The city purchased the property from Council District 9 in 2009 with $5.1 million in Quimby funds.  California state law requires the dedication of land or in lieu fees for park or recreational purposes as a condition of new residential subdivision.  These fees are known as “Quimby fees.”  The 1965 Quimby Act authorizes the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks to spend Quimby funds within one to two miles of a new subdivision.

California is not the only state that uses developer impact fees to purchase or maintain parkland.  According to the Center for City Park Excellence, 36 of the main park and recreation agencies within the 100 most populous U.S. cities have some variation of a developer impact fee and received $55.5 million and over 200 acres of parkland in FY 2010.  Even more impressive, cities spent $64.5 million from their developer impact fee accounts in that same fiscal year (fees collected do not have to be spent in the same year received).  At the top of the list was the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks (spending $15.7 million), followed by the San Jose Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services ($9.1 million), Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department ($9 million), Riverside, CA Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department ($8.4 million), and Portland, OR Parks and Recreation ($4.5 million).

It is interesting to note that, due to the current economic situation, develop impact fees are actually a declining source of revenue.  In FY 2008, 28 of the major park and recreation agencies received $101.6 million and almost 600 acres of parkland.  Of the $101.6 million received from developer impact fees, $71.6 million was spent in that same fiscal year.

Developer exaction programs have been adopted by many communities to help offset a variety of costs associated with new development.  A sizable percentage of these localities, recognizing that public parks, trails, open space and recreational facilities are critical to ensuring residents’ health and quality of life, have specifically set fees and/or required land dedication for parks.

The majority of these ordinances apply only to residential plats or subdivisions that create additional dwelling units.  A few ordinances also apply fees to office construction, hotels, schools, churches, nursing homes and other types of commercial or even industrial development.

The formulas used to assess the fee or generate acreage vary; some are based on the number of new residents, others on the number of units, others on the square footage of construction.  In addition, the ordinances differ in allowing a developer to substitute land or facilities for paying a fee; in setting the size of the geographical “nexus” within which the funds or land can be applied; in permitting uses for the funds (i.e. land acquisition, facility development, maintenance and even administration); in being flexible as to the types of facilities for which funds can be used; and in setting a time limit within which the funds must be spent or committed.

There is no nationally agreed-upon standard for land (or dollar) donations by developers, and different city or state ordinances use substantially different formulas to determine the exactions. In some cases the ratio is based upon population, in others on dwelling units; some cities prefer outright land gifts while others prefer money with which to buy land.

For more information about the role of developer exactions in the creation of new city parks, read an article here.

Cities with Health Promoting Park Systems Provide Mixed Uses and Adequate Programming

An excerpt from The Trust for Public Land’s report From Fitness Zones to the Medical Mile: How Urban Park Systems Can Best Promote Health and Wellness. We wrote a preview of this report in an earlier postIn this post, we look at a mixture of uses and a maximum amount of programming.

Mixing uses in parks has its challenges and requires good design, adequate signage, and clear rules. Trail use, for example, can create conflict between walkers, skaters, and fast cyclists. Many cities appropriately prohibit fast cycling on trails shared by pedestrians. On the other hand, hard pedaling and fast running provide more health benefit than casual spinning and jogging. Other than putting bikes on roadways, the only safe solution is to provide parallel treadways for fast and slow users—and to clearly mark the allowed uses by location or time of day. Then, too, the alternate trails need occasional enforcement.

Even if a park system offers varied spaces for physical activity, not everyone will know how to take advantage of them. Some users need to learn new skills, some need encouragement, some need an exercise regimen, some need social support. Even with all this, many require other assistance—partners, equipment, referees, timekeepers, music, safety paraphernalia, and more. In a word, programming. Good programming can increase park use many times over, make activity more enjoyable, and increase its benefits to health and fitness.

Credit: Phil Schermeister.

Traditional park  programming consists of league sports, exercise routines, children’s camps, and oldies-but-goodies such as ballroom dancing. More recent additions have been Jazzercise, tai kwon do, tai chi, rock climbing, and bicycle “roadeos.” But in response to changing technologies and new immigrant cultures, innovative ideas come along all the time. In Minneapolis, the park department offers open gym periods to play sepak takraw, a remarkable kick volleyball game brought to this country by Hmong immigrants from Cambodia. Raleigh, North Carolina, uses the reward of a free pedometer for diabetic children who sign up for special athletic programming that includes nutrition instruction. Seattle has launched monthly Women of the World swims at two pools at the request of Muslim women whose faith bars them from recreational activities with men. Women of all faiths are welcome, and the sessions are privately funded. Overseen by female lifeguards and held at pools without street-facing windows, the swims provide some women with exercise they otherwise would not get.

Of course, programming has a health impact only if people know about it, and that requires promotion and marketing through advertisements, program pamphlets, TV and radio public service announcements, flyers, email‚ and social networking services such as Twitter. Outreach is difficult in times of tight budgets, but creative park departments attempt to find private sector collaborators in fields such as health, media, banking, and public utilities to help them spread the word.

Finally, every new program and every new facility needs to be evaluated, particularly when dealing with health, since this approach is standard in the medical community. It is not enough to assume that an activity has a positive impact. The only real way to know is through monitoring and before-and-after measurement. Sometimes the research can be done by the park agency itself. But when this is prohibitively time-consuming or expensive, it may be possible to partner with a local university, college‚ or high school whose student researchers can observe usership and even measure such health indicators as body mass index, heart rate‚ or muscle strength.

Credit: Susan Lapides.

When it comes to programming, Cincinnati—the nation’s 56th-largest city—packs a wallop. On a per-capita basis, Cincinnati ranks in the U.S. top ten for its number of ball diamonds, recreation centers, swimming pools, tennis courts, basketball courts‚ and golf courses. More important for public health, the Cincinnati Recreation Commission’s programs attracted over 3.2 million participant-visits in 2009, some 691,000 of which were visits by youth. All this in a city of barely 330,000 residents—giving Cincinnati the highest per-capita recreation participation rate of all cities reporting information to The Trust for Public Land.

Among the hundreds of programs offered are youth and adult league sports ranging from soccer and basketball to track and field and kickball; senior programs such as golf, swimming, tennis‚ and the Senior Olympics; programs for the disabled, including wheelchair football and basketball; and such offerings for youth as afterschool programs, summer day camps, and bike outings. In addition to the formal programming, most of the recreation commission’s 29 recreation centers offer fitness centers and open gym hours. Residents can use the recreation centers and the city’s 26 pools for a yearly membership fee of $25, or $10 for seniors and youth.

The Cincinnati Park Board—a landowning and land management agency separate from the recreation commission—plays a part, too, by working to make Cincinnatians feel safer in their parks. In Burnet Woods, a place with a mixed reputation, the board thinned out invasive vegetation and installed a disc golf course through the forest. The sport, which is growing in popularity throughout the country, drew so many more people into Burnet Woods that the park became safer and more appealing even for visitors not there for the game.

Credit: Rich Reid.

Fitness zones are easy-to-use, accessible outdoor gyms designed to promote general  health within a park experience, creating a supportive social context for getting fit. Using only a gravity- and-resistance weight system, fitness zones require no electricity and employ their users’ body weight to engage different muscle groups. The exercise equipment is durable, vandal- and weather-resistant, and appropriate for people 13 years of age and older of all fitness levels.

Working under the leadership of The Trust for Public Land and with funding from health insurer Kaiser Permanente and the MetLife Foundation, the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department have installed 30 fitness zones across the region, including six in existing Los Angeles city parks.

Fitness zones are often placed in areas of high need, including communities with high rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Some are located adjacent to playgrounds to encourage adults to exercise while keeping an eye on children. Others are placed near administrative offices to reduce safety worries.

The El Cariso Regional Park in Sylmar is one example of a successful fitness zone. It includes nine pieces of easy-to-use outdoor gym equipment along with bilingual health and fitness information panels.

“The bottom line is that fitness zones attract new users to parks,” says Dr. Deborah Cohen, a researcher with the RAND Corporation who carried out an exhaustive before- and-after study of the facilities in 12 parks. “We also know that fitness zones are used throughout the day, that fitness zone users increase the amount they exercise, and that they use the parks more frequently than other park users.”

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