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City park facts: Washington DC has five top ten rankings in 2017

Parks in Washington, DC  has five top ten rankings in the 2017 edition of City Park Facts. Parks are operated and maintained by variety of agencies, including the DC Department of Parks and Recreation, the National Park Service and a number of non-profit organizations.

The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence works to make cities more successful through the renewal and creation of parks for their social, ecological, and economic benefits to residents and visitors alike. To achieve this mission, we believe that residents, advocates, park professionals, planners, members of the media, decision-makers, and all those who love parks need solid data that elucidates the realities of urban park and recreation systems. Data is knowledge, and knowledge is power.

Omaha is one the 100 largest US cities and ranked number 3 overall in the 2016 edition of Parkscore.  But, more exciting is its individual rankings in five out of the twenty categories that we are tracking:

  • #3 (tie) – 97% of population within a 10-minute walk to a park
  • #3 – 2.3 Recreation/Senior Centers per 20,000 residents (75)
  • #2 – 3.5 Community Garden Plots per 1,000 residents (2300)
  • #4 – 5.3 Swimming pools per 100,000 residents (35)
  • #10 – 3.6 Splash pads per 100,000 residents (24)

City Park Facts is a collaboration between the many city, county, state and nonprofit parks agencies and conservancies that work with us to submit their data and we appreciate their continued help and involvement. The staff of the Center for City Park Excellence works to present this information in a thorough yet easy-to-use format, and your feedback is important for future editions. You can contact us at ccpe@tpl.org.

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come.  Millions of people live near a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year.  To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit www.tpl.org.

7,453 Miles of Parkland Bikeways

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Butler Trail at Lady Bird Lake, Austin, TX

The growing popularity of bikeways (often called hike and bike trails or linear parks) in our parks continues to climb, based on our annual surveys for City Park Facts and Parkscore. Please note that parkland bikeways don’t include bike lanes, sidewalks and other on-street or off-street portions of a city bicycle network or system.

In terms of total miles Irvine leads the pack with 324 miles, Phoenix has 310 miles, Anchorage 295 miles, Scottsdale 269 miles, Jacksonville 244 miles, and Philadelphia 241 miles.

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Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System, Minneapolis

In the Per 10,000 residents column, Number one is Irvine with 13.4 miles per 10,000 residents,  Scottsdale is second with 11.6 miles per 10,000 residents.  Third is Anchorage with 9.7 miles per 10,000 residents.

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Beltline Map, Atlanta

Here are a few of our favorite bikeways, among hundreds to choose from.

Learn more about City Park trends in the 2017 edition of City Park Facts, coming in April to the Trust for Public Land website. If you have questions or comments about this or other city park facts, contact us at ccpe@tpl.org. The City Parks Blog is a joint project of the City Parks Alliance and the Trust for Public Land.

Spring Sprucing “America’s Front Yard”: Finalists Announced for National Mall Redesign

East view of the Mall from the Washington Monument. Credit: Coleen Gentles

Eighteen months ago, the National Park Service (NPS) in conjunction with the Trust for the National Mall, created the 2010 National Mall Plan, a vision for the kinds of resource conditions, visitor experiences, and facilities that would best fulfill the purpose of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Stretching west from the U.S. Capitol to the Potomac River, and north from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial to Constitution Avenue, the National Mall is primarily under the jurisdiction of NPS, but multiple governmental agencies and organizations also have ownership over lands and roads within and adjacent to the National Mall.  These other entities, the Architect of the Capitol, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Department of Agriculture, the General Services Administration, the District of Columbia, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, all provided critical input into the National Mall Plan.

A nine-month National Mall Design Competition targeted three focal sites for redesign, and in April, the Trust for the National Mall chose four finalists for each area from a pool of 58 entries.  Those finalists were on display for public comment, until a panel of eight judges consisting of landscape architects, academics, architects, critics, and historians, selected the three winning teams last week.  The three sites to be redesigned are:

  • Constitution Gardens, a natural area adjacent to the Reflecting Pool and World War II Memorial, which has suffered from poor drainage and underuse.
  • Washington Monument Grounds, including Sylvan Theater, an underutilized performance space near the National Monument.
  • Union Square, located directly west of the Capitol building, home to the Capitol reflecting pool and Grant memorial.

And the winners of the design competition are:

  • Rogers Marvel Architects & Peter Walker and Partners for Constitution Gardens near the Lincoln Memorial, whose designs include an overhauled water basin for model boats and ice skating, and a new restaurant pavilion to overlook the park.
  • OLIN & Weiss/Manfredi for the Washington Monument grounds, whose designs include a wooded canopy for Sylvan Theater, and a new pavilion with a cafe for the walkway to the nearby Tidal Basin.
  • Gustafson Guthrie Nichol & Davis Brody Bond for Union Square Union Square and the Capitol Reflecting Pool, whose designs remove the reflecting pond that lies parallel to the Capitol and adds a pond at the nearest grass panel on the Mall.  (This design plan will be forwarded to the Architect of the Capitol.)

The Trust for the National Mall, NPS’s not-for-profit fundraising and advocacy partner, will conduct a $350 million fundraising campaign over seven years to support the capital costs of revitalizing these three spaces.  The Trust will begin fundraising for its two projects, while the Architect of the Capitol will handle fundraising for Union Square.  The entire National Mall Plan should cost about $700 million.  The next phase of the competition will identify and evaluate costs ahead of implementation, with roughly half of the costs coming from the private sector.

West View from Washington Monument, with World War II Memorial in foreground, Lincoln Memorial in back, and Constitution Gardens on right. Credit: Coleen Gentles

The National Mall Plan aims to better accommodate the high level and diversity of use the National Mall receives.  With 25 million visitors each year, the National Mall is one of the most highly trafficked parks in the country.  As a result, it requires resilient design and a variety of visitor-serving facilities.

To this end, the National Mall Plan proposed enhanced circulation and access for pedestrians, a goal the NPS had already begun to support through park-wide investments in new signage.  It also proposed new performance space, food and beverage concessions, shaded seating areas, restrooms, and recreational opportunities and facilities.

The Plan recommends specific uses for each of the design competition sites, which are reflected in the designs of the finalists.  It prioritized improved food venues and enhanced pedestrian access at Constitution Gardens.  The redesigned Sylvan Theater will better accommodate local events, and additional facilities will offer food service, retail, and other visitor services.

Union Square was planned as a First Amendment demonstration and event space; however, in December, jurisdiction over the site was transferred from the National Park Service to the Architect of the Capitol due to security concerns.  It remains unclear whether the proposed plans and winning design for this location will be implemented.

The Mall’s scale and formality, combined with large-scale federal/institutional and roadway adjacencies, create a space that is most successful at showcasing monuments and memorials, and perhaps less effective at welcoming visitors and providing community space.  It provides few dedicated places to stop and linger: to have a picnic, play recreational sports (the Mall is particularly ill-configured for the kickball games it so often hosts), enjoy a cultural program, or rest between site-seeing destinations.

If properly executed with quality design, active programming, and able stewardship, the rehabilitation of these spaces will provide new destinations with food, seating, programming, and signature design.  These amenities can anchor and sustain the strong tourist economy and provide authentic and desirable gathering places for local and regional residents.  This constitutes a unique and untapped opportunity to integrated community spaces and national icons at the heart of the city.

This will be the Mall’s first major renovation in nearly 40 years.  Groundbreaking for the first project will take place by 2014, with the first ribbon-cutting expected by 2016, the Mall’s centennial anniversary.

View renderings of the winning designs here.

Proceed Without Caution: Cities Add Parkland by Closing Streets and Roads to Cars

A thirteenth excerpt from the recently released book published by Island Press called Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities. In this post, we look at some cities who have added parkland by closing streets and roads to automobile traffic.

In every city there are hundreds of acres of streets and roadways potentially available as park and recreational facilities. While parks make up about 20 percent of New York City’s total area, streets make up about 30 percent. In Chicago, 26 percent of the land is devoted to streets compared to only 8 percent for parks. Converting some street capacity for recreational activity–either full-time or part-time–is a underrealized opportunity.

Atlanta closed three miles of roads in Piedmont Park in 1983. The park now attracts more than four million visitors a year. Credit: Piedmont Park Conservancy.

Wresting space away from automobiles is never easy, but if any opportunities constitute “low-hanging fruit” they are the hundreds of miles of roads within city parks. Naturally, all large parks need some streets for access to facilities as well as to allow motorists to get from one side to the other, but most city parks have a surfeit of auto corridors. The National Mall in Washington, D.C., formerly had four parallel drives running for about a mile between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument. Not only was the green Mall thoroughly intersected every few dozen yards by asphalt, but the drives themselves were permanently clogged with tourists (and government workers) looking for parking spaces. In 1976, just in time for the national bicentennial celebration, Assistant Interior Secretary Nathaniel Reed decided to abolish the two central roads and replace them with pebble-covered walkways reminiscent of those in Paris parks. The aggregate amount of space–about 4 acres–was relatively small, but the impact on park usability, ambience, safety, and air quality was monumental. Similarly, in Atlanta, following a raft of crime and nuisance issues that were negatively affecting Piedmont Park, Parks Commissioner Ted Mastroianni and Mayor Maynard Jackson announced test weekend road closures. Despite protests, the results led to dramatic increases in other uses of the park, such as running, walking, and cycling, and, in 1983 the closures were made total and permanent. (Piedmont Park is today the most car-free major city park in the United States.)

Other examples abound (see below table). San Francisco’s longtime Sunday closure of 2 miles of John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park was extended in 2007 to Saturdays as well. The program, which makes available one of the only hard, flat, safe areas for children in the entire hilly city, according to the San Francisco Bike Coalition, effectively added about 12 acres of parkland without any acquisition or construction costs. Park usage during car-free hours is about double that of when cars are around. Even cities that are thoroughly oriented to cars are finding an enthusiastic constituent response to park road closures. Kansas City, Missouri, bans automobiles on beautiful Cliff Drive within Kessler Park from Friday noon until Monday morning during the summer. San Antonio permanently closed Brackenridge Park’s Wilderness Road and Parfun Way in 2004. And Los Angeles has permanently closed 10 miles of Via del Valle and Mt. Hollywood Drive in Griffith Park to protect wildlife, reduce the risk of fire, and provide a safe, quiet venue for walkers, runners, and cyclists.

It’s not just large parks. Many small parks which were disfigured by roads can be re-greened, too. New York City’s Washington Square, famous as a Greenwich Village movie set and also for street theater, rallies, and as a de facto quad for New York University, had been bisected by Fifth Avenue until 1964. Ironically, a proposal to expand that avenue into a freeway led to the uproar that made the park entirely car-free–and a much more successful space. In Washington, D.C., Thomas Circle had gradually been sliced down in size almost to the diameter of the statue of General George Henry Thomas and his horse, with traffic consuming the entire area. In 2007 the National Park Service and the District of Columbia reinstituted the original circle and rebuilt pedestrian walkways to allow people to use it. Earlier, a similar project re-unified 2.5-acre Logan Circle and helped ignite a renewal of its neighborhood.

In 2007, Houston got itself a park addition by trading away a street. It happened in Hidalgo Park, a venerable 12-acre greenspace in the city’s hard-bitten East End, near the Turning Basin on Buffalo Bayou where Houston started. When a small sliver between the park and the bayou came up for sale, the city secured federal funds to buy it through an obscure federal program called Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation. The sliver had two drawbacks: It was separated from Hildago Park by a street, plus there is a federal requirement that coastal funds be matched one-to-one by non-federal dollars. Park Director Joe Turner took a tour of the site and had a “Eureka!” moment–why not close the street, have it transferred from the Public Works Department to Parks and Recreation, and use its land value as the local match for the federal grant. The politics and geography happened to be perfect: There were no houses on the street, it had no through access, and the one industrial user at the far end had another plant entrance it could use. And since no one before Joe Turner had ever offered to use the value of a street as a local match, the federal bureaucrats were surprised enough to say yes. (They’ve since rethought it and forbidden the maneuver, but the Houston handshake was grandfathered in.) Today Hidalgo Park is a much-improved 14 acres with unbroken access to the channel and views of the stupendous ships coming up to the Turning Basin.

Closing and beautifying streets that are not in parks is more difficult. Many cities, including Boston, Santa Monica, and New Orleans have turned one of their key downtown streets into a car-free zone, although in nearly all cases the motivation is less for casual, free recreation and clean air than for upscale shopping and dining. Portland, Oregon, however, did pull off a famous and extraordinarily successful “road-to-park” conversion. It involved the 1974 elimination of four-lane Harbor Drive, an expressway along the Willamette River that had been rendered redundant by a new interstate highway. Most cities would have given in to the strenuous remonstrances of their traffic engineers and kept highways along both sides of their river, but under the leadership of Mayor (later Governor) Tom McCall the old roadway was dug up and replaced by 37-acre Waterfront Park. The park opened in 1978, exactly three-quarters of a century after the concept was first proposed by planner and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., in his plan for Portland. Built for about $8.5 million, the park in its very first year was credited with stimulating an estimated $385 million in retail, office, hotel, and residential development in the vicinity. Later named after the visionary governor, Tom McCall Waterfront Park has since become Portland’s focal point for all kinds of activities and festivals.

Baltimore's 14-mile Gwynns Falls Trail used about six miles of underused roads along a scenic stream valley that are now popular with bikers, runners and other non-car users. Credit: Maria Carola.

Some cities, including Baltimore, El Paso, Chicago, New York, and Miami, have recently begun experimenting with the idea of once-a-summer or once-a-month road closures on regular city streets, following the example of the “ciclovias” that have become immensely popular in Bogota, Colombia; Quito, Ecuador; and several other Latin American cities. Called such things as “Summer Streets,” “Scenic Sundays,” “Walk and Roll,” and “Bike Days Miami,” the events often take place on cities’ most park-like streets (Park Avenue in New York, Scenic Drive in El Paso) and bring forth tens of thousands of people in an electrifying, community atmosphere in a domain normally dominated by cars. (The events are often initially organized and promoted by bicyclists but soon become so congested that they evolve into street festivals.)

Cities can permanently convert streets into park-like “Woonerfs,” a Dutch concept for neighborhood ways where pedestrians, bicyclists, and children are given priority over cars. (The name translates to “Home Zone,” which is what it is called in Great Britain.) While the concept has yet to fully establish itself in the United States, variants have surfaced. On downtown Asheville, North Carolina’s, Wall Street, the city installed brick pavers, bollards, benches, and lights so intertwined that they become an obstacle course that greatly reduces automobile speeds. Seattle is doing similar traffic calming in certain neighborhoods and is also adding numerous pervious areas and water-capturing features to add ecological benefits to these “street-parks.”

Park Roads that Have Been Closed to Automobiles, Selected Parks

Park City Road Name Miles Closure
Time
Year First Closed
Central Park New York Central Park Dr. 6 P 1966
Golden Gate Park San Francisco John F. Kennedy Dr. 2 P 1967
Prospect Park Brooklyn, N.Y. Prospect Park Dr. 3.5 P 1966
Gwynns Falls Trail Baltimore Ellicott Dr./Wetheredsville Rd. 6 F 1972
The National Mall Washington, D.C. Washington Dr. & Adams Dr. 2 F 1976
Rock Creek Park Washington, D.C. Beach Dr. 4 P 1981
Fairmount Park Philadelphia Martin Luther King Dr. 4 P 1982
Piedmont Park Atlanta Piedmont Park Dr. 2.9 F 1983
Washington Park Denver Marion Pkwy/Humboldt Dr. 2 F 1985
Overton Park Memphis Interior Rd. 2 F 1987
Griffith Park Los Angeles Mt. Hollywood Dr. 10 F 1991
Memorial Park Houston Picnic Loop 1.2 P 1994
Garden of the Gods Colorado Springs Gateway Rd. 0.25 F 1996
Brackenridge Park San Antonio Wilderness Rd. 1 F 2004
Fair Park Dallas First Ave. 0.25 F 2004
Pope Park Hartford, Conn. Pope Park Dr. 0.2 F 2005
Franklin Mnts St. Pk El Paso Scenic Dr. 2.6 P 2008
Kessler Park Kansas City, Mo. Cliff Drive 2.6 P 2008
Hampton Park Charleston, S.C. Mary Murray Dr. 1.5 P N.A.
F – Full-time; P – Part-time; N.A. – Not Available      
Source: Center for City Park Excellence, The Trust for Public Land, 2008      

To Form a More Perfect Union Station: Redesigning Columbus Plaza for Pedestrians

Union Station and Columbus Plaza. Credit: Rob Ketcherside (Flickr Feed).

Washington, D.C.’s Union Station is a major destination for tourists and commuters, with about 29 million people visiting it each year.  As a first glimpse of the city for many people traveling by rail or car, Union Station was designed as a grand entryway to the nation’s capital.  It’s classical Beaux-Arts architecture influenced other popular landmarks in Washington, D.C., such as the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.  But as public transit increases in the city, and the surrounding neighborhoods rapidly undergo redevelopment, it is clear that the 104-year-old-railroad facility needs a facelift.

We recently came across an article in The Washington Post about an 18-month reconstruction project to improve access and safety throughout Columbus Plaza in front of Union Station.  Many years in the making, the $7.8 million redesign will include new sidewalks and upgrades to the traffic signals to enhance the flow of pedestrians and vehicles throughout the plaza.  The plan also calls for eliminating a fishhook-shaped road that cuts through Columbus Plaza, restoring the plaza to its earlier appearance and allowing for easier pedestrian access to the station from the Capitol and other areas.  Additional transit improvements to the area include the very successful bicycle storage and rental facility added to the west side of the station, and laying tracks for the future H Street streetcar route that will terminate at Union Station.

As with any huge endeavor undertaken in Washington, D.C., there are many agencies and interested parties involved in this complex project, including the federal government (who owns Union Station), National Park Service (manages Columbus Plaza), city government (controls the roads), and the Architect of the Capitol (land on the other side of Massachusetts Avenue).  Other partners involved include Amtrak, Greyhound, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation.  And of course, any structural changes at all to Union Station must also take into account its historical prominence.

Because the “downtrodden appearance” of the plaza when compared to the magnificent train station often confuses the thousands of pedestrians and motorists who use it each day, locals and visitors alike are anxious to see how the reconfiguration will create a more welcoming transportation hub.  As Thomas Luebke, secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, summed up, the idea is to have the space in front of Union Station “be more about a plaza and less about trying to walk across nine lines of vehicle traffic.”