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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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Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory Discusses Downtown and New Riverfront Park

Smart Growth America recently completed video interviews with several mayors and other prominent elected officials nationwide, and will be releasing them over the next several months. The first is with Mayor Mark Mallory from Cincinnati — he speaks to the need to invest in downtowns and to make the right kinds of infrastructure investments to trigger job creation and community development.

Mayor Mallory discusses how the revised downtown will benefit from the new 45-acre John G. and Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park:

“We’re doing a lot of things in Cincinnati. In addition to building the streetcar, we are developing our riverfront with a project called The Banks. This is the space between our two stadiums. It’s going to be more than 300 apartments – this is just in the first phase – retailers, there’s a giant park that will be a part of it. This project will go in to its second phase in the next couple weeks actually, and before it’s over with we’ll probably spend a billion dollars on our riverfront.

Phases one and two of the Smale Riverfront Park are slated to open on May 15. The new park will feature fountains, walkways, gardens, event lawns, playgrounds and restaurants, including the Moerlein Lager House, which officially opened last month. There will also be restrooms, a visitor’s center and bike parking, for a membership fee. In addition to connecting to the bike trail, one of the more interesting features are bike runnels along the steps to the lower level, so bicycles don’t have to be carried up and down the stairs, but can be rolled along the side. This is a unique solution to a multi-level park that points to the investment and encouragement of alternative modes of transportation to reach a destination park.

Cincinnati Parks is overseeing the planning, development and construction of the park, and funding came primarily from the city of Cincinnati and the Smale family. Read more about the new park here and watch a video clip here.

“Freedom’s Fortress” Finally Free to be a National Monument

Earlier this month, President Obama used his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia a National Monument. The significance of President Obama’s Proclamation cannot be overstated; it is the first time he has used this authority and Fort Monroe is a unique and historically important military base worth federal protection.

Aerial view of Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. Credit: Fort Monroe National Park Foundation, Inc.

The Proclamation will ensure preservation of the majority of the buildings within the 570-acre National Historic Landmark District as well as significant landscapes and viewsheds. But only 324 acres, or 57 percent of the 570 acres, was designated a National Monument, leaving the rest of the property to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Ideally the entire 570-acre property would best be served as protected parkland.

We’ve written before about the deficit of parkland in the Hampton Roads area and how a new, historic park would have a significant positive impact for the entire region. The opportunity to gain priceless acres of waterfront parkland is especially noteworthy. The National Monument designation includes federal ownership of the parade ground, some buildings, and the beaches, with easements surrounding the entire fortress and moat.

The site has the momentous distinction of being the spot upon which, in 1619, the first Africans destined for the British continental North American colonies landed—the vanguard of an estimated 10–12 million Africans forcibly brought to the colonies and, later, the United States.

Fort Monroe was begun in 1819 and completed in 1834. With a seven-sided shape, walls of stone, ramparts over a mile in circumference, completely surrounded by a water-filled moat, and bristling with huge artillery guns, Fort Monroe was given the nickname “Gibraltar of the Chesapeake.” It is the largest fort ever built in the United States.

Map showing the proposed park/monument area of Fort Monroe. Credit: National Park Service.

During the American Civil War, Fort Monroe was one of only a very few strongholds in the South that never fell to the Confederates. Among notable military events that occurred at Fort Monroe was Major General Benjamin Butler’s decision to declare that any slave escaping to Fort Monroe would not be returned but would be kept as “contraband of war.” As word of the novel legal decision spread, thousands of slaves found their way to Fort Monroe, which soon became known as “Freedom’s Fortress.” By the end of the war, thousands of “contraband” were living around the fort. The spot of the first landing of slaves became, after more than 200 years, the spot of their first emancipation.

Fort Monroe continued as an active military base through World Wars I and II. In 1960, the entire post, both inside and outside the moat, was designated a national historic landmark because of its rich military and cultural significance. In 2005, under the Base Realignment and Closure Act, Fort Monroe was ruled surplus by the army and deactivated on September 15, 2011. Although it is no longer an active Army base, the land is still owned by the Army and therefore under federal control. Much of the rest of the base is scheduled to revert to state ownership in January, under control of the Fort Monroe Authority.

Used by 14 presidents since 1906, the Antiquities Act has protected some of the most unique natural and historic features in America, including other urban national properties like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The main difference between a National Monument and a National Park is the way it obtains its status. The President has the authority to declare a National Monument while Congress declares a National Park. Regardless of designation, it will operate like any other unit within the National Park system. There are currently 21 national park units located in Virginia; Fort Monroe will be the 22nd and the 396th nationwide.

For more information on the deficit of parkland in the Hampton Roads region, read our 2008 report Bracing for Change.

Robert C. Stuart Park and Concrete Plant Park Selected as August’s “Frontline Parks”

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes two “Frontline Parks” 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.

August’s Frontline Parks are examples of industrial sites that have been reclaimed and restored as urban green space.

Stuart Park Bayou, Houston.

Five miles from the Houston Ship Channel, home of the second largest petrochemical complex in the world, a 27-acre remnant of the southeast Texas bayou system is being regenerated.  The source of this emerging life is Robert C. Stuart Park, soon to be an environmental education center and source of respite for nearby neighbors and factory workers. The Houston Parks Board (HPB), whose mission is to create, improve, protect and advocate for parks in the Greater Houston region, initially identified the site during a city-wide evaluation of possible parkland in 2005. Although not listed for sale, HPB contacted the property owners, and after four years secured the site at less than 50% of its market value. By partnering with the Houston Parks Board, the City of Houston obtained grant funding for most of the park improvement.  At Stuart Park, visitors will be invited to embrace and appreciate the historic bayou habitat – to wander trails, cross boardwalks over wetland streams, and watch prairie grasses wave in the breeze.  It will also be a place to learn about nature, with a learning pavilion, teaching stations, interpretive signage and a demonstration garden.

Concrete Plant Park, New York.

A signature project on the Bronx River Greenway, Concrete Plant Park provides a vital link and highlights a unique partnership between public agencies and communities to reclaim the waterfront for public use.   The seven acre park is sited on a former concrete plant, which was in operation from 1945 to 1987. After the plant closed in the 1980s and the city seized the property, the area was saved from the auction block by community residents, led by Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. These efforts were supported by The Point Community Development Corporation, Community Boards, elected officials, and the newly formed Bronx River Alliance who saw the site’s potential as a waterfront park.  During the design phase, residents articulated a vision for quiet contemplation, learning, unstructured play and a sense of the history of the site. Today, the park boasts the stabilized remnants of the concrete plant, acres of open lawn, winding paths, benches, shaded areas and game tables.  On summer afternoons you can watch a pick-up game of cricket and soccer, paddlers out in canoes and kayaks, or fishers casting their lines into the river.  Concrete Plant Park is the result of a decade of tireless efforts, as well as an indicator of what is to come as new links on the Bronx River Greenway open to the public.

Frontline Parks is generously supported by DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.

Houston Skatepark and Charles River Esplanade Selected as June’s “Frontline Parks”

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes two “Frontline Parks“ to promote inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship across the country in the face of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures and urban neighborhood decay.

What does a daffy have in common with a downward dog?

Both are moves you might see in this month’s featured parks, because parks can be as varied as the people who use them.  One may be designed to support a single activity, such as skateboarding.  Other parks are planned to support a wide assortment of uses, such as walking or running, children’s play, competitive sports, natural resource protection, or beautiful landscapes.  Programs can be as varied as a park allows, promoting mind-body exercises, cultural performances, or water-based fun.  Whether a park promotes a wide range of activities or a single use, it is but a single piece of a larger, complex parks system.  Parks and open spaces must be envisioned as whole systems, not only to best meet diverse recreational goals, but to also best deliver the wide range of associated parks’ benefits, such as health, economic development, and community-building.

June’s  featured parks demonstrate diversity in uses, and both are prime examples of parks as civic spaces, bringing people together to connect around common experiences. Continue reading