Published on July 29th, 2010 | by Zachary Shahan
How to Plan for Innovative City Parks
I’ve written about parks on Green Living Ideas before, since parks are a key feature of the city that help to keep people living in a much more energy efficient urban environment. Plus, “green living” and “parks” just seem to go together. Peter Harnik has a new book out, Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities, that discusses how citizens and cities should plan for parks and how parks can be created in “all-built-out” settings.
The City Parks Blog, a joint effort of the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land and the City Parks Alliance, has a great follow-up interview with Harnik on these topics. I thought I’d pull a few good pieces from that to share here (with some additional commentary of my own).
Your book addresses many age-old questions about parks and cities. Let’s start with the big one — how much parkland should a city have?
“Should” is the wrong verb. “Should” implies that the outcome is decided by planners. The right verb is “want”: “How much parkland do we as residents and taxpayers want?” It’s a political issue, and it’s got to be approached politically by building a base of active park supporters. Every city has a different geography, a different history and a different culture — it’s not one size fits all. I think people sometimes use the word “should” in the hopes that someone else will do the work for them. No great park system was created solely by planners using official standards.
Great point here. And exactly the reason I encouraged readers to get involved in planning a park in their area previously. Some great planners may be able to plan excellent, useful parks on their own, but normally, in order to serve their purpose and maximize their use, strong involvement from citizens is important to make sure everyone understands what they want and what would be useful.
The subtitle of the book is “innovative parks for resurgent cities.” What does it mean for parks to be innovative?
When cities are young, small and expanding, parks are added on the leading edge of the growth margin. They consist of natural lands that are donated or purchased — farms, forests, woodlands, wetlands, deserts. The process is known as conservation.
In older cities that are “all built out” there is nothing natural to conserve besides the already-existing parks. New parks there must be created through development rather than conservation. To make a park from a derelict parking lot, for instance, you wouldn’t conserve it — doing that would merely retain a derelict parking lot. You’d have to tear it up, regrade it, plant it, and fit it out with a playground or a sports field or a fountain or whatever the community wanted.
The goal in built-out cities is to use innovation — acquiring no-longer-needed parcels from other government agencies, sharing land with other users, utilizing previously wasted surfaces like rooftops and highway air rights, installing gardens in gap-toothed neighborhoods, pushing developers to donate land for parks, even just making better use of existing parkland. Every one of these approaches is happening in some city right now, and a few cities are doing almost all of them.
So, there are some good starting steps if you think parks can’ t be added to “built-out” cities.
If there is one piece of advice you could give to a city, what would it be?I would say, “Lead with your parks.” The two blockbuster infill parks of the 21st Century — Millennium Park in Chicago and The High Line in New York — have each generated well over a billion dollars of redevelopment and renewal, not to mention tourist revenue and all-around “buzz.” It’s similar with innovative parks in St. Louis, Denver, Houston, Boston, Atlanta and other places. If park advocates and mayors create beautiful, exciting and fun spaces in the hearts of cities, developers, tourists and residents will quickly follow.
Good parks are not just nice places, they can be (if you delve deep into the matter) the engines of economic development in cities. Look at Central Park in New York City — it is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world.
To read more of this interview with Peter Harnik, visit the City Parks Blog. Also, if you are in New York and want to hear Peter speak about such issues, he will be presenting on the new book at The Arsenal in Central Park on July 27th at 6 p.m. (cost is free).