Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Parks #1: Chicago

Image caption: ( Tribune photo by Brian Cassella / August 30, 2011 ). Dimitri Garcia, 3, practices hitting off a tee with his dad Rudy Garcia in the median of busy Western Avenue in the Brighton Park neighborhood of Chicago. The Garcias, who live across the street, said they play here often because even though they are on a small strip of grass between eight lanes of traffic, it's easier to get to than a real park. Statistically, Brighton Park is Chicago's most park-poor neighborhood, with only 10 acres of open space for 45,368 people.

DC has the same issues, which makes these stories important resources

The Chicago Tribune's Blair Kamin has a series of pieces on the state of parks in Chicago. Everyone (including me), thinks Chicago's parks are great because of how most of the Lake Michigan shore is a continuous park, with cultural attractions like museums, and the Navy Pier along it, complemented by walking and biking trails etc., plus Millennium Park, etc.

But the state of park availability in the rest of the city lags the lakeshore. See the articles "Cramped Chicago: Half of city's 2.7 million people live in park-poor areas" and "Daley expanded city's park space, but progress was more limited than previously thought" plus the editorial "Chicago's 'park deserts'" from the newspaper and "10 steps to begin correcting Chicago's open space shortage" from the Cityscapes blog. Sunday there will be a follow up piece on the issue as well as a discussion of other cities' best practices.

From the blog entry:

The open space shortage is pervasive, with 32 of 77 community areas, home to half of Chicago’s 2.7 million people, failing to meet the city’s own modest requirement of two acres of open space for every 1,000 residents. And the stakes associated with relieving it are huge. Parks can help the city’s neighborhoods attract and retain residents, promote public health, boost real estate values and draw together people from different walks of life.

“Open space is not just an amenity. It is one of the most vital institutions in enhancing urban life,” said Sally Chappell, professor of art history at DePaul University.

Although Emanuel has thrown his support behind a grab bag of open space initiatives, such as boathouses on the Chicago River and a new park in an unused area of Rosehill Cemetery, he has yet to produce the visionary plan he promised in his transition report.

While I think that Kamin fails to take into account that fact that producing a visionary plan for parks and open space is a big undertaking that requires more than a mayor introducing a report written from on high, he makes good points, and offers an interim agenda:

1. Make better use of existing parks

2. Improve access to open space

3. Bring life to the boulevards -- this reminds me of parks planner David Barth's point that we should treat streets like linear parks, David Engwicht's point about creating "neighborhood loops", and trails as routes that not only serve walking and biking needs but are connective paths linking civic assets, neighborhoods, and commercial districts, such as the plan for the Bala Cynwyd Trail in Lower Merion Township outside of Philadelphia

4. Turn city streets into 'play streets' -- this is about programs like DC's "Feet in the Streets" and the original Ciclovia in Bogota

5. Turn rails into trails

6. Turn old industrial sites into new parks -- in a city like Chicago, this is a good way to use up otherwise "derelict" land (derelict defined as land previously used but no longer in productive use, with no such uses likely in the near and intermediate term)

7. Turn parking spaces into 'parklets' --

In the every-little-bit-helps department, San Francisco is turning parking spaces along its commercial streets into mini-parks called “parklets.” Twenty-five of the mini-parks have been built, including one near a turntable for the city’s cable cars. San Franciscans have taken to the parklets quickly, using them for dining, schmoozing and reading their laptops.

There has been some grousing about the loss of parking spaces and tie-ins to adjoining cafes, but not enough to kill the program. In fact, city officials are reviewing plans for an additional 30 parklets.

Here’s how a parklet works: Two parking spots are closed and a platform is built over them, extending the sidewalk’s level beyond the curb. The platform is outfitted with benches, planters, landscaping, bicycle parking, tables and chairs. The builder — typically, a business, nonprofit group or local improvement district — bears the cost, up to $20,000 per parklet. The installations are permanent and open to the public.

8. Use urban agriculture to plant seeds of revival

9. Use parks to create commercial hubs. From the piece:

Parks often inspire a certain wariness over the people they attract. In the city, people fret about gangs, drug-dealing and violence — and what such things do to property values.

Carlos Nelson, executive director of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corp., cites those fears when a visitor asks whether the vacant lots lining the area’s commercial streets should become parks. He sees another role for parks: As a way to create thriving business hubs — urban planners call them “nodes” — amid the often-chaotic conditions of the inner city.

10. Make new plans for new realities. Kamin writes:

So much has changed since the publication of Chicago’s last open space plan 13 years ago that park advocates are calling for a new plan, one that is tailored to the different needs of different neighborhoods and unites the disparate efforts of various city agencies behind a single vision.

True, the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District and the Public Building Commission have cooperated to turn more than 270 acres of pavement around city schools into playgrounds. But with so many arms of city government now working on open-space issues — parks, transportation, housing and economic development, health, the schools, the building commission and others — advocates say it is essential to set shared goals, lest the city squander the limited funds it has available.

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