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.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Better practices in parks planning: Montgomery County Energized Places initiative: Meeting tomorrow night

Tuesday, February 28, 2017
7.00-9.00 p.m.
Montgomery Regional Office Building Auditorium
8787 Georgia Avenue
Silver Spring, MD

In the State of Maryland, counties are required to update their "park, recreation, and open spaces" plans every five years, in part so that they are eligible for state funding for land acquisition.  Most of the counties across Maryland have robust parks master plans, although the biggest jurisdictions tend to have the widest array of parks spaces.

Montgomery County is in the midst of updating their PROS plan for 2017, and to my liking, the process is a bit too accelerated and they aren't able to move on my idea that such plans should also make recommendations concerning other parks and open space facilities operated by other agencies within the County (e.g., State Parks, National Parks, School facilities, County Dept. of Recreation, open spaces associated water resources, incorporated cities such as Rockville and Takoma Park, etc.).

-- "Federal shutdown as another example of why local jurisdictions should have more robust contingency and master planning processes"
-- "Contingency planning in parks planning"

But they have a parallel planning process focused on park, recreation, and public spaces in the more urbanized part of the county--places like Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Wheaton--called the Energized Spaces Functional Master Plan.

And supporting both planning processes, last week the Montgomery County Department of Planning's Speaker Series had a session called "From Parks to Energized Open Spaces," with presentations (now online and linked below) from:
Unfortunately, Mr. Forkin wasn't able to present in person because of a last minute work requirement, but his slides were presented by Ms. Rose Krasnow, Deputy Director of the planning department, as she has a lot of first hand experience with Philadelphia's park and waterfront spaces.

DRWC manages the city's waterfront and creates and operates a variety of public spaces and programs there, has repurposed old piers, created the Spruce Street Harbor Park, considered one of the best urban parks in the US, etc.. The slides are "arresting."

PHS South Street Pop Up Garden, 2016. 

(Separately, as another example of activating outdoor spaces in new ways, Ms. Krasnow mentioned how the Philadelphia Horticultural Society has a "pop up" (beer) garden program in public spaces that aren't parks, and how PHS uses the revenues to support their various initiatives.)

Ms. Newhouse focused more on the history of parks in Montgomery County, while Mr. Henderson gave a very "provocative" presentation on trends impacting parks and recreation planning going forward, as well as some of the particular issues faced by Prince George's County--which provides more programming than most of the region's jurisdictions.

While there was a lot of very interesting material in Mr. Henderson's presentation--he outlined how changes in technology (smartphone, augmented reality, etc.) are changing how people are "consuming" parks and what they are looking to experience, and how parks departments need to respond.

I found particularly interesting his use of a measurement tool on "youth engagement" from the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality.

The four stages shown in a period advance from a more "top down" approach to the highest level, where the youth are engaged in planning and delivering programs.

One of the initiatives shown to us by Mr. Henderson is the "Pink Balls" public art installation on Rue St. Catherine in Montreal, as part of the street's summer program of pedestrianization.

I found this interesting because frankly, it's relevant to "civic engagement" more generally, with adults too, and shouldn't be limited to only those evaluating parks and recreation programs serving children and youth.  Also see the past blog entry "Voting vs. civic participation | elections vs. governance," which covers some of the other approaches to civic engagmement in planning.

DC Department of Parks and Recreation.  For various reasons, recently I read the new DC parks plan, the Play DC Master Plan Vision Framework.  While I wouldn't go so far as to say it is a "master plan," it definitely handles very well the necessary re-setting and repositioning of the mission of the DC Department of Parks and Recreation.

While a goodly chunk of the park and open space in DC owned and managed by NPS is "nationally-serving," an equally large amount is more locally serving and under NPS more because of historical circumstances of the city's founding and operation as the National Capital, and less because the spaces are relevant to the national story.

The Play DC Master Plan Vision Framework is quite good in acknowledging most of the issues in DC vis-a-vis parks and recreation planning and the fact that most park space in DC is not owned and managed by the Department of Parks and Recreation, but by the National Park Service, a federal agency. I was impressed.

-- How surveys based on gross data can be very misleading: DC and parks

I wuz wrong.  The broader Play DC planning initiative built on the earlier Play DC Playground Improvement Initiative.

When it was first announced, I suggested it'd be better to have a master plan in place first.  The counter-argument is that the playgrounds were tired and served too few children, and with revitalization they could be much better.

Well, they were right.  The results have been incredible.

For example, in my neighborhood, the playground was tired and few people used it--we would go there with the then much littler girl from next door,and including adults there would rarely be as many as ten people using the facility.

Now on an average weekend, many many hundreds of people use the playground, and it serves a broader age range as well.

It turns out that the playground modernization program helped set the stage for deeper improvements at the DPR.

Anacostia Park, National Park Service, DC. Relatedly, NPS has released a Management Plan for Anacostia Park, which runs along most of the eastern bank of the Anacostia River, as well as a considerable amount of land west of the river, including the Langston Golf Course.

The comment period is open until March 18th.

-- Anacostia Park Management Plan Environmental Assessment, National Park Service
-- "Decoding the National Park Service Plan for Anacostia Park, blog entry, Anacostia Waterfront Trust
-- "The most wasted space in D.C., op-ed by former Mayor Anthony Williams of the Federal City Council, published in the Washington Post
-- "Revenge of the polluters: A scourge of the EPA takes over at the EPA -- But environmental protections will not be undone overnight," Economist

Complete Parks Playbook | ChangeLab Solutions.  The many initiatives of the public interest community health law and advocacy group Changelab Solutions include one on parks planning.

Not quite two years ago the organization published a report, Complete Parks Playbook, focusing on ensuring access to public parks.  It's worth a read in the context of these other planning processes.

The seven elements of complete parks are:

  • Engaging everyone in a public planning process
  • Connecting: creating safe routes to parks
  • Locating: ensuring equitable access to parks
  • Activating: programming activities and amenities for parks
  • Growing: planting and maintaining sustainable parks
  • Protecting: making parks safe
  • Funding: committing to finance a complete parks system

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