Why America Needs More City Parks and Open Space

Friday December 17, 2021

The Benefits of Parks: Why America Needs More City Parks and Open Space BY Paul M. Sheerer Published by: 116 New Montgomery Street Fourth Floor San Francisco, CA 94105 (415) 495-4014 www. Tip. Org 02006 the Trust for Public Land – Reprint of “Parks for People” white paper, published In 2003. Table of Contents Forward: Will Rogers, President, Trust for Public Land 5 Executive Summary 6 America Needs More City Parks U. S. Cities Are Park-Poor Low-Income Neighborhoods Are Desperately Short of Park Space Case Study: New Parks for Los Angles The Public Wants More Parks 8 History of America’s City Parks: Inspiration, Abandonment, Revival The Decline of City Parks A Revival Begins Budget Crises Threaten City Parks 10 Public Health Benefits of City Parks and Open Space America’s Twin Plagues: Physical Inactivity and Obesity Access to Parks Increases Frequency of Exercise Exposure to Nature and Greenery Makes People Healthier 12 Economic Benefits of Parks 14 Increased Property Values Property Values in Low-Income Urban Areas Property Values at the Edges of Urban Areas Effects on Commercial Property Values Economic Revitalization: Attracting and Retaining Businesses and Residents Tourism Benefits Environmental Benefits of Parks Pollution Abatement and Cooling Controlling Stemware Runoff 17 Social Benefits of Parks Reducing Crime Recreation Opportunities: The Importance of Play Creating Stable Neighborhoods with Strong Community 18 Conclusion 20 Notes 21 Bibliography 24 3 Forward At the turn of the 20th century, the majority of Americans lived in rural areas and small towns, relatively close to the land. At the beginning of the 21st century, 85 desperate need of places to experience nature and refresh ourselves in the out-of- doors. The emergence of America as an urban nation was anticipated by Frederick Law Limited and other 19th-century park visionaries, who gave us New Work’s Central Park, San Franciscans Golden Gate Park, and similar grand parks in cities across the nation. They were gardeners and designers-but also preachers for the power of parks, fired from within by the understanding that they were shaping the quality of American lives for generations to come. In the view of these park visionaries, parks were not “amenities. They were necessities, providing recreation, inspiration, and essential respite from the city blare and bustle. And the visionaries were particularly concerned that parks be available to all of a city residents-especially those who did not have the resources to escape to the countryside. As population shifted to the suburbs after World War II, this vision of parks for all faded. Many cities lost the resources to create new parks. And in the new suburbs, the sprawling landscapes of curving CUL-De-sacs were broken mostly by boxy shopping centers and concrete parking lots. The time has come for Americans to rededicate themselves to the vision of parks for all the nation’s people. As the action’s leading conservation group creating parks in and around cities, the Trust for Public Land (TIP) has launched its Parks for People initiative in the belief that every American child should enjoy convenient access to a nearby park or playground. This white paper outlines how desperate the need is for city parks-especially in inner-city neighborhoods. And it goes on to describe the social, environmental, economic, and health benefits parks bring to a city and its people. TIP hopes this paper will generate discussion about the need for parks, prompt new research on the benefits f parks to cities, and serve as a reference for government leaders and volunteers as they make the case that parks are essential to the health and well-being of all Americans. You will find more information about the need for city parks and their benefits in the Parks for People section of Tap’s Web site (www. Tip. Org/poor) where you can also sign-up for Parks for People information and support Tap’s Parks for People work. TIP is proud to be highlighting the need for parks in America’s cities. Thanks for Joining our effort to ensure a park within reach of every American home. Will Rogers President, the Trust for Public Land City parks and open space improve our physical and psychological health, strengthen our communities, and make our cities and neighborhoods more attractive places to live and work. But too few Americans are able to enjoy these benefits. Eighty percent of Americans live in metropolitan areas, and many of these areas are severely lacking in park space. Only 30 percent of Los Angles residents live within walking distance mile. Low-income neighborhoods populated by minorities and recent immigrants are especially short of park space. From an equity standpoint, there is a strong need to redress this imbalance. In Los Angles, white neighborhoods enjoy 31. 8 acres of park space for every 1,000 people, compared with 1. 7 acres in African-American neighborhoods and 0. 6 acres in Latino neighborhoods. This inequitable distribution of park space harms the residents of these communities and creates substantial costs for the nation as a whole. U. S. Voters have repeatedly shown their willingness to raise their own taxes to pay for new or improved parks. In 2002, 189 conservation funding measures appeared on ballots in 28 states. Voters approved three-quarters of these, generating $10 billion in conservation-related funding. Many of the nation’s great city parks were built in the second half of the 19th century. Urban planners believed the parks would improve public health, relieve the stresses of urban life, and create a demonstrating public space where rich and poor would mix on equal terms. By the mid-20th century, city parks fell into decline as people fled inner cities for the suburbs. The suburbs fared no better, as people believed that backyards would meet the requirement for public open space. Over the past couple of decades, interest in city parks has revived. Governments and civic groups around the country have revalidated run-down city parks, built greengages along rivers, converted abandoned railroad lines to trails, and planted community gardens in vacant lots. But with the current economic downturn, states and cities facing severe budget crises are slashing their park spending, threatening the health of existing parks, and curtailing the creation of new parks. Strong evidence shows that when people have access to parks, they exercise more. Regular physical activity as been shown to increase health and reduce the risk of a wide range of diseases, including heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer, and diabetes. Physical activity also relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety, improves mood, and enhances psychological well-being. Beyond the benefits of exercise, a growing body of research shows that contact with the natural world improves physical and psychological health. Despite the importance of exercise, only 25 percent of American adults engage in the recommended levels of physical activity, and 29 percent engage in no leisure-time physical activity. The sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet of Americans have produced an epidemic of obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called for the creation of more parks and playgrounds to help fight this epidemic. Numerous studies have shown that parks and open space increase the value of neighboring residential property. Growing evidence points to a similar benefit on commercial property value. The availability of park and recreation facilities is an important quality-of-life factor for corporations choosing where to locate facilities and for well-educated individuals choosing a place to live. City parks such as San Notation’s Riverview Park often become important tourism draws, contributing heavily Green space in urban areas provides substantial environmental benefits. Trees reduce air pollution and water pollution, they help keep cities cooler, and they are a more effective and less expensive way to manage stemware runoff than building systems of concrete sewers and drainage ditches. City parks also produce important social and community development benefits. They make inner-city neighborhoods more livable; they offer recreational opportunities for at-risk youth, low-income children, and low-income families; and they provide places n low-income neighborhoods where people can feel a sense of community. Access to public parks and recreational facilities has been strongly linked to reductions in crime and in particular to reduced Juvenile delinquency. Community gardens increase residents’ sense of community ownership and stewardship, provide a focus for neighborhood activities, expose inner-city youth to nature, connect people from diverse cultures, reduce crime by cleaning up vacant lots, and build community leaders. In light of these benefits, the Trust for Public Land calls for a revival of the city parks movement of the late 19th century. We invite all Americans to Join the effort to bring parks, open spaces, and greengages into the nation’s neighborhoods where everyone can benefit from them. 7 The residents of many U. S. Cities lack adequate access to parks and open space near their homes. In 2000, 80 percent of Americans were living in metropolitan areas, up from 48 percent in 1940. 1 The park space in many of these metropolitan areas is grossly inadequate. In Atlanta, for example, parkland covers only 3. 8 percent of the city area. Atlanta has no public green space larger than one-third of a square mile. 2 The city has only 7. Acres of park space for every 1,000 residents, compared with a 19. 1 acre average for other medium-low population density cities. 3 The story is much the same in Los Angles, San Jose, New Orleans, and Dallas. Even in cities that have substantial park space as a whole, the residents of many neighborhoods lack access to nearby parks. In New York City, for example, nearly half of the city 59 community board districts have less than 1. 5 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. Low-Income Neighborhoods Are Desperately Short of Park Space Low-income neighborhoods populated by minorities and recent immigrants are especially short f park space. Minorities and the poor have historically been shunted off to live on the wrong side of the tracks, in paved-over, industrialized areas with few public amenities. From an equity standpoint, there is a strong need to redress this imbalance. In Los Angles, white neighborhoods (where whites make up 75 percent or more of the residents) boast 31. 8 acres of park space for every 1,000 people, compared with 1. 7 acres in African-American neighborhoods and 0. Acres in Latino neighborhoods. 5 This inequitable distribution of park space harms the residents of are costs alone are potentially enormous. Lacking places for recreation, minorities and low-income individuals are significantly less likely than whites and high-income individuals to engage in the regular physical activity that is crucial to good health. Among non-Hipic white adults in the United States, 34. 9 percent engage in regular leisure-time physical activity, compared with only 25. 4 percent of non- Hipic black adults and 22. 7 percent of Hipic adults. And adults with incomes below the poverty level are three times as likely as high-income adults to never be physically active. Even where the government or voters have allocated new money for park acquisition, there is significant risk that wealthier and better-organized districts will grab more than their fair share. The Los Angles neighborhood of South Central-with the city second-highest prove- The Trust for Public Land TTY rate, highest share of children, and lowest access to nearby park space-received only about half as much per-child parks funding as affluent West Los Angles from Proposition K between 1998 and 2000. Case Study: New Parks for Los Angles With 28,000 people crammed into its one square mile of low-rise buildings, the city f Manhood in Los Angles County is the most densely populated U. S. City outside the New York City metropolitan area. 10 Its residents-96 percent are Hipic and 37 percent are children-are often packed five to a bedroom, with entire families living in garages and beds being used on a time-share basis. The Trust for Public Land (TIP) has been working in Manhood since 1996 to purchase, assemble, and convert six separate former industrial sites into a seven-acre riverside park. The project will double Manhood’s park space. 11 Before TIP began its work, the future park site was occupied by abandoned arouses and industrial buildings, covered in garbage, graffiti, rusted metal, and barrels of industrial waste. Until the late asses, the parcels contained a glue factory, a transfer facility for solvents, and a truck service facility; one parcel was designated an Environmental Protection Agency Superfine site. 12 TIP is preparing to acquire the final parcel and has developed preliminary designs for the site. The completed park will invite Manhood’s residents to gather at its picnic benches, stroll its walking trails, relax on its lawns, and play with their children in its tot lot. The Manhood project is a precursor of Tap’s Parks for People-Los Angles program, an ambitious new effort to create parks where they are most desperately needed. The case for more parks in Los Angles is among the most compelling of any American city today. Only 30 percent of its residents live within a quarter mile of a park, compared with between 80 percent and 90 percent in Boston and New York, respectively. 3 If these residents are Latino, African American, or Asian Pacific, they have even less access to green space. TIP has set a goal of creating 25 new open space projects in Los Angles over the would be invested in undeserved minority communities. To accomplish this goal, TIP will help these communities through the gauntlets of public and private fundraising, real estate transactions, strategic planning, and stewardship issues. Los Angles is also the site of Tap’s first application of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to assess the need for parks. TIP launched the GIS program in late 2001 in Los 9 O The Trust for Public Land Angles and has since expanded the program to New York, Lass Vegas, Boston, Charlotte, Miami, and Camden and Newark, New Jersey. Tap’s GIS system uses census, anemographic and other data to map out areas of high population, concentrated poverty, and lack of access to park space. With GIS technology, TIP can now pinpoint the areas of fastest population growth, study landownership patterns, and acquire key parcels before development demand drives up property prices or destroys open space. Further, GIS helps TIP create contiguous park space, protecting natural habitats and connecting larger parks with linear greengages, rather than create a patchwork quilt of open space. 14 Voters have repeatedly shown their willingness to raise their own taxes to pay for new or improved parks. In the November 2002 elections, voters in 93 communities in 22 states approved ballot measures that committed $2. 9 billion to acquire and restore land for parks and open space. Voters approved 85 percent of such referendums in these elections. 1 5 Voter support in 2002 increased from the already strong 75 percent approval rate for similar measures in November 2001. 16 History of America’s City Parks: Inspiration, Abandonment, Revival During the second half of the 19th century, American cities built grand city parks to improve their residents’ quality of life. Dubbed 19th-century pleasure grounds by ark historians, the parks include New Work’s Central Park and San Franciscans Golden Gate Park. Municipal officials of the time saw these parks as a refuge from the crowded, polluted, stressful cities-places where citizens could experience fresh air, sunshine, and the spiritually transforming power of nature; a place for recreation; and a demonstrating public space where rich and poor would mix on equal terms. The new parks were inspired by “an anti-urban ideal that dwelt on the traditional prescription for relief from the evils of the city-to escape to the country,” Galen Crane writes. The new American parks thus were conceived as great pleasure grounds meant to be pieces of the country, with fresh air, meadows, lakes, and sunshine right in the city. ” 17 The Decline of City Parks spending on city parks declined. The well-to-do and white abandoned the cities for the suburbs, taking public funding with them. Cities and their parks fell into a spiral of decay. Cities cut park maintenance funds, parks deteriorated, and crime rose; many city dwellers came to view places like Central Park as too dangerous to visit. 18 The suburbs that mushroomed at the edges of major cities were often built with little public park space. For residents of these areas, a trip out of the house means a drive to the shopping mall. Beginning around 1990, many city and town councils began forcing developers to add open space to their projects. Still, these open spaces are often effectively off-limits to the general public; in the vast sprawl around Lass Vegas, for example, the newer subdivisions often have open space at their centers, but these spaces are hidden inside a labyrinth of winding streets. Residents of older, low- and middle-income neighborhoods have to get in their cars (if they have one) and drive to find recreation space. 9 More recently, city parks have experienced something of a renaissance which has benefited cities unequally. The trend began in the asses and flourished in the asses as part of a general renewal of urban areas funded by a strong economy. It coincided with a philosophical shift in urban planning away from designing around the automobile and a backlash against the alienating modernism of mid-20th-century public architecture, in favor of public spaces that welcome and engage the community in general and the pedestrian in particular. Government authorities, civic groups, and private agencies around the country have worked together to revivalist UN-down city parks, build greengages along formerly polluted rivers, convert abandoned railroad lines to trails, and plant community gardens in vacant lots. The Park at Post Office Square in Boston shows how even a small but well-designed open space can transform its surroundings. Before work on the park began in the late asses, the square was filled by an exceptionally ugly concrete parking garage, blighting an important part of the financial district. Many buildings on the square shifted their entrances and addresses to other streets not facing the square. 20 Completed in 1992, the 1. -acre park is considered one of the most beautiful city parks in the United States. Its immaculate landscaping-with 125 species of plants, flowers, bushes, and trees-its half-acre lawn, its fountains, and its teak and granite benches lure throngs of workers during lunchtime on warm days. Hidden underneath is a seven-floor parking garage for 1,400 cars, which provides financial support for the park. 21 “It clearly, without any question, has enhanced and changed the entire neighborhood,” says Serge Denis, managing director of Lee Meridian Hotel Boston, which borders the park. “It’s absolutely gorgeous. Not surprisingly, rooms 11 Yet despite such success stories, local communities often lack the transactional and development skills to effectively acquire property and convert it into park space. TIP serves a vital role in this capacity, working closely with local governments and community residents to determine where parks are needed; to help develop funding strategies; to negotiate and acquire property; to plan the park and develop it; and finally, to turn it over to the public. Between 1971 and 2002, the Trust for Public Land’s work in cities resulted in the acquisition of 532 properties totaling 40,754 cress. In the nation’s 50 largest cities TIP acquired 138 properties totaling 7,640 acres. 3 In the wake of the bursting of the economic bubble of the late asses, states and cities facing severe budget crises are slashing their park spending. With a projected $2. 4 billion budget shortfall in the two-year period beginning July 2003, Minnesota has cut its aid to local governments, hurting city park systems across the state. The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, confronting a 20 percent cut in its funding through 2004, has been forced to respond by deferring maintenance, closing wading lolls and beaches, providing fewer portable toilets, and reducing its mounted police patrol program. The required program cuts “represent a huge loss to the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board and to the children of Minneapolis,” says Park Board Superintendent Mary Merrill Anderson. 24 When Georgians state legislature went into session in January 2003, lawmakers found themselves grappling with a $650 million budget shortfall. Part of their response was to eliminate the planned $30 million in fiscal 2003 funding for the Georgia Community Greengages Program, after appropriating $30 million per fiscal year in 001 and 2002. The legislature also cut the 2004 budget from $30 million to $10 million. The program helps the state’s fastest-growing counties set aside adequate green space-at least 20 percent of their land-amid all the new subdivisions and strip malls. Most of the affected counties are around Atlanta, among the nation’s worst examples of urban sprawl. For legislators hunting for budget-cutting targets, Georgians $30 million Community Greengages Program “was like a buffalo in the middle of a group of chickens,” says David Swan, program director for Tap’s Atlanta office. The cut “makes a compelling argument that we need a dedicated funding source, so that green space acquisition isn’t depending on fiscal cycles and the legislature. “25 The federal government has also cut its city parks spending. In 1978, the federal government established the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery (PARR) program to help urban areas rehabilitate their recreational facilities. The program received no funding in fiscal year 2003, down from $28. 9 million in both 2001 and 2002. 26 President Bush’s budget proposal for fiscal 2004 also allocates no PARR funding.

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