Whether you’re booking it across hot pavement to your next meeting, or commuting through traffic in a stifling car, record highs across the country this summer highlight the critical need for parks as fundamental elements of our cities. An oasis of green space, parks provide havens for young and old alike, and serve as much needed refuge from the heat and stress of everyday life.
The comprehensive list of park benefits creates a compelling story for us to unite behind as their development, maintenance, and revitalization deserve our continued support. While the value of parks for our health, happiness, and sense of community are not new concepts, the breadth of benefits they provide are vast. In addition to the vital gains of providing aesthetically-pleasing community gathering spaces, holistic learning opportunities for childhood engagement, boosts to mental and physical health, and opportunities to promote arts and cultural programs through programming, parks also offer progress on the economic front as well as a host of environmental perks.
Fiscally speaking, parks foster economic development by attracting employers and homebuyers, enhancing property values, and increasing municipal revenue. As environmental stewards, parks not only help clean our air – as an example, trees remove 19 million pounds of pollutants each year in Atlanta, a service that would cost $47 million if done by a company – but they also protect our natural ecosystems, provide a much more efficient and inexpensive method for storm water collection, and reduce the urban heat island effect that is abundant in our sprawling city cores.
So, what does that mean for us going forward?
We must couple our voice for parks with solid and continued funding to ensure future generations enjoy the beauty and health that results from engaging in the outdoors. The Trust for Public Land (TPL) fosters this call to action with their commitment to helping communities “raise funds, conduct research and planning, acquire and protect land, and design and renovate parks, playgrounds, trails and gardens.” This makes the City of Austin’s 2018 Bond, which includes the $149 million Proposition C (Parks and Recreation) and $128 million Proposition B (Libraries, Museums, and Cultural Arts Facilities), all the more noteworthy and relevant. While TPL’s 2018 City Park Facts reports that public park agency spending is up from $7.1 billion in 2017 to $7.5 billion this year, the movement is slow and park agencies are at great risk for budget cuts during times of fiscal crisis. And publicly-funded bond initiatives are not the only way to take good financial care of these community assets. Many cities have discovered that public/private partnerships can be instrumental in the development and preservation of our beloved parks, trails, and recreational areas. Successful partnerships between cities and philanthropic private foundations are evident across the country:
• Under contract with the City of New York, the private, not-for-profit Central Park Conservancy provides 75% of Central Park’s $79 million annual operating budget, and is responsible for all aspects of continued park maintenance, capital improvements, and beautification of this iconic landmark.
• Celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year, Discovery Green is a 12-acre park in the heart of downtown Houston that is a true testament to environmental best practices, earning LEED Gold and Corporate Lands for Learning (CLL) certifications. The park “exemplifies a successful public-private partnership between the City of Houston, the Houston First Corporation, and Discovery Green Conservancy, the nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that operates and maintains the park.”
• To assist the City of Phoenix, the Phoenix Parks Foundation “takes a hands-on approach to park improvement through initiatives that bring together the resources needed to create and sustain change in parks that are overused and underfunded.” Just a sampling of the successful results include the Arcadia, Moon Valley, and Encanto parks. And Tempe’s “Adopt-a-Park” program gives neighbors, community members, and businesses a chance to take an active role in maintaining and enhancing their local parks and recreation areas.
• The Austin Parks Foundation continually partners with the City of Austin and community to “ensure the future of Austin’s parks, trails, and green spaces” by providing “resources, programming, and funding.” Through a recent collaboration between the Austin Parks Foundation, Downtown Austin Alliance, and City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Republic Square Park reopened as a revitalized historic park in downtown. Named 2018’s Best Public Place by the Austin District Council of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), Republic Park offers a much-needed and welcoming green space for community events, free movie showings, fitness classes, and farmers markets, just to name a few.
As the dog days of summer draw to a close, the looming fall air beckons us all to get outside: take a walk on a trail, read emails from a park-side bench, watch your kids play on the soccer fields. The opportunities and resulting benefits our communities reap from parks are self-evident. But for our parks and trail systems to thrive, the Need for Green requires attention, advocacy, and collaborative funding. If we’re willing to invest, however, the result will be a sustainable legacy we can handover to generations to come.