Public parks are an essential component to a healthy and thriving city. Parks offer opportunities for fitness, relaxation and community building, giving children a place to play and adults a place to stay active. They incorporate green spaces, playgrounds, multi use trails, and open areas for sports and recreation to give city residents the chance to enjoy their natural surroundings.
Why Parks Are Important in City Planning
If you are involved in urban design and planning – as a public official, landscape architect or civil engineer – you know the importance of having green space in a city. When city parks are successful, they offer a clear return on investment, including:
Promoting public health
Boosting tourism and property value
Rejuvenating local economies
Creating more energy-efficient spaces
Connecting neighbors to each other
Exposing residents to nature
Unfortunately, not every neighborhood has safe, green spaces for residents to enjoy. The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit organization that works to conserve land for parks, gardens and other natural areas, reports that there is just 1 park for every 14,000 Americans. In neighborhoods that lack parks, children either play in streets and empty lots or stay inside and engage in more sedentary activities, increasing their risk for health problems such as obesity and diabetes.
How to Evaluate City Parks
The Trust for Public Land developed ParkScore as a system to analyze a city’s current access to parks and green space. ParkScore evaluates factors including acreage, playgrounds, recreational facilities, spending per resident and park accessibility within a 10-minute walk. Cities can earn a maximum score of 100. Of the 50 largest US cities, Minneapolis has the highest score at 81.0 and Fresno has the lowest at 27.5.
The Trust for Public Land also outlines these seven factors of excellence for city parks:
1. A clear expression of purpose
2. An ongoing planning and community involvement process
3. Sufficient assets in land, staffing, and equipment to meet the system’s goals
4. Equitable access
5. User satisfaction
6. Safety from crime and physical hazards
7. Benefits for the city beyond the boundaries of the parks
How can you use this information to enhance the green spaces in your city?
5 Tips for Improving Your City Parks
1. Use ParkScore and the seven factors of excellence as metrics.
Make it a priority to build sustainable and thriving neighborhood parks in your city. Examine your ParkScore and compare your city with others around the country. Learn from best practices and case studies, then set your own city planning goals.
2. Identify the needs of your community.
What do the people in your city – both children and adults – want in a neighborhood park? Do kids want a wide field for soccer, football and Frisbee? Would adults like long running and walking paths that are safe to use in all seasons? Survey stakeholders in your community to find out what they would use most, and explore what construction materials and other resources you would need to meet these goals.
3. Locate underserved areas to find where neighborhood parks are most needed.
Which areas in your city aren’t within a 10-minute walk from a park? Consider how strategic city planning could resolve this problem.
4. Explore creative ideas to use your city’s available space.
Even highly developed cities can use innovative urban design to develop more green spaces. Look at vacant factories, shipyards, empty lots, rail depots and other spaces not in use to see if they could be converted into city parks.
5. Invest in long-lasting, durable and cost-effective construction materials.
Maintenance costs add up over time, so it’s important to build parks with a long-term strategic plan in mind. What construction materials will be a smart investment over the years? Which materials will stand the test of time and still work well decades from now? Elevated greenways, multi use trails, pedestrian bridges and other boardwalks built with PermaTrak’s precast concrete require no maintenance and are easy to install, durable, and design-flexible, making them a perfect fit for city parks.