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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.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Revisiting Trust for Public Land's Park Score® methodology

Trust for Public Land is a great organization, focused on the expansion of public lands, with a particular initiative on urban parks. 

Like how the National Trust for Historic Preservation every year releases a list of "the most threatened historic properties," TPL has created a community parks quality measurement system called the ParkScore® index and every year they release a press release on the top 100 scores from the previous year.

While the 2017 data doesn't seem to have been released quite yet, it has been reported ("Parks & Strong Communities—San Francisco Tops Cities List," Non Profit Quarterly) that this year, San Francisco is number one.

According to last year's data ("The Trust for Public Land Releases 2016 ParkScore® Index, Rating Park Systems in the 100 Largest U.S. Cities) DC is #3.

I am a critic (e.g., "How surveys based on gross data can be very misleading: DC and parks," 2015) because every year, DC is ranked in the top five, even though we significantly lag other communities in terms of providing a wide range of parks, open space, recreation, and programming activities meeting the needs of all of the city's demographics.

For years DC's parks planning functions were significantly lacking, although in recent years a quite good parks planning action framework has been developed, called the PlayDC Master Plan. (They call it a master plan but I don't think it quite rises to that level.)

And there has been a great deal of successful investment in rehabilitating playgrounds and recreation centers across the city with an occasional hiccup.

The problem with the TPL methodology is that it counts space/acreage, but doesn't indicate who controls the space, how it's programmed, and the quality of the programming.

In DC, almost 90% of the park and open space resources provided are controlled by the National Park Service, and they are not set up to manage and program parks that are predominately locally-serving.

Yes, we have parks, open spaces, and monuments that are decidedly federal/national in the orientation, primarily the National Mall and Monuments system and the parks along the Potomac River.

But NPS runs three other parks systems that aren't really federal: Rock Creek Park--although it was the first national park so designated, it is primarily locally-serving; the Fort Circle Parks system of Civil War forts--technically a part of the Rock Creek Park system, but spread across the city, and arguably all are locally-serving with the exception of Fort Stevens, which because President Lincoln was there during a battle, has special historical significance, and the Anacostia Park system along the Anacostia River.

Plus, NPS manages a wide variety of circles and other reservations left over from when the city was managed by the federal government, downtown parks like Franklin Park, Farragut Square, and McPherson Square, and parks/circles across the city including Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, Grant Circle, Washington Circle, Sherman Circle, etc.

In about creating "local" parks master plans, the situation of DC has caused me to realize that parks plans need to provide:

(1) a complete inventory of all the spaces within their jurisdiction, distinguishing between city/county, regional, state, and federal properties;

2) guidance concerning space not controlled by the locality because otherwise local resident concerns are not likely to be adequately represented by the other entities; and

(3) contingency/scenario/risk management outlines for non-city/county parks assets so that the community can be proactive in the face of exogenous changes to circumstances such as budget cuts and parks closures by state parks systems or federal budget shutdowns which end up in the temporary closure of national parks, which tend to be significant assets in local economies.

When "DC's" park and open space assets are categorized by ownership, less than 20% of the city's park and recreation assets are under the control of the Department of Parks and Recreation or related entities (e.g., the land under parks like Canal Park or Yards Park are controlled by the city but the parks are managed and operated by non-city entities).

Compared to other city and county parks and recreation departments, the programming offered by DC DPR is minimal, etc.

Therefore, DC's parks, open space, and recreation assets fail to add up to a city rated third for the quality of its park and recreation system.

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From the 2015 blog entry:

Questions that should be considered when ranking cities and the quality of their parks offerings include:

(1) breadth and quality of facilities including a mix of active and passive spaces
(2) access and equitable provision of resources
(3) whether or not there is an approved parks master plan
(4) breadth and quality of programming and special events
(5) the policies and practices for developing and operating new parks spaces (public vs. private management)
(6) level of planning and operational coordination with other parks entities within the jurisdiction
(7) (level of) innovation
(8) The presence of an integrated system of paths and greenways (and restoring park and boulevard spaces in streets) -- treating streets as linear parks
(9) capacity building efforts that also strengthen civil society

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