Parks: A Natural Capital
Urbanization around the world continues to transform our landscapes, with urban areas expanding at twice the rate of their populations.1 A 2012 study estimated developed urban land will increase by 1.2 million square kilometers by 2030, tripling the amount of developed urban land from a 2000 baseline.1 With urbanization increasing, residents are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature. As this trend continues, it is important to not lose sight of the economic, social, and environmental values added by parks and green spaces. Services provided by parks include recreation, education, human health benefits, increase in property values, and environmental services. The presence of green spaces has also been shown to directly reduce mental fatigue, relieve feelings of stress, and have positive effects on mood.2
A new urban landscape confronts urban planners and urban residents in the 21st century. This landscape—the legacy of decades of suburban sprawl linked to racial tensions, poor planning policies, and a cultural desire for home ownership— has left our cities with barren pockmarks of parking lots, vacant buildings, and aging infrastructure. As Baby Boomers reach retirement and Millenials enter the workforce, history’s two largest generations are returning to long-forgotten city centers. As people move back into the city center, planners and developers are racing to reinvent these downtown neighborhoods. In many cities, planners and courageous citizens are integrating park space into redevelopment plans—creating thriving recreational centers for downtown residents. In one of the largest and most audacious projects in the history of the United States, Boston replaced the elevated John F. Fitzgerald Expressway with an intricate series of tunnels. On the vacant area formerly occupied by the highway, a 1.5 mile linear park—the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway—opened in 2008. With the help of Design Trust for Public Space and the Friends of the High Line, New York City opened the High Line Park—the quintessential rails to trails success story—in 2009.
Across the country in Los Angeles, a bold plan to create a continuous 51-mile greenway corridor along the LA River is underway. Just last week, a 2-mile stretch of bikeway opened in the San Fernando Valley. The new bikeway—equipped with concrete paving, bioswales, art, restrooms, lighting, and exercise equipment—joins sections in Long Beach, Downtown, Burbank, and Glendale. The LA River Corp hopes to complete the greenway and return the largely concrete river to parkland by 2020.
The Emerald Necklace
Here in Cleveland, our Cleveland Metroparks have provided an escape from the bustling city for almost a century. First opening in 1917, Alfred Stinchcomb’s dream of creating a chain of parks and connecting boulevards encircling Cleveland and its suburbs has largely come to fruition in 18 reservations spanning over 22,800 acres. A recent study by the Trust for Public Land values the annual benefits of this system at $855 million. As part of its Centennial Plan, the Metroparks is working to link our urban centers and extend park benefits to urban residents through “an accessible, regional greenway and trail network [as well as] transforming the Cleveland Lakefront to an icon of urban vitality, healthy urban ecology, and active outdoor lifestyles.”3 On September 19, 2014, the Cleveland Foundation announced a $5 million grant to the Trust for Public Land for a 1.3-mile trail connecting the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath to Lake Erie. Named the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Trail, the trail connects the Metropark’s Lakefront Reservation to the 85-mile Towpath—providing a pedestrian linkage to the Reservation, which is currently obstructed by live railroads and the heavily industrialized old branch of the Cuyahoga River.
A few stories above the new Centennial Foundation Trail, the Rotary Club of Cleveland is hard at work creating the Red Line Greenway—a 3-mile linear park adjoining the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s Red Line. The trail—Cleveland’s answer to the High Line—would connect the Detroit-Shoreway, Stockyards, Clark-Fulton, Tremont, and Ohio City neighborhoods to Downtown. The trail can serve as a spine for alternative transportation in Cleveland, allowing residents complete and unobstructed pedestrian access from Downtown to the flourishing near-Westside. Together with Bike Cleveland’s Midway Project, these trails help realize Alfred Stinchcomb’s dream of connecting urban residents to green spaces , making Cleveland a model of healthy lifestyle urban living in the 21st century. 4
1 Seto, K. C., Güneralp, B., & Hutyra, L. R. (2012). Global forecasts of urban expansion to 2030 and direct impacts on biodiversity and carbon pools. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211658109
2 Kuo, F. E., Sullivan, W. C., Coley, R. L., & Brunson, L. (1998). Fertile ground for community: Inner-city neighborhood common spaces. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26(6), 823-851.
3 Cleveland Metroparks. Cleveland Metroparks 2020: The Emerald Necklace Centennial Plan.
4 For more on the Midway Project, visit Blurban Living, Issue 4.
-Blurban Living is a series by Jared Robbins, Analyst