Reimagining the Civic Commons

Greater & Greener

Philadelphia's Azalea Garden

By Carol Coletta

Was it a parks conference?  A health conference?  A water conference?  A sustainability conference?  A conference on neighborhood revitalization?  An economic development conference?

Try all of the above.

The Greater & Greener Conference sponsored by City Parks Alliance covered all of these topics and more at its biannual convening in St. Paul.  Over three days in August, parks enthusiasts heard presentations on how parks are creating new value for communities, finding new sources of funding, and working with partners to create better experiences for citizens and to use resources more efficiently.

Major themes of the conference included the following:

Every dollar needs to work harder

Siloed spending is no longer acceptable.  Think:  Water + Parks + Sociability + Health + Clean Air + Economy.  Every dollar needs to produce multiple benefits.  Parks are cheap when you consider the impact they can have on communities.

Water and sewer utilities are joining forces with parks to create exciting new infrastructure

Water and sewer districts are increasingly dependable (and moneyed) partners on parks development.  Copenhagen’s use of green infrastructure to make beautiful places is extraordinary. But these partnerships are not limited to European cities. They are happening all over the U.S.  If they are not happening in your city, you should ask why.

Copenhagen Blue:Green City keynote - Leonardsen


Parks without edges

Think of parks as completely integrated into the city, not isolated from the city.  Under the leadership of Parks Commissioner Mitch Silver, New York is removing or lowering walls around its parks and embracing sidewalks and streets as extensions of its parks.

Parks without edges

The need for equity

How do we contribute to righting past (and current) inequities with park investments?  How do we incorporate simple fairness?  Some cities are using a straightforward formula – how much has been invested in this park over the past 30 years? — to determine how to invest equitably.  Others are using a multi-part formula that evaluates the condition of the public facilities, the state of development in the surrounding neighborhood, and the economic status of the residents in the neighborhood.  Some are adding health status to the formula.  But whatever method you choose to get there, many cities are trying to get to equity.  Equity was a theme echoed throughout conference sessions.

Creating Equitable Cities plenary panel

Value capture

Find ways to capture value produced by parks for the benefit of parks.  The continuum of sources of capital and operating support for parks are:

1. Public Funding (government)

2. Contributed  (philanthropy and sponsorships)

3. Value Capture (economic impact from increased property value, rent increases, property tax, sales tax increases etc.)

4. Earned  (Direct revenues from rents and user fees)

The next Greater & Greener Conference is scheduled to be held in Denver in 2019.

Carol Coletta is a senior fellow with The Kresge Foundation’s American Cities Practice. 


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