Magazine article Parks & Recreation

SMART about Parks

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

SMART about Parks

Article excerpt

The smart growth movement comes of age with help from parks.

IN THE PAST DECADE we have come to hear more and more about applying principles of smart growth to urban and community design, that is strategies to reduce our energy consumption, produce multiple transportation options, and make our communities more livable by becoming more pedestrian-friendly. If there is anything that the current recession has taught us about our growth patterns to this point, it is that more often than not, our growth has not been smart when planners and elected officials allowed unbridled sprawl to eat up valuable open space, or to have located schools far away from the neighborhoods where kids could walk or bike to them, or to have created streets and highways that cannot be safely crossed by pedestrians.

But there is one essential component of smart growth that has received little notice until recently, and that is the essential role that parks and high quality public green spaces play in truly smart growth. To be sure, there simply can be no smart growth without high quality parks and public green spaces. So say not just park advocates, but also an increasing number of urban planners, landscape architects, and elected officials.

Jose Alminana, a landscape architect and principal at Andropogon Associates, a design firm in Philadelphia, says, "The capacity of parks to contribute to the green infrastructure in communities is fundamental to the idea of Smart Growth."

John Frece, Director of the Office of Smart Growth for the Environmental Protection Agency, concurs: "EPA has always considered the creation of high quality parks as essential to creation of livable, sustainable communities."

Principles of smart growth have been applied to urban design for the last two decades, but what is new is that more and more communities, and not just urban areas, are incorporating strategies for smart growth into their planning and development decisions.

Making communities more walkable and bikable, providmg a variety of transportation choices, improving access to places for physical activity, providing opportunities to improve individual and community health, and creating a mix of affordable housing choices near schools, shopping, and transit are outcomes that don't just make communities more attractive to businesses and residents. They are also smart strategies for reducing infrastructure costs, improving services to taxpayers and protecting the environment, thus ultimately improving the quality of life in communities that implement them.

Many planners, landscape architects, and designers are coming to view the connection to nature and green space as one of the most important elements of making communities livable and sustainable.

"From a smart growth and sustainable community perspective, parks are a critical component for several reasons," Frece says. "First, they provide an essential oasis in a busy, dense, urban environment. Second, they provide true environmental benefits that are beyond natural beauty. Projects that EPA has assisted in Kentucky, Maine, and Rhode Island have been about improving water quality, managing stormwater, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, addressing the urban heat island effect, and gaining other environmental benefits, many from parks and public lands. Third, the Partnership for Sustainable Communities of EPA, HUD wants to inspire communities to do a better job in planning to achieve sustamability goals. It is logical that parks be an integral part of the next steps to achieve those goals."

At the Heart

One city at the forefront of implementing smart growth strategies is Portland, Oregon. Its award-winning park system is no small part of Portland's success. Parks and Recreation Director Zari Santner is a fervent believer in utilizing parks as core components of smart growth.

"One of the most important parts of smart growth is establishing the green infrastructure of a community which includes parks and public lands," Santner says. …

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