Community parks are undeniably important to residents who grew up visiting them, and present-day, to growing families in suburban and urban areas.
But many experts throughout the country are noting that they are also the key to a large movement many cities are making for a better future.
According to the National Recreation and Park Association, the redevelopment of parks and open spaces is a catalyst for revitalizing neighborhoods and communities; and this practice is spreading throughout the United States.
The association provides some examples of this with Marvin Gaye Park in Washington, D.C. once known as 'Needle Park' due to rampant drug trafficking in the park. This park is now a popular place for families, children, and the surrounding community.
Another example is Lou Walker Park which was overlooked for being located near a stormwater drainage ditch in Georgia. This space is now known for being a playground site for children who attend a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) program during summer break.
One study by Peter Harnik notes four key points on how cities are able to use parks for community revitalization:
- Parks that serve as central walking, resting, and meeting places can revive failing or threatened commercial areas.
- Renewal takes leadership, vision, and time; with these three ingredients, revitalization tends to attract ever more investment.
- Community residents and the city, working together on a neighborhood park project, can turn around a distressed residential area.
- Parks don’t automatically lead to neighborhood revival; before investing, the city should make sure the relation of a park to its surrounding neighborhood will allow revitalization.
In Central Texas, the City of Waco is prepared to make a $2 million investment in the city's 70 -year-old Lions Park, and this has strong backing from residents. With over 2,000 responses from a 2018 community survey that supported the revitalization effort, amongst other efforts, the project will check off all of the key points noted above.
The City Parks Forum briefing papers by Harnik also list elements to keep in mind when hoping to use a city park for community revitalization, these elements look at physical, political, economic, and contextual factors.
Interested in making this same movement in your Central Texas city? It starts with a call from the community, visit The City Parks Forum for more.