Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pocket Parks

So last week I presented my first major project of graduate school, a report on an underutilized pocket park in Hopkins, MN. Our group analyzed the relationship of parks to neighborhood revitalization and how redesigning this park could create a regional attraction out of the low quality existing park. All of the work I did on this project has got me thinking about the way people perceive parks in their neighborhoods.

Parks hold a special place in the heart of many urban dwellers. They often provide the closest place to experience the natural world. They are the social and cultural heart of many communities and even entire cities (Forest Park-St. Louis, Central Park-NYC). And they appeal to every age, ethnicity and income level. I have many gripes about St. Louis and the way the city is run (incompetently), but I love their parks. I've had the chance to live right next to both of the largest two, Forest and Tower Grove, and loved every chance I had to use them for running, biking, soccer, frisbee or playing with my dogs. My favorite part of the St. Louis parks is how much the city treasures them as well. If the weather is nice, every single use you can think of for a park will be going on across the city. From kickball leagues to cookouts and birthday parties. People use these parks every day and do a pretty impressive job of sharing them peacefully.

I grew up in rural Indiana, out in the middle of nowhere. We couldn't even see our neighbors and our house had ravines and woods on 3 sides. As a result, I spent much of my childhood playing outdoors in the woods, as well as camping, canoeing, hiking and digging in the dirt of our garden. When I told my parents I had gotten into and was going to be attending a graduate program for urban planning they both, especially my mom, found it very ironic (just to clarify, they were very supportive and happy for me as well), that this country boy was going to plan cities. I mention all this because I just read an article by Richard Louv for the Children and Nature Network on neighborhood "button parks," and after having done my work on the Hopkins pocket park project for school I found his points very relevant to my priorities for how I approach my future work. Its helping me realize how important to me my upbringing surrounded by nature is to the way I envision a well-planned world. Every child should have access to open greenspace and know what growing vegetables look like. I'm not just talking about parks, but tree-lined streets, schools with gardens and plants other than decorative flowers growing around public buildings.

1 comment:

  1. Linden!
    Thanks for sharing the knowledge and spirity of the cademic world to those if us stuck in the 9 to 5. I'd love to check out a write up of what your team out together if they're not to shy.

    I too have strong feelings about parks. From pocket to parthenonymous (too much of a stretch just for aliteration?) I think the greenspace, the urban break, the options/free for all, social networking site(
    (non facebook) that they provide are invaluable.

    But parks a very troubled asset throughout our mid size cities. Think about st. Louis' history with parks. Forest park was practically quarentined through the 80s and 90s for it's high violent crime rate. Fairgrounds park today still has police trouble due to shootings that arise over turf on cruising day (the church alternative).

    Unfortunately what we love so much about parks makes them indefensible. Ivory Perry park, a not so little pocket park in the wellston area is the namesake of the little boy that was eaten by a wild pack of dogs in out lovely st louis 20-30 years ago. It is the model of urban block green break that we laud, surrounded by family residential, but the mothers who were using it as hoped for, to let there kids roam, were subject to one of the most unfortunate thefts possible. This led to a downward spiral for the park (and neighborhood) as the park went into light conditions.

    Ivory Perry park is a much different place now
    (I can sort if see it in the photo you posted above). But its success is due to community reinvestment and support, not just its existence. The neighborhood now throws an annual summer concert series - like so many st louis parks and that's really the only time you find people there. It's led me to a theory about public parks - and spaces - and their role in development that's based around social capital and the investment of social capital that is more amorphous and harder to achieve than just designation placement and funding. Parks can unfortunately be a huge burden when unattended.

    Please continue the conversation. Let me know what you and group found. I think we have more to talk about than we ever knew buddy.