Mar 4, 2020 - Economy & Business

Parks are newly viewed as a vital puzzle piece in urban infrastructure

Liberty Playground, funded in part by Liberty Mutual Insurance, is a universally accessible playground in Plano, Texas. Photo: Cooper Neill/Getty Images for Liberty Mutual Insurance

Parks are becoming part of a city's infrastructure to provide environmental, social and economic roles in addition to recreation.

The big picture: After decades of a lack of investment in parks, planners are reimagining how they can use spaces that were previously unattractive.

What's happening: Sharing the cost across utilities, health and housing programs, and economic development initiatives has made it easier to pay for parks with multiple funding sources.

The parks serve several purposes: Playgrounds for recreation, linear parks for pedestrian and cycling routes, reservoirs for stormwater management, or central squares for pop-up fairs and gatherings.

  • In Houston, voters approved a $100 million bond effort to transform 3,000 acres of land along nine bayous into a vast network of parks and trails.
  • In Philadelphia, The Oval in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a parking lot during the winter, but in warmer weather becomes a place for family activities. It's slated to be a permanent park.
  • San Francisco installed a playground at the foot of City Hall to revive the neglected Civic Center Plaza.
  • Providence, Rhode Island, turned a former brownfield site into a park with a bicycle pump track, trails and a parkour course. Its rain gardens reduce flooding.

What they're saying:

"Cities are doing this to remain economically competitive to attract families and young workers who eventually create their own families. But they're also making sure they're creating opportunities for existing residents who have weathered the storms of disinvestment."
— Catherine Nagel, CEO of City Parks Alliance

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Parks pose major problem for cities battling coronavirus

A couple riding a bike and scooter wearing protective masks in Central Park. Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Closed businesses, home offices and schools amid the coronavirus pandemic has translated into an influx of outdoor recreation in parks, despite states' advice for people to stay home.

Why it matters: So many people are visiting city parks to escape the stuck-at-home monotony that the public spaces have become crowded. Some people are exercising in groups or playing contact sports, undermining social distancing recommendations.

Go deeperArrowMar 27, 2020 - Health

How to make cities better for kids

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Many of America's cities are gaining population, but the number of school-aged children is dwindling as families opt for the suburbs.

Why it matters: A growing body of research shows the strong link between the environment where kids grow up and their ability to thrive as adults. Yet the gap between the haves and have-nots is becoming more pronounced in city centers, driving middle-class families out.

Why city planners are killing the cul-de-sac

A cul-de-sac ends among pads for new home construction left dormant in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images.

The cul-de-sac has been a staple of urban development — and families' real estate wish lists — for the last 50 years. Now some cities are banning them from new developments.

Why it matters: Street-network sprawl determines a city's energy footprint.