Parks Departments Try to Build New Green Spaces on Shrinking Budgets

Even as the role of parks and urban green space in public and ecological health becomes more apparent, city budgets are hard-pressed to meet the costs of park construction and maintenance.

2 minute read

October 17, 2023, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Map showing Mission Boulevard Linear Park in Hayward, California and bubbles highlighting types of trees along park area.

The Mission Boulevard Linear Park in Hayward, California utilized repurposed materials and native plants to reduce costs while creating a new green space for residents. | City of Hayward and Surfacedesign Inc. / Mission Boulevard Linear Park

Writing in Bloomberg CityLab, Patrick Sisson describes the innovative ways some cities have employed to build new public parks under extremely low budgets. In Hayward, California, cost-cutting measures for a mile-long linear park included “using native plants like oleander and scavenging materials from construction waste and other urban cast-offs.”

Yet low budgets don’t reflect the importance of parks as a civic amenity. “The need for more parks and green space access nationwide comes as new research confirms the mental and physical health benefits of outdoor recreation, and climate change brings additional shading and cooling demands. Park equity gaps are especially pronounced in low-income urban as well as rural areas, with neighborhoods that are predominantly people of color and in low-income areas having roughly 40% less access to green space.”

“To quickly add public park space on a tight budget, the Trust for Public Land and others recommend looking for underutilized municipal land. Urban school playgrounds, typically covered in asphalt and fenced off from the community, can be transformed into broadly accessible green spaces and public parks.”

Another option for boosting accessible green space is the concept of privately operated public spaces, or POPS, which mandate the construction of publicly accessible open and green spaces in exchange for exceptions on regulations or development bonuses. But the article notes that in reality, in New York City, such spaces “make up a large fraction of city green space but are often inaccessible or poorly maintained.”

Sisson points out that “As the understanding of just how much value parks add to the urban landscape expands, city officials will need to be more nimble and creative to continue to realize these benefits as budgets become tighter.” For now, park budgets in many parts of the country do not meet the demand for new and improved green spaces.

Thursday, October 5, 2023 in Bloomberg CityLab

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