Why a Park
Necessity of Parks: Urban planners overwhelming agree that parks are essential to vital city living. They are not mere amenities. In 2006, The Trust For Public Land, a national non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., reviewed more than seventy studies on the effects of urban parks, and published a white paper summarizing the conclusions. An exhaustively documented case, established beyond doubt, that urban parks are necessary to promote the health, safety, and prosperity of our communities. Useable green space within city boundaries provide:
Sense of community
Outdoor meeting areas
Respect for nature
Air Pollution reduction
Water pollution reduction
Historical recognition of necessity of parks in urban planning. Urban planners have long believed that parks improve public health, relieve the stress of urban life, and create a democratizing public space where economic classes mix on equal terms. By the arrival of the 20th century, most Americans still lived close to the land in rural areas. But 19th century visionaries who planned our major cities, found it important to give us Central Park in New York City, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and similar parks across the nation. They realized that they were not just planning streets and buildings in aid to commerce, but were shaping the quality of American lives.
Modern urban density requires additional parkland. A hundred years later, more than 85% of Americans live in cities. The rise in population density makes the addition of accessible and useable green space necessary to sustain the livability of our urban communities.
Sociological studies describe a phenomenon termed “the privatization of life” as withdrawal from the community in order to escape the stress of modern living. It is not only manifested by retreat into residences, but includes flight to the suburbs. This phenomenon is sometimes seen a pathogenic, when people are left with feelings of detachment and a perception of a lacking interdependence with the rest of the world. Serious urban problems have evolved from people suffering chronic anxiety and anger, arising from a sense that something essential is missing from their lives. Part of the void arises from an urban lifestyle which has systematically removed our lives form nature. The urban park relieves some of the stress brought on by an overly developed world dominated by human built elements and human control. While it does not eliminate the dynamic clash of values confronting us: culture versus nature, reason versus emotion, action versus passiveness, it helps provide a balance.
How much parkland and where to locate? The rule of thumb has been that 6.25 to 10 acres of parkland per thousand of population are required. Most State and municipal publications cite a higher ratio. The urban experience makes it difficult for many of us to relish the quality of space. So, the accepted standard is that an urban park should be within a quarter to half a mile walking distance for the public served. Recent urban planning has favored more parkland and closer proximity than provided by large central parks, as witnessed in New York City, whose large parks were once considered adequate. In the 1980’s, New York City created an additional 600 community gardens by reclaiming vacant lots. Today, the City of New York actively solicits on its website the identification of space to be turned into parkland, and seeks ideas for amenities from the community. The immediacy of these small urban green spaces presents an opportunity for people to maintain a connection with each other and with nature. For users, of course, they provide an opportunity for actively employing the ameliorative effects of recreation. But, non-users also benefit from a restorative experience occasioned by the demands of modern living, through the passive experience of viewing nature and the interaction of neighbors. They also provide a familiar place, a mark of identity, and pride for a community. Communities are not strictly joined together for purposes of protection and commerce any more. The neighborhood green spaces in our present day industrialized world are a means to strengthen community bonds, and extend them further to others.
Property values. Numerous studies have shown that parks and opens space increase the value of neighboring residential property. Growing evidence points to a similar effect of nearby parks on commercial property. Access to parks has been strongly linked to reductions in crime, and in particular juvenile delinquency.
Des Moines, a case-study. Des Moines is divided into four political divisions, -- Wards 1, 2, 3 & 4. Each ward contains approximately the same number of people -- 50,000.00, but geographically they are different sizes. Ward I, in which Beaverdale is located, is geographically the smallest ward. As such it has the most dense population in the City, and it is in need of the largest ratio of park land for the population.
Southeast Des Moines (Ward 4) has 496 acres of parkland. This results in a ratio of 10 acres of parkland per 1000 population. Southwest Des Moines (Ward 3) has 1,896 acres of parkland, resulting in a ratio of 38 acres per 1000 population. Northeast Des Moines (Ward 2) has 413 acres of parkland, a ratio of 8 acres of parkland per 1000 population. Our Ward (Ward I) has only 82 acres of parkland, or 2 acres per 1000 population. Focus on those figures for a moment:
Standard……………………………10 acres per 1000
Us ………..………………………..…2 acres per 1000
Ward 2………………………….……8 acres per 1000
Ward 3…………………………..…38 acres per 1000
Ward 4……………………………..10 acres per 1000.
Something is very wrong with this allocation. Incredibly, Des Moines’ Parks Director, Donald Tripp stated before the City Council on March 26, 2007, in support of the Rice Partners, LLC development project for Rice Field: “… there is generally agreed upon a principal of about six to ten acres per thousand population… what I leading you [sic] is the conclusion that we had, that there were areas in the City where more parkland for the neighborhood might be needed in the neighborhood but it is not in this area [Northwest], it is more towards the Southeast and Southwest…” In an attempt to redeem this indefensible statement, Councilman Chris Coleman opined that the figures offered in support of the case that Ward I is park poor failed to take into account cemeteries and the flood plain along the Des Moines River. The National Recreation and Park Association standards and guidelines classifies parks into six categories, none include cemeteries. Park classifications defined by the National Recreation and Park Association note the important ecological resource for a City of such land, but clearly point out that such land does not solve the shortage of safe, amenable, and accessible parks for urban communities.
Characteristics of Rice field. Rice Field as it exists today is what remains after the closure and demolition of Rice Elementary School. Rice School once consisted of a school building, playing field, multi-use courts and equipped playground. It was used as a community focal point. Neighborhood organizations used the building for meetings, and the field was used for community events as well as individual recreation. In point of fact, the school was the reason Beaverdale came into existence. At the turn of the 20th Century, the Iowa Legislature offered funding to communities, which incorporated a school district and operated a school. The residents surrounding the intersection of Urbandale and Beaver Avenues incorporated a school district and named it Beaverdale. The purchase of the site and erection of the school followed. Later the multiple school districts in Des Moines were united into one district. So, Rice Field has always served the neighborhood as an educational asset, urban retreat, recreational resource, and community focal point.
Threat of maldevelopment. As a substantial parcel of undeveloped real estate lying between two commercial districts Rice Field attracted the attention of developers and officials of the City of Des Moines. The prospect of a lucrative development and increased tax revenues prompted a campaign to have the community yield to a change in land use. Rather than approach the community at large with the issue directly, the campaign sought to take advantage of inertia inherent in the body politic. As Councilwoman Christine Hensley remarked: “The sentiment of the neighborhoods has consistently been in opposition to development [of former school sites, but]…they learn to live with it.”
The proposal to change land use policy and develop Rice Field constituted what the sustainable development movement begun in the 1990’s referred to as “maldevelopment.” The term is used to express the violation of the integrity of organic, interconnected, and interdependent systems, that sets in motion a process of exploitation, inequity, and injustice.
The role Rice Field serves to fill a critical shortage of accessible parks in Ward, the historic use of the site as a community focal point and gathering place, its ecological utility and function of preserving a designated residential corridor constitutes the “organic, interconnected and interdependent system” placed at risk by development.
Since 1972, TPL has worked with landowners, community groups, and national, state, and local agencies to complete more than 3,500 land conservation projects in 47 states, protecting 2.5 million acres. Since 1994, TPL has helped states and communities craft and pass over 330 ballot measures, generating almost $25 billion in new conservation-related funding.
Mertes and Hall, PARK, RECREATION OPEN SPACE AND GREENWAY GUIDELINES, Urban Land Institute, 1996; The National Recreation and Park Association 1995.
From the New York Times, published: December 11, 2003 “A Garden of Eden grows in Brooklyn. This one will have its own basketball team. Also, an arena surrounded by office towers; apartment buildings and shops; excellent public transportation; and, above all, a terrific skyline, with six acres of new parkland at its feet. Almost everything the well-equipped urban paradise must have, in fact.”