Parks aren't just pretty green space where kids can throw a ball, they're the heart of our neighborhoods, gathering places for people young and old, and could even be the site of future revolutions. Here are five reasons to make parks a priority in your town:
1. They are the outdoor living rooms of our towns.
Strong Towns contributor and placemaking professional Gracen Johnson wrote last year about the value of public spaces in our towns and the intention with which we should design them: "Parks, plazas, patios, and streets themselves are all outdoor rooms shaped by the buildings and trees on their perimeter... A cozy outdoor room needs to be framed (“walls” on a couple sides, perhaps a canopy of some sort), comfortable (shaded, not too much exposure), and part of the flow (somewhere you easily end up, not out of the way)." When we design welcoming and beloved parks, the whole community benefits.
2. They can be 24/7 public spaces (if we let them).
"A park should not be just a basketball court for teenagers or just a playground for children or just a pond for ducks — it should serve multiple uses so that it is almost constantly in use," writes Strong Towns Communications Director, Rachel Quednau. "This keeps it safe, purposeful and lively." If your town has spent the money to build and maintain a park, you'll get the most value for your investment if you allow it to be fully utilized. While many municipalities have laws about when a park "closes," Quednau advocates for 24/7 parks that offer "eyes on the street" and safe public space for all.
3. They serve the young...
Parks are, of course, a go-to place for children to run off energy and spend an enjoyable afternoon, but Strong Towns member and urban planner Justin Golbabai also sees the value of parks for fostering independence in children like his young son. He writes, "It may be just his room that he is exploring now, but there’s a whole world out there and we want [our son] to discover it for himself... From parks and bowling alleys to grocery stores and ice cream shops, places within a child’s reach give him a reason to get out and go."
4. And they can serve the old too.
While many parks fail to offer adequate seating, shade and access for seniors, a few small tweaks would make a big difference for the elderly adults in our towns. Emily Matlovich writes, "Ultimately, completing these sorts of adjustments to a park will not only help to meet the social and physical needs of senior citizens but also make the community more desirable as a whole. Seniors will find their neighborhood more accommodating and inviting as a place for physical and social activity." A good park can really benefit residents of all ages.
5. They come in all shapes and sizes.
Your town doesn't need to build Central Park in order to enjoy the benefits of outdoor public space. Strong Towns contributor Andrew Price draws a distinction between Grand Parks and Neighborhood Parks: "Grand Parks are places like Central Park, Prospect Park, national parks, etc. They can range from day trip destinations to far-flung destinations in other states. Neighborhood Parks are the sort of places you expect to find up the street - kids can play there after school, people walk their dog there, you can stroll down there with a book." These classifications should take the pressure off a town that's worried it has to create a magnificent multi-acre garden in order to succeed. A good park just needs to be accessible and offer the basic amenities—trees, benches, maybe a swing or a slide—that the neighborhood desires.
Whether you live in a small town with a tiny slice of greenspace or a big city with a magnificent promenade, a little love and respect for your local park can go a long way. Tell us why parks are important to you in the comments.
(Top photo source)