Open space is a key contributor to quality of life. To ensure that cities remain economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable, it is imperative that high quality open space is available for both current and new residents. But how do we know how much open space our cities need?
Miami, FL is struggling with this question as its downtown revitalizes. One idea is to use public land, a resource the government has the most control over. New, more accessible tools, like the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore which ranks communities based on acreage, service and investment, and access, are making it easier for communities to evaluate their current conditions. Thankfully, there is dynamic new thinking about how parks and open space can sustain and grow a community’s quality of life.
During the Columbia Pike Land Use and Housing Study planning process, the sub-consultant AECOM explained how parks and open space thinking has evolved to a Collaborative Parks System. The emphasis of these systems is on livability and sustainability, responding to current issues, and aggressively partnering with others to meet community needs. This emphasis is derived from a number of guiding principles; namely, that the Collaborative Park System is green and energy efficient, generates economic benefits, activated 24/7, context sensitive, connected, promotes healthy lifestyles, flexible, reaches out to the community, integrated into the community’s infrastructure, protects and enhances natural and cultural resources, maximizes use of all available resources, and transcends silos. This emphasis and these myriad principles set the framework for open space planning today and clearly require a wide range of spaces, programs, and facilities.
One of the challenges of this type of planning is that there are so many different types of parks and open spaces – public parks, private/amenity areas, civic spaces, natural areas, and trails/roadways, just to name a few. To categorize and evaluate all these types of spaces, level of service (LOS) analysis, like what has long been used in assessing transportation investments, is fast becoming the norm, especially in places like the state of Washington. A parks and open space LOS looks at acreage, facilities, access, quality, and programs with the understanding that all of these elements are necessary but not sufficient. To start, many communities are establishing acreage-to-resident ratio standards as well as accessibility standards for public parks and recreation facilities. A quantitative assessment of the amount and types of open space based on changing population densities, complemented by qualitative and anecdotal evidence, can bring a more nuanced understanding of how to sustain and increase a community’s quality of life.