Underserved cities receive park grants
Twelve underserved city neighborhoods are creating new park space, planning park programs, answering community needs and ensuring ongoing maintenance, thanks largely to the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund.
For five years, beginning in 1987, the fund issued more than $8 million in grants for park improvements in New York City, money that helped support the revitalization of 5,000 woodland acres in the city’s outer boroughs, the opening of the Urban Forest Ecology Center in the Bronx and the restoration of the Harlem Meer in Central Park.
In 1992, the fund’s board of directors voted to launch a national initiative in urban parks and the next year assessed park needs across the country. The fund, also supported work by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a non-profit land conservation organization, is designed to identify opportunities for park creation in mid-sized cities.
Since 1994, a $15.5-million multi-year program, called the Urban Park Initiative, has supported expansion of urban parks through grants to mid- and large-sized cities.
“The aim of our initiative is to increase the quality and quantity of urban parks for public use, particularly in underserved neighborhoods,” says George Grune, chairman of the fund, which invests in the park programs to enhance communities.
“Their creation and maintenance have been neglected in many cities because of the multitude of demands on municipal resources and other factors,” he says.
Currently the only national foundation program dedicated to increasing the quality and quantity of urban parks for public use, the Urban Parks Initiative also has received a $1.5-million grant to establish the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Urban Parks Institute, which will be managed by Project for Public Spaces of New York.
The grant will help implement a series of meetings, regional workshops and national conferences for those participating in the initiative and for other parks professionals and public officials.
In early 1994, the Urban Parks Initiative granted more than $6.5 million to Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Boston; Cleveland; Oakland, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and Providence, R.I. Each city is required to work with a local organization and the TPL to support the design of the parks and meet and respond to the needs of their communities.
An additional $7.5 million in challenge grants was made in March 1995, to nonprofit organizations in Chicago, Houston, New York and San Francisco.
Each recipient will match its grant from other sources. As before, the grants will be shared by a local organization and the TPL, which works to acquire and develop the parks. For example, TPL received $800,000 and collaborated with the Austin Parks Foundation to develop five parks in east and southeast Austin and trails linking the parks. The Foundation will establish a conservation corps at one park site and spearhead a fundraising drive for capital improvement at parks.
In Boston, the TPL and the Boston Natural Areas Fund (BNAF) received $400,300 and $432,823 respectively to develop the 12-mile Neponset River Greenway and links between parks and green spaces in East Boston.
Plans call for the establishment of a youth conservation corps, expansion of environmental education programs and the promotion of the new park space.
Additionally, more than $1 million was designated for restoring 250 acres in 585-acre Prospect Park, located in the most densely populated of New York’s boroughs with the least park land.
More than $1 million was designated for restoring 250 acres of woodlands in the park. The Prospect Park Alliance plans to launch new or expand existing programming, reduce barriers to access and establish a community and youth docent program.
And in San Francisco, $1.6 million is being used to support physical and landscape improvements in the west end of century-old, 1,017-acre Golden Gate Park. Plans call for renovating an orientation center for visitors, launching education and environmental programs and expanding volunteer participation.
The cities had to meet certain criteria, including a demonstrated need for parks in underserved neighborhoods; the availability of funding to help acquire land; evidence of community commitment; and the presence of a strong local partner to help implement development plans.
RAND of Santa Monica, Calif., the world’s largest non-profit policy research institution, is designing a program evaluation to assess the fund’s initiative and its accomplishments. The results will be used to adjust the program as necessary and to share effective strategies with other cities.
Evaluators will spend five years measuring such factors as increases in park acreage, improvements in usership and programming, extent and types of community involvement, levels of public and private funding and implementation of best practices in park development. The process will begin in 1996.