Strong Towns Week: “In an urban neighbourhood it is important … that everyone has a park within a few minutes walk.”

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In New Albany, we’ve opted for the “grand park” approach. Millions in TIF borrowing have produced several mini-Disneys, but not the sort of neighborhood approach being advocated in yet another thoughtful posting at Strong Towns.

GRAND PARKS VS. NEIGHBORHOOD PARKS, by Andrew Price

When we talk about parks in cities, I think it helps if we can classify parks into two types: Grand Parks and Neighbourhood Parks (Like a lot of things, I am making up terminology here, but I feel that it is often relevant to have terms to distinguish between things.) When I am talking about parks, I do not mean greenspace, which is unnecessary filler. You can often tell the difference between a park and greenspace, because somebody loves a park enough, no matter how small it is, to give it a name.

Grand Parks are places like Central Park, Prospect Park, national parks, Chapultepec, etc. They can range from day trip destinations, or sometimes far-flung destinations in other states.

Neighbourhood Parks are 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 …

One significant problem with New Albany’s mini-Disney approach apart from the misuse of TIF is it being predicated on people driving their cars to the parks, while the notion of neighborhood parks supports walking or biking there.

We have relocated to the NYC area, and are now renting a 3 bedroom townhouse in Hoboken, NJ. It’s a very nice family-oriented area, but it is highly urban and virtually the entire city of Hoboken consists of either townhouses or mid-rise apartments. People here either just do not have yard, or it is a tiny communal courtyard.

So, if you have children, or you want to read a book, or lay among the trees, or throw a ball with your dog, you need Neighbourhood Parks. Central Park, as beautiful as it is, is useless for this purpose if you live 50 minutes away – you are not walking there with your book after work everyday.

That is why I think in an urban neighbourhood it is important that if you do not have a private yard that everyone has a park within a few minutes walk.

Even if you have a private yard, Neighbourhood Parks can still serve a purpose. They can be the living room of the community. If I am reading a book or doing work, I find it more relaxing to be among the light flutter of activity found in a public park than to be in absolute solitude. This is probably also why I prefer working from my office, even if I have the ability to telecommute on occasion – it is nice just to be in the presence of others.

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