Parks Leaders Convene in New York City:

Delegates from 90 cities join influential conference on urban parks

August 6, 2001 – Over 400 leaders from 90 cities and 10 countries gathered recently in New York (July 28 to 31, 2001) for “Great Parks/Great Cities,” the sixth annual conference of the Urban Parks Institute at Project for Public Spaces. The conference paid tribute to the key role that parks play in revitalizing urban areas, with keynote speeches from Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago and Enrique Penalosa, visiting scholar at New York University and former Mayor of Bogota (more details on those below).

In addition to other mayors and elected officials, some 60 park-systems directors and 55 directors of nonprofit organizations joined the delegation, together with other staff from nonprofits and community leaders. The conference, which was sold out several weeks in advance, is seen as the key arena for debating the future of parts as an essential component of more livable cities. The new Great Parks/Great Cities Awards, to be presented annually, were also inaugurated at the conference, to recognize urban parks that are revitalizing North American cities.

Participants spent the weekend touring parks and other greenspaces in all five boroughs, from the community gardens of the Bronx to Staten Island’s little-known Olmsted parks. Two days of speeches and workshops were based in and around two of New York’s favorite flagship parks: Brookyn’s Prospect Park and Manhattan’s Central Park. And except for a brief shower, the weather performed gloriously for the large number of outdoor workshops and activities.

“The organization exceeded that of most national conventions… the wonderful part was being able to get out and around the city in an intimate way.”

Not only did attendance exceed expectations, but the response from participants was overwhelmingly positive. “I came away with validation of what we are doing, new learnings from others, and ideas that are directly applicable to our [local] situation,” noted one “friends group” president, while the director of a community development agency remarked on “what great ehtusiasm it stirred in all of us.” Another found that “the organization exceeded that of most national conventions… the wonderful part was being able to get out and around the city in an intimate way.”

In “Making Cities More Livable Through Parks,” Enrique Penalosa discussed the radical ideas he implemented as Mayor of Bogota, including “car-free days” and the construction of more than a thousand parks in three years – noting that cities in the developing world cannot afford to follow the same path as American and European cities, which has led to roads choked with traffic and a poor pedestrian environment.

Conference participants were amazed to learn about the spread of obesity throughout the U.S. over the past decade, from Dr. William H. Dietz of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – who made a call for parks and public health agencies to work together on a preventive level to lower the costs of this epidemic, which reaches into the billions of dollars.

On the conference’s closing day, the Hon. Richard M. Daley, Mayor of Chicago, spoke on the “Economic Benefits of Parks” and his success in overhauling the Chicago Park District to make it focus the communities it serves. He also pointed out the new paradigm for urban revitalization: Cities that are desirable places to live are also those that draw development and jobs. Charles Jordan, Director, Parks and Recreation, Portland, Oregon, gave “A Call To Arms,” urging attendees to take on a role as part of a growing movement to create a national agenda for local urban parks. And Tim Tompkins, Campaign Co-manager of New York City’s “Parks 2001″ campaign, made a compelling case for putting parks into the political arena in cities across the U.S.

The speeches mentioned above will be posted on Urban Parks Online in coming weeks, along with materials from some of the workshops at Great Parks/Great Cities. So stay tuned and make use of the information and insights provided by an outstanding and diverse group of park leaders.

The Urban Parks Institute owes thanks the following organizations. Without their help, the 2001 Great Parks/Great Cities conference would not have been possible:

Prospect Park Alliance

Central Park Conservancy

Partnerships for Parks

National Park Service

Audubon Society

Trust for Public Land

 

Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds

… and a host of New York volunteers who showed off their parks and green spaces