by Charles Flink

Founder, Greenways, Inc.

From Parks As Community Places: Boston, 1997, a publication on the Urban Parks Institute’s annual conference.

Chuck Flink is the founder and owner of Greenways Incorporated, and is recognized as a leading national authority in the planning, design and implementation of greenway and trail systems and facilities. He has worked on greenway projects in 75 communities and 21 states, as well as in Japan and Canada, and is the co-author of Greenways: A Guide to Planning, Design and Development (Island Press, 1993).

Recently greenways have undergone a key change: They are no longer just about recreation, but are built with the multiple objectives of economic development, alternative transportation, floodplain management, air/water quality improvement, habitat restoration, and watershed management. Greenways are a means and an end: in developing one, prepare to be involved in more than design, but also management, habitat restoration, and community organizing and development.

There are certain key elements that help the success of greenways:

Showcase the unique, especially local history and heritage

Taking advantage of unique local features and history creates a sense of place, which is vital to the success of the trail and encouraging stewardship. The West Orange Greenway Trail, in Orange County, Florida, captures the heritage of a unique farming community through signage interpreting the landscape and orange industry activities. The trailheads, called “stations” since they are on an old rail corridor, are reminiscent of local architecture – even using wrap-around porches.

Form follows function

Think about all the activities that will eventually occur on the greenway. For example, trailheads must serve multiple uses, such as providing rest rooms, concessions, maps, and storage facilities for maintenance equipment. Overuse is a common problem; trails treads should be built wider rather than narrower.

Provide for the safety of users

The incidence of criminal activity on greenways is so low that it doesn’t even register on the community police records that track crime. Nonetheless, design them with many access points so people feel they have an exit if any dangerous situation did arise. You can incorporate street addresses and markers so that emergency response people know where the person in need of help can be found.

People focus too much on liability, when in fact, liabilities can be used as assets. For example, a trail along a currently polluted river could be an opportunity to clean the waterway by creating awareness in the community.

Formulate a management plan

Find ways to ease the management burden and improve safety: a park ranger in Greensboro, North Carolina lives in a house directly on the greenway. Distribute the responsibility for routine maintenance to a variety of private, nonprofit and neighborhood groups. Public agencies, feeling less over-burdened, may then be willing to pay for bigger ticket items associated with remedial maintenance.

Stewardship is a key goal

In Atlanta and Denver volunteers often use special trail bikes that contain medical supplies, brooms, a litter bag, etc. to look after the trail. In Orlando, locals volunteer to be part-time ranges, because they like the idea of getting exercise, while at the same time helping their community. Build advance use: stage the planning and design process on site, marking out the trail route with flags, and holding hayrides.

Maximize partnerships

Public-private partnerships are also a way to manage greenways, usually following one of two basic structures, the most common being the “strong-side public” model, where a variety of public agencies may take the lead. Less common, but promising, is the “strong-side private” model, where a 501(c)3 corporation takes the lead but includes public agencies as members of that corporation, either through representation on the board, or contributing money, land or services. The corporation carries out management responsibilities and operations through its own staff or by forming partnerships. Examples include Chicago Openlands, which maintains over 250 partnerships to manage a projected 7000 miles of greenway lands.

Partnerships are also key to funding. People look at funding from the supply-side only, focusing on where to get money. We’ve forgotten that money is a means for buying goods and services – we should ask demand-side questions like, “What am I trying to purchase?” There’s no shortage of money for projects in this country and in communities. If you need lumber, talk to the lumber company; ask the asphalt company to contribute a portion of the asphalt. And by focusing less on cash, you’re expanding the partnerships in your project – building investment and ownership. It comes down to the idea that Jody Kretzmann raised in his keynote: stop looking at the problem side and start looking at the assets we have in the community and how we can use them.

(Photos: Mary Carter Greenway, Denver, Colorado)

Success Story: Louisville, KY
The Butchertown Greenway was twice refused for ISTEA funds. Louisville then approached 25 local partners in two days (banks, lumber companies, the gas and electric company, etc.), all of whom contributed something in kind. Most contributors were sold by the idea of participating in a great community project; others were attracted to the positive media exposure. A trust fund is being set up with a local bank to help pay for management and an endowment will be funded by benefactors, events, and creative financing facilitated by the bank. The public works department was asked to sweep and mow the greenway for a short period of time until a management program can be worked out.


Success Story: Greensboro, NC
In Greensboro we decided that we had to turn the greenway into a real-estate investment project, and built six new affordable homes along the trail. We turned them around so that they faced the greenway, providing a set of eyes in each home. The money realized in the sale of the homes was used in the development of the greenway which is a model for what could be done in other places.

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