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Throughout the United States partnership opportunities between parks and water resource managers are being pursued as avenues for reducing stormwater costs and expanding park systems. In particular, the drive to daylight and restore covered streams is being embraced to serve the triple bottom line.

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  • Established in fall 2000 by a nationwide group of urban parks administrators and advocates. We are an outgrowth of the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund’s Urban Parks Initiative in the 1990s
  • Our vision: Everyone in urban America will live within walking distance of a park that is clean, safe and vibrant.
  • Our network includes more than 200 public park agencies, non-profit park organizations, foundations, corporations and design professionals, municipal agencies, national groups. We’d love to add your logo to this list!
  • Our work centers on two key areas: advocacy in Washington and community capacity building through webinars, tours, conferences and other convenings.
  • We are particularly interested in new governance models, not only between the public and private sectors but across public sectors.
  • We look at parks as Critical Urban InfrastructurePublic Parks are one of the most strategic investments an individual, organization, or public entity can make. Frederick Law Olmsted, arguably their most profound advocate as well as their most brilliant designer, saw in them a social and community role that was unparalleled in a modern democracy. They can anchor neighborhoods, help prevent obesity, spur economic growth, create jobs and reduce air pollution, and increasingly we are seeing parks departments working with water agencies to clean and protect water sources. Potomac River Waterfront Park is located in Maryland.
  • But this is not a new concept. Philadelphia held a design competition in mid-19th century to determine the best way to “protect and improve the purity of the Schuylkill water supply” while also creating a naturally landscaped public park. Today the Fairmount Park System one of the country’s largest urban park system at 9200 acres.
  • As you know, urbanization in the U.S. has contributed to degraded waterways, ecosystems and general water quality. I’d like to share two specific examples of how cities are using parks to manage flood events: the Buffalo Bayou Restoration in Houston, and Nashville’s response to a devastating flood in 2010.
  • Houston is a large city, with over 650 square miles and the 4th largest population with 2.3 million people. It has 10 major bayous which flow toward the Gulf of Mexico. Houston is part of Harris County, where a major flood occurs somewhere about every two years.  
  • So that means several hundred thousand homes and businesses in Houston are situated in a floodplain. Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 caused $5.5 billion in damage. 70,000 homes were flooded and 2700 homes destroyed. The storm resulted in 41 deaths.
  • To address this problem, and as Houston has seen significant population growth, partners in the city have come together to create a Bayou restoration plan that integrates flood damage reduction improvements along the bayous with other community and environmental interests. The partners in this effort include Harris County, Harris County Flood Control District, City of Houston and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. A top priority of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership is to build a contiguous system of trails on the north and south banks of Buffalo Bayou. This will give Houstonians and visitors miles of trails to run, walk and bike along the waterway, transforming this into…
  • This. And multiple benefits result: new recreational space, restored wildlife habitat and improved water quality and flood control
  • Next month the city will vote on a $166 million parks bond to connect these bayous. The funding would add 150 miles of connecting biking and walking paths along nearly 2,000 acres of new parkland.
  • Another example of how parks are being used to address flooding issues is in Nashville. In May 2010, Nashville was hit by what has been called a rain bomb. Over a 36-hour period over 15 inches of rain fell. Some areas got as much as 20 inches. That’s 420 billion gallons. By way of comparison, the previous record had been less than 7 inches. Damages were estimated at $2 billion. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed that this was a 1,000-year rain event – a superstorm.
  • Although much property damage occurred, less than half of the 11,000 damaged properties were within the floodplain. The City’s response was multi-faceted and is still ongoing. But a very early decision was made to make the purchase and removal of flood-damaged properties a central recovery strategy. 305 properties qualified for buyout. Of these, 269 owners took the offer.
  • Prior to the storm, Nashville Metro Parks and Metro Water Services had collaborated on floodplains policy and protection, including the pre-flood buyout program. The city also had a Parks & Greenways Master Plan and Open Space Master Plan. Both placed strong emphasis on the synergies that come together in the floodplain. We know the benefits of keeping the floodplain land intact, from a flood protection and mitigation perspective. But when you add parks to the equation, you also get habitat and wildlife corridors, greenways and blueways, opportunities for addressing public health, and rich floodplain soil, which happens to be ideal for farming and also addresses food security. These benefits make floodplain land perhaps the most valuable single component of any city’s green infrastructure. Nashville’s open space plan targets protection of 10,000 new acres of floodplain over the next ten years. So the 2010 flood actually helped the city implement its plan.
  • After the flood, the city set a goal to “make people whole” and that meant neighborhoods. They shifted priorities and moved aggressively on park and greenway development in struggling areas where homes had been purchased and demolished. The flood-related buyout sites total about 99 acres. Theses are permanently secured and no longer at risk.
  • One of these sites was turned into England Park. Dedicated to an elderly couple who died in the flood, the 11-acre park has a new playground, ½ mile fitness trail loop, and an orchard. They have many collaborators, including a social enterprise company that creates bath products from natural sources like the lavender grown at the park.
  • This is a photo of Cumberland Park, in downtown Nashville. It’s in the flood plain and part of the New Riverfront Revitalization Plan. Has been designed to handle floods. Hargreaves Associates incorporated adaptive reuse, floodplain preservation and storage, brownfield remediation, and water harvesting for irrigation. And each year, 1 million gallons of storm water is captured and recycled.
  • As you all know, new environmental regulations are prompting cities to develop more cost efficient ways of managing storm water runoff. Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters Program, familiar to many of you, was launched to comply with state and federal regulations.
  • The 25-year, $2 billion investment will protect and enhance watersheds by managing stormwater with innovative green infrastructure. Led by Philadelphia Water Department in partnership with the EPA, they will collaborate on state-of-the-art projects. They are also working with parks to implement this program.
  • These are some images of parks at the neighborhood scale (since we’ve looked at some large scale examples of how water and park agencies are collaborating)Herron Playground is in South Philadelphia… It was recently renovated as a project of the Clean Cities/Green Waters program. Before renovation, a basketball court was Herron Park's primary attraction for local youth.  Recognizing the court's importance to the community, project designers decided to keep it where it was.  An infiltration system was built beneath the court, which was paved over with porous asphalt, slowing down runoff and making the basketball court have a dual function: a place to shoot hoops and a stormwater management facility.The Playground is a city-owned facility managed by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, located in a neighborhood served by a combined sewer system. The Philadelphia Water Department collaborated with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and the City’s Capital Program Office to design and construct the infiltration system to manage both on-site and off-site runoff from the adjacent streets. In addition, a porous safety surface made from recycled tires, a rain garden and new trees were installed on this formerly tree-less site.
  • Resurfacing was implemented elsewhere in the park as well.  Play areas were layered with rubbery mulch-like material lie alongside planted areas like a large vegetative swale and a small-scale rain garden, further improving the park's permeability.
  • And this sprayground shows how water now recirculates on site with these new surfaces, rather than rushing directly into Philadelphia's combined sewer
  • Another interesting example is in Seattle where the Parks Department has collaborated with the Public Utility Department to protect the city’s drinking water while creating more than 70 acres of new park space in some of the densest neighborhoods in the city.
  • Seattle is a city surrounded by water - both Lake Washington and the Puget Sound. It has 10 primary drinking water reservoirs that the city uses to store its drinking water. The water is collected in the watersheds in the Cascade Mountains and piped to the city, then held in these water reservoirs on hilltops throughout Seattle.
  • In response to the Washington Department of Health regulations in the 1990s, the city developed a reservoir covering plan. They began floating plastic covers to improve water quality. Following the events of the 9/11 attacks, the City rethought the floating covers and in 2004 the City Council approved a program to put reservoirs underground. The program also helped the city comply with new EPA regulations (long-term 2 enhanced surface water treatment rule).76 acres of new parkland will be created at 5 sites. The total cost of the program is $150 million.
  • Cal Anderson Park is one of these reservoir sites in one of the densest neighborhoods of the city. You can see how the reservoir was situated next to a park, which, by the way, was designed by the Olmsted firm.
  • The reservoir in the early 1900s. The project was sensitive to the historic design.
  • This photo shows construction of a new subsurface reservoir within the footprint of the existing open reservoir.
  • This is a cross section of the project
  • The water feature and the City’s drinking water are separate systems. But many of the reservoirs features, such as vents, were designed as park elements.There are restrictions on the lids: no trees, limited use of fertilizer, no pesticides. Need one foot of soil (9 inches on this project was inadequate).
  • There are also limited uses for active sports and no generators with fuel are allowed. The Parks and Public Utilities Departments each have responsibility for certain aspects of the project’s design, construction and maintenance. This project was grassroots driven, but today City Council and the Mayor can tell a story of a better use of a public site. Had a single function, fenced off, from the public. Now provides multiple community benefits and has added 4.5 acres of parkland to a formerly park-poor community.
  • A number of cities are reviving rivers that were once buried underground and covered up with concrete, known as daylighting. It is not an easy task and can be very expensive, but can result in restoring ecological health. There are many examples, but due to our limited time, I will show one example, in Yonkers, New York – but this image is of Charlotte, NC.
  • Yonkers is a city of 200,000 that abuts the Bronx north of Manhattan. In the 1920s, due to localized flooding and unsanitary conditions, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers buried the Saw Mill River in Yonkers under a stretch of downtown shops
  • And built a parking lot over it. After flowing through the newly constructed flume, the river emptied into the Hudson River. For 90 years the river remained underground, devastating local plants and wildlife while robbing the community of public park space and a flowing river.
  • In the 1990s a coalition came together to bring the river back to life. The Saw Mill River Daylighting project, as it came to be known, involves diverting part of the river’s underground flow into a man-made stream running through the plaza that once covered it.
  • The coalition educated the community early, giving tours of the river’s underground tunnels and culverts for public officials. This helped win a $3.1 billion commitment from a local realty group to build housing, offices and commercial space along the river’s path. New York State subsequently contributed $34 million. The project is creating a new park that will help spur Downtown Yonkers’ revitalization.
  • The goal has been that the daylighted river and accompanying downtown revitalization be shared by and enjoyed by everyone in the Yonkers community.
  • The Saw Mill River Coalition includes the parent organization Groundwork Hudson Valley (a national non-profit whose primary partners are the EPA Brownfields Program and the National Park Service Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program.) and they’ve worked with multiple stakehholders, involving students, teachers, artists, community groups, businesses, and local officials as well as ecologists and architects in the planning process.
  • In addition to the economic significance, the project has a strong ecological function. 13,775 square feet of aquatic habitat has been restored, including a tidal pool and two freshwater pools. The project has focused on supporting existing species, most notably the American eel. This spring students working along the stream caught many baby glass eels at the mouth of the Saw Mill River. The eels migrate from 600 miles away to grow to adulthood in the Saw Mill.
  • Using parks as green infrastructure to comply with federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as city and state stormwater regulations
  • Opportunity to leverage federal, state and local dollars with private funding. Share departmental staff resources. Can also address common goals and multiple missions simultaneously through interdisciplinary cooperation.
  • We know that rising water levels are resulting from climate change. But well-vegetated parks are a cool defense against Heat Island Effect as they cool and clean the air.
  • Parks ignite business and residential growth in surrounding areas.“Creative Class” is drawn to new culture centers.Impact on Real Estate Property value near parks increase 5% -20% Increased Property Value = Increased City revenue Increased City revenue = GrowthPark systems stimulate growth:Example: South Platte River Corridor, Denver, Colorado• In 1998, Denver started acquiring underutilized industrial land along river to develop new public park space• Trail-based park has spurred $2.5 billion in adjacent economic development• Addresses city’s population growth projections• Positions city as a desirable place to live; brings people back to live near the river
  • Prospect Park program - Access to parks provides children with learning opportunities that are crucial to their future success and healthy development. Yet, most of today's youth are less connected to nature than ever before. Free time outside playing and exploring their natural surroundings has been replaced with greater interaction with the digital world. In many communities, children simply do not have access to parks that are clean and safe.   This is a photo provided by the Prospect Park Alliance, which has a unique program called the Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment that uses the park as an outdoor lab. For many children, traditional classrooms alone aren’t effective settings for learning. Urban water restoration projects in parks enhance the classroom experience by teaching children how to interact and cooperate with their peers, critical life skills for academic and professional achievement.  Exposure to the outdoors improves analytical thinking, making students better problem-solvers in math and science. The hands-on learning experience provided through city parks is especially critical during the summer for children who would not otherwise have access to outdoor resources, and can help close the educational achievement gap. These opportunities have also been especially beneficial in the educational development of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and other learning disabilities. 
  • Finally, we’re seeing how these projects expand functions of drainage and water supply to create new spaces for recreation. Studies show that people who live close to parks are three times as likely to get the recommended amount of daily exercise. Studies also show that adults and children who can easily reach a green space have less stress and a lower body mass. This is particularly relevant as 36% of adults in the US and 17% of our youth age 2 – 19 are obese. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation projects that half of U.S. adults will be obese by 2030.
  • Just as parks are critical urban infrastructure, so are our urban trees. Street trees, park trees, backyard trees – together make up an urban forest - a vital component to healthy and sustainable communities of all sizes.CPA’s work is complemented by the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition (including members such as Am Public Works Association and US Water Alliance). The Coalition is bringing together diverse sectors to address economic, social, health and environmental benefits of urban trees and green infrastructure to cities. Vibrant Cities is a national initiative building a shared consciousness where urban forests are considered fundamental to all communities and create bridges between different sectors to create healthier, greener communities.Add your voice and questions to the movement -- join SUFC leaders in the 10 AM sidebar session tomorrow. The success of this campaign is linked all of our efforts and benefits us all – both in our day-to-day work and our own communities.

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    3. 3. In 1855 Fairmount Parkestablished toprotect Philadelphia’sdrinking water supply
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    13. 13. • 27+ national organizations working together to integrate trees as vital components of all cities and communities• Vibrant Cities – nationwide initiative bridging multiple sectors and roadblocks to build and re- build better communities *** Tomorrow AM Sidebar: Driving Collaboration b/w Urban Forestry & Water Sectors sidebar