R2G in Action

Public Parks and Greenspace

R2G Green Environment, Parks and Public Space Projects

Questions we need to be asking....

  • How can we rethink pastoral parks that now require large maintenance inputs from shrinking parks departments to create an open space system that performs work for the city by optimizing for multiple ecosystem services?
  • How can we repurpose vacant lands that are currently draining city resources and shift their meaning to become "fallow lands," managed to increase productivity potential?
  • How can we create public spaces that encourage community belonging, place attachment, sociability, diversity and use?
  • How can we program and activate parks and public spaces to generate greater health, activity, community building and economic development?
  • How can we better integrate nature and city, increase walkability and access for urban dwellers to clean air, nature, recreation areas and amenities and open space?

The benefits of green environments, parks and public spaces are many and are an essential aspect of creating green, sustainable and resilient cities and places. NY's Rust Belt cities harbor a legacy of extant park systems and public spaces that are tremendously valuable assets. Many of these systems were designed in the late nineteenth and twentieth century at a time when large acreage and aggregate lands were available for assembling into expansive parks and recreation areas. In Utica, for example, its Olmsted Brothers-designed park system was laid out to encircle the city and create an important geographic boundary that both bounded neighborhoods and maximized use and access along the east, south and west sides. Today this system needs upkeep, maintenance, planning and continual adjusting to reflect changing user needs, reduced budgets and demands to address urban watershed and water quality standards. Twenty-first century Utica needs smaller parks and public spaces integrated with neighborhood and community life to relieve stress, facilitate activity, mitigate pollutants, activate community life and encourage walkable, safe and attractive community life. These parks and public spaces will make significant contributions to Utica's quality of life and its ability to attract investment, visitors and new residents. With the ecological, social, economic and health benefits they provide, parks and public spaces are considered primary and essential to community and urban resilience.

Ecological Benefits:

Parks provide numerous ecological "services" to the environment and people alike. Their trees purify the air and reduce pollution, and green and planted areas clean rainwater (and save cities money) as it is filtered back into the earth rather than sent into the sewer system. Parks also reduce the urban "heat island" effect by reducing paved surfaces and built-up areas. They provide habitat for birds and beneficial insects and can serve as homes for important native trees, plants and grasses.

Social Benefits:

Parks have been shown to foster community pride and place attachment. They create opportunities for social interactions and community connections and can be a space for civic and expression. Parks also have been shown to reduce crime and conflict.

Economic Benefits:

Parks and open space help create a high quality of life that attracts tax-paying business and residents to communities. They rejuvenate urban neighborhoods, boost real estate values and have become a tool for local governments to foster economic development in a way that makes fiscal sense.

Health Benefits:

For people, an urban park experience can help reduce stress and provide a sense of peacefulness, serving as a "natural tranquilizer." Parks encourage physical activity and exercise and promote good physical and mental health. Parks can even be used for food production through community gardens or similar projects.

In the summer of 2011 R2G Civic Research Felllows redesigned and rebuilt Liberty Bell Park. This public space, adjacent to the historic Hotel Utica as well as a heavily used bus stop is now an inviting, restful area in the heart of the city.

Today, Kempble Park in Utica's Cornhill neighborhood is a two acre vacant lot surrounded by a chain link fence. This high potential parcel will soon be transformedintoa beautiful, multi-functional community gathring space in the form of a new park.

One World Garden is a project that emerged from the a partnership between R2G and the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. Early in 2012 the One World Garden indersciplinary design and research planing team set out to develop the garden's design as well as a long term research plan aimed at evaluating garden's impact, once built, on both it's users and the urban context.

In the Oneida Square neighborhood the City of Utica undertook its first large scale implementation of its new community generated Master Plan. This project is known as the Oneida Square Roundabout. Rust to Green assisted the City of Utica and NYS DOT in the summer of 2011 as the Roundabout underwent construction. Rust to Green faculty and interns were able to adapt the proposed streetscape plans so that they could create significantly more green space while reducing project costs.