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Building a 'Decentral Park' out of tiny nearby-nature plots

Here's a proposal to let neighbors and families create "button parks" out of small bits of land, with help from land trusts and with links to a broader urban network of green spaces.
A small park in Kentucky

A small park in Kentucky Project for Public Spaces

Remember the special place in nature that you had as a child — that wooded lot at the end of the cul de sac, that ravine behind your housing tract? What if adults had cared just as much about that special place as you did, when you were a child?

In the spirit of the "Do it Yourself, Do it Now" philosophy of the Children & Nature Network, here’s an idea whose time may be coming: the creation of “nearby-nature trusts.” Land trust organizations develop and distribute tool kits, and perhaps offer consulting services, to show how neighborhood residents could band together to protect small green parcels of nearby nature. What might these little parcels be called? How about “button parks"?

A few weeks ago, I was in Charlotte, N.C. for a gathering arranged by the Catawba Lands Conservancy, a regional land trust which has protected 7,500 acres. Catawba is also the lead agency for the Carolina Thread Trail, a regional trail network that will eventually weave throughout a huge area of North Carolina and South Carolina, reaching into 15 counties and serving over 2 million people.

The Catawba organization describes the Thread Trail this way: “Simply put, it will link people and places. It will link cities, towns, and attractions. More than a hiking trail, more than a bike path, the Carolina Thread Trail will preserve our natural areas and will be a place for exploration of nature, culture, science, and history, for family adventures and celebrations of friendship. It will be for young and old, athlete and average.”

When the Trust for Public Land (TPL), working with the Colorado Health Foundation, brought together groups concerned about the disconnect of children from nature, TPL leaders brainstormed on the future of land trusts in tough economic times. Considering this approach, a TPL leader suggested that neighborhood leaders might also identify abandoned houses, buy them, raze them, and turn them into natural parkland or community gardens. “We really do have to think about creating nature, not just preserving it,” he said.

As with family nature clubs, the central organizing principle of nearby-nature trusts would be: Do it yourself, do it now — with a little help and information from friends who know about land trusts. A larger pattern could emerge: joining these special places to similar ones throughout a city, building parkland across an urban region as a kind of Decentral Park.

“Pocket park” is the term for small parks created by governments or developers. My idea is for "button parks," because people can sew those on themselves.

The term makes particular sense in the Carolinas. The reason that the Carolina Thread Trail is called a thread trail is not only because of the image that word evokes, but because of the Carolinas’ long dependence on the textile industries. In past decades, stitching shirts has given way to circuit chips, but the sense of history remains. Development pressure has brought the need for regional planning, so that the nature connection can continue, especially for children and families in urban and suburbanizing areas.

So, while visiting with the good folks of Catawba, it occurred to me that the Carolina Thread Trail could be strengthened over time, politically and socially, if the people who live adjacent to the trail were to become more directly involved, not only in the use of the trail, but in the concept’s expansion deeper into their own neighborhoods. Give interested access to free tool kits to help them create their own “button parks” connected to the “thread” trail. These button parks wouldn’t need to be literally connected to the trail, but would serve as small extensions of the trail throughout the region.

One obstacle is fear of liability. ACRES Land Trust in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has protected natural habitats throughout northeast Indiana, southern Michigan and northwest Ohio. Jason Kissel, ACRES' executive director, suggests that button parks could be created by neighborhood associations, since public use of private land left in its natural state poses less danger of future litigation than land that has been “improved.”


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Comments:

Posted Sat, Nov 28, 4:28 p.m. Inappropriate

It would be nice to see something like in conjunction with more widespread use of woonerfs in residential areas.

smacgry

Posted Mon, Nov 30, 7:52 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm all for 'pocket' parks as we call them around here, but the idea of tearing down usable housing to build parks is not appropriate.

We should, as communities, states, and a nation, be investing in these distributed affordable housing assets. It is happening on a small scale in Seattle with the Homestead Community Land Trust (a housing, not conservation, trust), but not in Tacoma, the most appropriate urban area in the region.

That said, converting some of the blighted properties along major arterials to open space in conjunction with a transit friendly expansion of those rights of way deserves evaluation. Think Woodland Park along Aurora and how quickly that moves. Trees, when in leaf, including Evergreens, also make effective sound barriers.

Posted Wed, Dec 2, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate


Of course this would be appreciated by most people, but the High Density crowd represented by Nickles who sought to drive up the cost of real estate and drive people off their land into cubby hole condos are still running around turning neighborhoods into concrete cell blocks.

Preserving Low Density is the solution to crime, traffic, jobs and a host of other issues. Sprawl is beneficial to moderate income people and can afford better lifestyles for most.

jabailo

Posted Mon, Dec 7, 9:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Pocket parks, I think, are actually part of what can make density enjoyable. They create environmental diversity and habitat edges (for humans too). There may in fact be places where a neighborhood, including numbers of units and affordability, can benefit by the replacement of a house with a park instead of with another house. When such parks make walking for pleasure and travel, they can really add to "walkable, livable communities" - the kind of stuff we're aiming for.

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