The World’s 10 Greatest Urban Parks

stanley parkThis is a cool article from The Infrastructurist, listing great parks and green spaces in cities across the world. Included are the 60-acre Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, 2300-acre Monsanto Forest Park in Lisbon, and 8 other examples of fantastic natural spaces that make our urban areas healthier and more livable. There is a good mix of park types and uses, from cultural centers and concert venues to true urban forests and hiking trails. Stanley Park (viewed from above in this photo), in Vancouver, represents the Pacific Northwest on the list.

All of the parks listed are among the crown jewels of their respective cities, reminding us that the value of great urban green space is recognized by people around the world. As for the Puget Sound, we are also lucky to have many large parks throughout the region that provide trails and easily accessible natural areas. Seattle ranked #13 in the country among cities with the highest percentage of their area devoted to parks (11.3%)

Runners up, as named by the article’s author, included Grant/Millennium Park in Chicago, Englischer Gardens in Munich, Chapultepec park in Mexico City, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, Ueno Park in Tokyo, Hong Kong Park, San Christobal Hill in Santiago, the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney, Forest Park in St. Louis, and Pheonix Park in Dublin.


Behind the behind the scenes

Teamwork towards a healthy forest and a liveable city.  Photo by Ben Scott-Killian.
Teamwork towards a healthy forest and a livable city. Photo by Ben Scott-Killian.

When Sydney and I took our AmeriCorps pledge back in January at the Northwest Service Academy’s Mt. Adams Center, we avoided setting too many expectations.  We had no idea what our jobs working with the Green Cities program would entail.  Well, 10 months later, I think we’ve figured it out.   We’ll both be leaving CLC on Nov. 20th and wanted to share some thoughts from our term.  I’ll take this “Behind the Scenes” section and Syd will take the next one.

The goal of the AmeriCorps program is to give people the opportunity to help their communities.  We receive a modest living stipend and in return, we work to make America a healthier, safer place.  For me, it does not take an enormous stretch of the imagination to connect my work with the Green Cities program to AmeriCorps’ goals.

My roles in working for the Green Seattle Partnership have, thankfully, been exceptionally diverse.  I’ve had the opportunity to lead volunteer work parties and field surveys, and to go out and get dirty with our exceptionally hardcore Washington Conservation Corps field crew.  I’ve also accomplished a lot from behind the desk: the graphic design and layout for the Green Redmond 20-Year Strategic Plan, copy edit and layout for this year’s Green Seattle Day poster, and plenty of the tedious (but important) day-to-day activities (e.g. making sure our Forest Stewards’ events get posted to the Green Seattle website).  Oh, and maybe you’re our follower on Twitter or a fan on Facebook… I’m to blame for all those tweets and status updates.

This is me (lower right) sharing tree planting tips with a Redmond teen group. Photo by Bill Bankson.

Personally, I’ve probably only planted a dozen trees, removed only a few square yards of ivy, and an armful of blackberry rootballs.  Not a whole lot, especially compared to what some of our volunteer Forest Stewards do every year.  But I’m glad to be a part of the larger effort.  Together, we are making Seattle a healthy and desirable place to live, augmenting the ecological services that urban forests provide, and increasing access to vegetated habitat for many that have never experienced it.   I’m also glad to have been helping get the word out through social media– the next best thing to going out to volunteer is telling a friend about GSP, whether it is in person or on Facebook.

When I was coming to Seattle from the Northeast, my goal was to become an active member in an urban community, something that I have never had the chance to do.  Working for Green Cities has been critical for me in meeting this goal — I have been exposed to a community of people who are doing really amazing things for their communities.  Seattle is a better place to live because of our public greenspaces.


North of the Green City Partnerships: Evergreen’s Common Grounds

It’s good to know that we’re not alone. Organizations all over the world, like Evergreen in Canada, can teach and inspire us with the work they are doing for urban greenspace.

Evergreen’s Mission:

Evergreen is a not-for-profit organization that makes cities more livable. By deepening the connection between people and nature, and empowering Canadians to take a hands-on approach to their urban environments, Evergreen is improving the health of our cities – now and for the future.

Evergreen motivates people to create and sustain healthy, natural outdoor spaces and gives them the practical tools to be successful through its three core programs:

  • Learning Grounds – transforming school grounds
  • Common Grounds – conserving publicly accessible land
  • Home Grounds – for the home landscape

Sound familiar? The Common Grounds program is very similar to our own Green City Partnerships: community-based stewardship of public natural areas. Working in the Greater Toronto area and the Greater Vancouver Regional District, since 1991 they have helped 90,000 volunteers contribute to their mission to bring nature back into cities.

Why the 4th Annual Green Seattle Day is the most important yet…

If you are a fan of Green Seattle Partnership on Facebook, or our follower on Twitter, then you’ve probably seen the barrage of  ‘invitations to join 1,000 of your neighbors on Green Seattle Day.’  This year’s GSD, which is scheduled for Nov. 7th, just might be the most important yet.

Our ballots are due on November 3rd.  On November 4th, we will know who the future mayor of Seattle will be — the first new mayor since Greg Nickels took office in 2002.  Nickels has been a champion of the Partnership’s work ever since the Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Seattle and Cascade Land Conservancy was signed in 2004.  However, this year’s mayoral race has already demonstrated our community’s thirst for new leadership and new policies.  Both candidates have made efforts to distance themselves from Nickels-era politics and have consistently emphasized the need for change in City Hall.  What does this mean for the future of the Green Seattle Partnership?

November 7th, the weekend after the election, is our time to shine.  By coming out in numbers to Cheasty Greenspace (or any of the 16 event sites across the city), we can show our newly elected officials that Green Seattle Day is more than a restoration event; it is a recognition of the benefits of our urban forests, a celebration of our commitment to a healthy city, and a statement of Seattle’s strong civic pride and community.  We need to show our leaders that the reasons that Mayor Nickels supported the Partnership are the same reasons that it deserves their support as well.

We, the citizens of Seattle, recognize that it is our responsibility to take care of our parks.  Our city’s forests, which provide necessary services and infrastructure, are worth the investment.  With proper support, volunteers from our community can make a difference and can help keep Seattle a healthy, happy place to live.

Please take this opportunity to answer the invitation to get out and volunteer.   You’ll help show our strength and I guarantee you’ll have a great time doing it!

“Seattle’s forested parklands are in need of restoration to continue and enhance their ability to provide healthy natural settings in the midst of the city.  Parklands also are important for all their associated environmental, community and economic benefits including sequestering carbon. The Green Seattle Partnership and other efforts of my administration to make Seattle a truly emerald city are among the most lasting efforts of my administration.” -Greg Nickels

More National Parks in Cities?

As the population of this country (and, as of last year, the world) shifts towards a more urban lifestyle, more previously-rural concepts and resources are being examined through the urban lens. When we think about nationally-backed public spaces, where are people congregating, living, working, and recreating? The answer is, increasingly, in cities.

Today City Parks Blog posted this article calling for more urban National Parks, and refering to a recent piece in the Huffington Post of the same sentiment. “According to TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence, of the 77 largest cities in the country, 13 have one or more park service unit.” Read the City Parks article to find out which ones.

Public land in the U.S. – origins in a 1910 forest fire

KUOW aired an interesting piece last night during their show The Conversation, about the early history of setting aside land for public use in this country. It’s not about urban areas, but definitely of interest to those who are into public space, especially public natural area.

“In 1910 the largest forest fire in U.S. history raged through the Northern Rockies in Idaho, Washington and Montana. In “The Big Burn,” Seattle–based New York Times columnist Tim Egan tells how the natural disaster changed America.” – click here to listen to last night’s episode of The Conversation. The forest fire piece is the last one: start time is 34 minutes in.

Why does a non-native plant spread so quickly?

IMG_3006Non-native plants spread because they have no natural predators or competitors to keep their populations in check.  Oftentimes these plants have short reproduction cycles, produce many seeds or fruits, have seeds that remain viable for many years, and are happy living in the full range of climatic conditions, all of which help them dominate.

In contrast, the diverse array of trees, shrubs, and groundcover plants that make up our native northwest forest have grown here together for centuries. They have developed complex interactions and together they support each other, native wildlife, and a healthy, functioning, holistic ecosystem.

In many urban areas in the Puget Sound, a history of logging, development, and other human activity has degraded the seed bank of our native species, and left us with open spaces overgrown or quickly becoming overgrown with aggressive invasives. The goal of the Green City Partnerships is to remove these invasive plants, primarily through the work of dedicated volunteers, in order to re-establish that healthy native natural habitat. Join us for a restoration event by following the links on the right to your local Green City Partnership!

* thanks Elsa for help writing this post!