A Lecture by Will Rogers

A Lecture by Will Rogers

Four Nights with Three Lectures: Part 1

A three part lecture review by David J. Mitchell, ASLA


The Monday Night Philosophy Lecture on January 14, 2013, at the Commonwealth Club of California, a member-supported non-profit organization in San Francisco, took a look at America’s increasing need for urban parks and open space. As urban areas become more densely populated, and urban populations more sedentary, both the health and economic benefits that vibrant park systems provide to local economies, have too often been overlooked.  Will Rogers, President and CEO for the Trust for Public Lands (TPL) discussed how local communities have worked together to educate their neighbors and to inspire more political leaders and to commit public and private resources to enhance our urban parks.  Urban parks are designed landscapes for the public to enjoy, but parks are more than just green spaces in the urban fabric.

Parks have long been recognized as major contributors to the physical and aesthetic quality of urban neighborhoods.  But a new, broader view of parks has recently been emerging.  This new view goes well beyond the traditional value of parks as places of recreation and visual assets to communities, and focuses on how policymakers, practitioners, and the public can begin to think about parks as valuable contributors to larger urban policy objectives, such as job opportunities, youth development, public health, and community building.  Cities are competing against each other to create communities to attract young, mobile, cultural, educated employees to their work force.   This can support urban economic development by strengthening existing businesses and/or attract new business which in turn build a stronger tax base.

The Trust for Public Lands has created a study called “Park Score,” which evaluates the 44th largest populated cities in the United States.  San Francisco came out number one in the study, regarding overall access and support of its park system, while Fresno came in last.  The goal of parks, trails, playgrounds, and greenways are to help build healthy communities by providing respite for urban dwellers as our cities become more dense.  But these spaces provide much more than green oases within the urban fabric.  They provide social places to connect people to each other, which  helps build healthy communities.  Studies show that parks with the right amenities encourage surrounding residents to exercise more.  People with direct access to parks tend to use them to improve their lives.  Lifestyle change is a major key in solving our nation’s health problems.  One third of our nation residents are now considered obese.  Providing access to parks, green spaces, and trails helps city residents make healthier choices by exercising, or just enjoying a day outdoors in green surroundings of urban parks and/or natural spaces provided by nature.

Parks, greenways, and street trees help the environment by lowering cities’ temperature, pollution, and providing oxygen for urban habitat. Green spaces also help protect our urban creations of the built world, as demonstrated by Super Storm Sandy, where natural buffers reduced property damage compared to homes without such protection. Super Storm Sandy has put the environmental issue back on the national dialog.  Parks and open spaces are ideal places to deal with storm effects like runoff. Tools measuring environmental data have improved and the benefits of green spaces can now be quantified down to the street tree.

Parks do make life better though improved environment, community health, and economic benefit to our cities.  Frederick Law Olmsted’s development of Central Park and his other great works were conceived as places for social, health and economic benefits.  Iconic parks like Millennium Park draw people to them, which in turn increases commerce within the local community.  TPL has successfully worked on many local ballot measures to increase tax revenues for the protection of natural lands and to enhance our municipal park systems.  TPL has also noticed stronger philanthropic support for the green environment, along with community passion to enhance such to opportunities for parks and open spaces.  Parks and other public green spaces, along with cultural activities, are a must for urban cities to provide the necessary living habitat to support the future metropolitan masses as the population of this planet continues to grow.

Will Rogers ended with various quotes (only two quotes are noted here):

 “Parks are the beating heart and breathing lungs of all great the cities, and from them come whispers of peace and joy” by James T. Ronald, former Mayor of Seattle 1892-1894

“Those who care conserve. Those who don’t know, don’t care. What is the extinction of a condor to a child who’s never known a rim” from the book “Thunder Tree: Lessons from Urban Wildlands” by Robert Michael Pyle

To listen to the lecture, click Here.


Further Reading

“Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities”

“The Health Benefits of Parks”

“Benefits of Parks – White Paper”

“The Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Spaces”


NEXT: Lecture Review on What Makes Great POPOS


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