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Innovations in Urban Green, Questions for Peter Harnik

Peter Harnik discusses ideas from his new book Urban Green: Innovate Parks for Resurgent Cities on the Trust for Public Land's City Parks blog:

We asked Peter Harnik to answer some questions about his new book, Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities, that covers how cities can plan for parks as well as how to create them in “all built-out” settings.

Your book addresses many age-old questions about parks and cities. Let’s start with the big one — how much parkland should a city have?

“Should” is the wrong verb. “Should” implies that the outcome is decided by planners. The right verb is “want”: “How much parkland do we as residents and taxpayers want?” It’s a political issue, and it’s got to be approached politically by building a base of active park supporters. Every city has a different geography, a different history and a different culture — it’s not one size fits all. I think people sometimes use the word “should” in the hopes that someone else will do the work for them. No great park system was created solely by planners using official standards.

But still — don’t even advocates need to know how their city compares to others?

Oh, definitely! That’s why I give some comparative numbers in the book and many more on our web page (at If you take a trip to Boston or Minneapolis and like what you see, you can compare what your city has with them — everything from acreage to playgrounds to recreation centers to swimming pools. Which is why I always say it’s not just about gross acreage. One place may have lots of young people primarily interested in sports fields, another may be tilted toward older folks who want walking trails through bird-filled marshes. The environment also matters: some cities easily support lush forested parks, others are built on arid deserts where trees are essentially alien species. But the most important factor is population density. Crowded New York and San Francisco have so much concrete everywhere that every added pocket park is magical. Roomy Jacksonville and Oklahoma City, with thousands of large suburban-style yards are already halfway natural even not counting their parks. Density has a major impact on how people think about parks and how they use them.

Read more at the City Parks blog or learn more about Urban Green