Parks and greenspaces offer community residents a much-needed escape from the stress of their everyday lives. And, studies have shown that spending more time in parks and greenspaces can help reduce depression, anxiety, and stress. They can also increase the property values in the surrounding area, reduce crime, and improve air quality. Despite all these benefits, it can still be difficult for cities to get park projects off the ground due to land availability, budget issues, and the additional expense of brownfield redevelopment. As the communities in this list have proven, if you have the resources and the vision you can turn an underutilized area into a thriving community asset. Here is a list of five redevelopment projects that transformed a piece of property into a park full of benefits for the surrounding community.
After serving as former president John Quincy Adams’ home and then being used as a Union encampment during the civil war, Meridian Hill Park has quite the historic past. The mansion on the grounds was built in 1819 by John Porter who coined the name Meridian Hill because the location sat on the exact longitude where the original District of Columbia milestone marker sat. The grounds were purchased by the U.S. government in 1910 and construction to redevelop the land into a public park started in 1914. It wasn’t until 1936 that Meridian Hill officially became a park, but finally the people in Washington, D.C. had access to a beautifully landscaped garden that previously only aristocrats would have been able to afford to visit. While the park’s official name is Meridian Hill Park, many locals refer to it as Malcolm X Park because it served as a central hub for black activists during the 1960s. Some of the park’s signs were changed to accommodate both names and there is a strong sentiment that Malcolm X should be honored with the exclusive name. Angela Davis is the one credited for calling for the renaming of the park to Malcolm X Park back in 1969. There was even a congressional measure to rename the park in 1970, and although it failed, the name remains the preferred choice for people in the community.
Image courtesy of Zack Frank via Adobe Stock
With parking in such high demand, it is normal to see parking garages sprout up around the city. But Discovery Green is a refreshing example of an urban park reclaiming the space where two parking garages once sat. After a public-private partnership (City of Houston and a group of philanthropists) acquired the lots, they went to the city council to get approval to build a park. The council approved, but with one caveat – the public needed to be involved in the design of the park. The feedback from the community helped define what activities should be offered at the park. Additionally, a contest was created for the community to name the finished project. Discovery Green was clearly the winner, but of equal importance, the name perfectly sums up the personality of the park. Amenities featured at the park include a lake, playground, putting greens, bocce courts, shuffleboard courts, two dog runs, five art installations, and more than 10 gardens. There is something for everyone to enjoy at the park, which hosts hundreds of events annually and has welcomed over 20 million guests since opening in 2008.
Image courtesy of f11photo via Adobe Stock
While planes, trains, and automobiles have dominated travel for many years, one of those forms of transport is seeing a lot less use than the others today. Even though the train’s heyday may be in the rearview mirror, cities all over the world are using the skeletons left behind by the railroad industry to create beautiful new parks. The High Line in New York City is one of the most popular iterations of this “rails to trails” movement, where cities repurpose unused railroad tracks into parks and walking paths. The track that the High Line is built on stopped train service in 1980 and after 25 years, nature decided to take advantage of the unused space. The design of the park was inspired by the landscaping that took over the track in those 25 years. Today, the park features 1.45 miles of elevated walking paths with art installations from over 120 artists. Guests may walk through a garden containing over 350 different species of plants, flowers, and trees. The park has seen more than 20 million visitors since 2014 and each year it is the host of over 450 programs and activities for visitors to enjoy.
Image courtesy of ActionVance on Unsplash
Brook Run Park was formerly the home of a large mental health facility that was active from 1966 to 1997. The center was forced to close its doors due to a lack of funding and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which mandated that residents need to move to group homes or remain in their own homes. DeKalb County purchased the property in 1997 and converted it into a thriving park. In 2018, the Dunwoody City Council approved a $7.6 million capital improvement budget for the park. Today, Brook Run Park is a 110-acre park that includes a large playground, a two-mile multi-use trail loop, a skate park, a dog park, a community garden, event pavilions, two baseball fields, two multi-sport fields, a disc golf course, and an elevated ropes course and zip-line. The two-mile trail loop also connects to Pernoshal Park and Georgetown Park with plans to connect to Sandy Springs and the Georgia 400 trail in the future and become part of the Atlanta BeltLine.
Image courtesy of City of Dunwoody
On paper, this entry is atypical of a redevelopment project, but the transformation has had a huge impact on the community. Formerly called Watts Branch Park, this greenspace underwent a five-year revitalization starting in 2001 that resulted in the new Marvin Gaye Park. Before the revitalization, the park was commonly referred to as “Needle Park” due to the high number of people who used the park as a place to buy, sell, and use heroin. The volunteers who helped with the cleanup removed 3.5 million pounds of trash, 9,000 hypodermic needles, and 78 abandoned cars from the park. Once cleaned up, the park got new state-of-the-art playground equipment, 1.6 miles of rebuilt hiking and biking trails, the Marvin Gaye amphitheater, and a mosaic honoring 200 of the community’s heroes. The revitalization allows the surrounding community to finally enjoy the greenspace that for so long had been taken over by trash and drug use.
With so many redevelopment projects being turned into multi-use developments or apartment complexes these days, it is refreshing to see cities turn a usable plot of land into a beautiful park. The next time that you see abandoned buildings in your community think about the unique opportunity for the space to be transformed into a beautiful, useable greenspace.