Cities & Parks- Can They Coexist?

With the world’s population topping 8 billion people and decent, safe, affordable housing becoming increasingly hard to find urbanists and housing advocates are pushing hard for the development of more housing units, creating images of more dense neighborhoods in municipalities. At least on the coastal states of the USA where the pressure for housing is accute, the question of more housing density vs the pastoral image of open space, parks and gardens pits images of a community like Dicken’s London versus images of private homes, “McMansions”, with luxurious private gardens individual driveways and front, side and back yards. As in much of today’s USA, the municipalities are where these two visions, Dickens vs Beverly Hills, are clashing.

What is YOUR vision for a nice place to live? Mountain top? 15 min city? Something in between?

Across the USA and in many places around the world the pressure to provide more housing is growing. The production of new homes has not kept pace with the deterioration of existing homes and the increase in the population. The Economist magazine recently found that many nations around the world are falling behind on housing production. In the USA about 18% of renters spend more than 40% of their income on rent. The country has fallen behind other developed countries in its number of housing units per 100 people. France boasts 55 housing units per 100 people; Germany 50 per 100 people. The USA is only at 42 housing units per 100 people. Scarcity drives up price. The fewer housing units available, the higher the price.

But as municipalities and states struggle to increase housing production, they face a wall of obstacles through “NIMBYism” and the “slow growth movement” supported by people who want to protect their community’s ambiance by preventing the addition of new homes.

There must be a way, even in more dense communities, to preserve and enhance those characteristics of neighborhood, open space, parks, tree lined streets, and more while adding new homes for the additional children of those who live there now, as well as for new people.

What do we really care about? Trees? Walk to the cafe? Proximity to sunshine? How can we make room for the housing we need and protect what we care about? For almost 100 years in America zoning laws, randomly determined in the early 20th century to segregate noxious uses from residential areas…. and then to segregate residential areas by race and class, have shaped our communities. Now communities across the country are trying to find new ways to keep what they want to preserve while allowing for new housing units to be added. Master planning is a starting place for these discussions.

Master planning in a municipality typically covers several elements, parks, recreation and open space are some of them. But what if a community focused on the mission and purpose of parks and took those conversations and that data to create a stand alone Master Plan for Parks.

The city of Santa Ana, population 308,500, is one of the densest cities in the state and the city with the highest percentage Hispanic population. The residents are 15% younger than the average California citizen. Parks have always been an important part of the city, since its new charter establishing a city manager form of government in 1952.

Creating categories, like community vs neighborhood, that reflect the park users helps further clarify the mission for the park and the “fit” appropriate for the particular user.

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