Across the country, urban parks are enjoying a renaissance. Dozens of new parks are being built or restored and cities are being creative about how and where they are located. Space under highways, on old rail infrastructure, reclaimed industrial waterfronts or even landfills are all in play as development pressure on urban land grows along with outdoor recreation needs.
These innovative parks are helping cities face common challenges, from demographic shifts, to global competitiveness to changing climate conditions. Mayors and other city officials are taking a fresh look at parks to improve overall community health and sense of place, strengthen local economies by attracting new investments and creating jobs, help manage storm water run-off, improve air quality, and much more. When we think of city parks holistically, accounting for their full role in communities, they become some of the smartest investments we can make.
In addition to meeting traditional electricity needs for homes and buildings, demand for electricity is growing with increased population, economic growth, water pumping, recycling and desalination, and millions traveling in electric cars, buses and rail. Although California has only 13 percent of the nation’s population, it has half the nation’s solar power, half the grid storage, and half the electric vehicles.
California is on track to use 50 percent renewables in 12 years. Today, California is coal free and nuke free, generating 40 percent of electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. Wind and solar power are being added, often for less than four cents per kilowatt-hour. Renewables, energy efficiency, energy storage, microgrids, and software are enablers of the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.
In the United States, buildings themselves, plus the plug loads of their tenants, use 70 percent of all electricity and account for 40 percent of all carbon emissions. At least half that power is wasted, due to inefficiencies in the ways those buildings are designed, built and operated.
Just over two years ago, the City of Seattle pioneered a new approach to incentivize energy efficiency in new and existing buildings. Known as the Metered Energy Efficiency Transaction Structure – or MEETS – the program turns a building into a revenue-generating “energy efficiency power plant” by measuring the energy it does not use, and paying an investor for the value of that energy.
The Central Park Conservancy was instrumental in saving Central Park. In fact, our P4 model has been emulated in hundreds of other parks ― showing that our restoration and management successes are replicable and scalable by other urban park professionals caring for green spaces around the country and beyond.
So when asked, “How do you do it? How do you keep Central Park so beautiful and inviting?” the scalable and replicable answer that we give to everybody is a 3-step framework: Restore, manage, and engage. From day one of the Central Park Conservancy, our logic model has been built on the belief and experience that if we restored Central Park, managed it, and engaged the public in its use and care, it would become (and remain) a vital part of New York City life. It worked here, and we’re confident it can help parks everywhere.
In a world where people can increasingly choose to live anywhere, cities have to compete in ways that they never anticipated. However, there are some not-so-obvious “Moneyball” metrics that will help to promote city attractiveness, sustainability, resilience, and success.