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Earth Matters:At 28th And Fairfax, We Could Have Both

Creative Solutions For Adding Parks and Greenspace

By Tracey MacDermott

Across the street from Greater Park Hill Community’s office at 28th and Fairfax, the developer HM Capital has acquired and torn down the east side of the block.

The developer, Ben Maxwell, has all but landed a deal with Denver Parks & Recreation director Scott Gilmore and city Councilman Chris Herndon to acquire the former Xcel substation lot on the west side of the street, that has been slated for a city park. The land trade would give Maxwell the Xcel land and, in exchange, he would incorporate a park space inside his development on the east side. Maxwell would then use the former Xcel property as a parking lot and for future development.

Many neighbors have raised concerns that, in this deal, they will not be getting a city park, but instead a plaza that would serve more to enhance the developer’s property. Neighbors have vocalized their concerns at recent community meetings, including one in October sponsored by Councilman Herndon.

Addition of green space to city neighborhoods should be the goal of every city planning process and every major development. There are multiple benefits, such as reducing stormwater runoff and the heat island effect, planting trees to absorb carbon, and a place for citizens to enjoy. The health benefits to humans include reduced stress, improved outlook, reduced risks of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, and a place to recreate.

The process of developing parkland should include the input of surrounding neighbors.

What is happening in Baltimore

The City of Baltimore, through the Parks and People Foundation (PPF), has been active incorporating pocket parks within the city. Their mission: “We adhere to the following core values as we seek to accomplish our mission and achieve our vision of uniting Baltimore by ensuring that everyone is connected to nature, their community and each other through vibrant parks and green spaces.”

Baltimore works with the Urban Resources Initiative (URI) to restore the city’s urban parks, natural resources and neighborhoods. URI started as a collaboration between Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Rec & Parks, and PPF to bring interns from city schools to help manage the city’s natural resources.

Over the years, the project has expanded. The URI collaborates with interns in conjunction with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the PPF and area universities to enhance urban parks and natural resources, which in turn provides interns a bridge between classroom learning and professional success.

For example, the Ambrose Kennedy Park is a 1.75-acre park in Baltimore in poor condition. In 2014 a revitalization effort began. It will include flowering shade trees, open grass playing field and walking paths, as well as other amenities.

Another example: This April the Easterwood Park and Playground opened. It once was a place where illegal dumping existed. It now contains picnic and chess tables, barbeques, swings and raised garden beds, an area farmer’s market and a Little Library for children. The PPF worked to build the site as a community park with the help of the city’s Adopt-A-Lot Program.

Voices of the community

Nonprofit partnerships of parks have been happening throughout urban areas – and not just in Baltimore. Studies have shown that a potential for a park project brings community revitalization is closely related to the genuine involvement of people living in the area.

I had the opportunity to speak with Laura Connelly, the environmental park projects manager for PPF in Baltimore. She touted the involvement of the nearby community, which helps develop the vision of the park space. They review the concerns of neighbors and work on a formula for the park that will address those concerns.

The pocket parks have mostly been placed in disadvantaged neighborhoods with the goal of creating a “best in class park” for the neighbors.

I inquired if the organization had concerns about unsavory activity in the parks. Her response was yes, but, that it was important to show the community that they deserve a beautiful space.

Her organization advocates for community accessible green space. Her view is that they are changing neighborhoods and long-term outlooks for citizens. She went on to discuss that a pocket park should not be a nuisance and instead work on crime deterrents. In turn you end up retaining residents, preventing vacancy issues and provide citizens access to a park within a half-mile.

It can be done here

Is it possible to create this vision in Denver too?

In 2015, ScienceLine, a project of New York University, published an article stating that urban heat islands form elevated temperatures in densely populated neighborhoods with black tar roofs and other impermeable materials. Heat maps and studies indicate that underserved communities in cities deprived of cooling centers and green spaces may be even more susceptible to the effect.

One way to help mitigate the heat island effect is through green roofs and yes, the addition of pocket parks.

This too can be done in Denver, right here in Park Hill. We have an opportunity with the former Xcel substation at 28th and Fairfax. We have an opportunity to partner with foundations and nonprofits to add this pocket park, and include the input of the citizens that live near the park.

HM Capital is proposing green space within their development, which is great. However, the developer is saying a trade of the city’s land must occur for him to consider adding this green space.

I am left wondering why we can’t have both – a green space in the development, and a pocket park on the west side as promised by Denver’s Parks and Rec department.

Tracey MacDermott is chair of the board of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. Active in the Registered Neighborhood Organization for many years, MacDermott was the 2012 recipient of the Dr. J. Carlton Babbs Award for Community Service. She was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2017.

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