Sustainable Development with Urban Park System

“… the ratio of parks to parking lots may be the best single indicator of the livability of a city…”

– Lester R. Brown, Global Futurist

Urban park system is one of the most basic infrastructure for cities and playing an important role in urban sustainability with natural and social benefits, but few empirical researches have studied on new conflicts, measures and policies facing the urban-wide sustainability movement. The study focuses on the transformation of traditional urban park system to a green framework for urban sustainability such as natural conservation, historic preservation and green economy.

PORTFOLIO 2012-Yuan Lai (dragged)

To contextualize the idea of urban park system, I targeted three cities in this study: Buffalo, USA, London, UK and Beijing, China. In literature review, the study went through the social context and philosophy behind the emergence of urban park system, including the ideology of common goods and social welfare. History reveals the transformation of urban parks into visually powerful, socially dynamic and culturally encoded spatial system. The study explores recent shift in ecological thinking of park system and challenge regarding its legibility and resilience. It indicates that planning policy and management strategy may vary based on different urban context and local policies, yet urban park systems are facing similar challenges including resource shortage, financial support and loss of identity.

Although there are many differences between these three cities regarding geographic, demographic, economic, environmental, social and political characters, there still are many common strategies for building and managing a good urban park system.

First, administrative agency should have a clear vision that comes from historical research, on-site surveys and urban studies to understand the park condition and targeted users. The practical missions follow such visions that set up main responsibilities and power of the agency to manage a park system.

Second, public transportation accessibility and spatial connectivity of parks are vital considering the wide demographic range of users and its basic attribute as public domain. Yet such issues require different strategy regarding specific urban form and social context. For example, unlike London and Beijing with an extremely developed subway network, Buffalo should make good use of the existing parkways and circles, rebuild the lost links and minimize the side effects of expressways.

Finally, there is a paradigm shift of urban parks from a composition of parks to a framework of urban sustainability. Therefore urban park system is not just recreational places but also a major agency in urban sustainability cooperating with multiple governmental officials and non-profit organizations. The interview with London Royal Park Office indicates that enhancement of cycling system in the Royal Parks is a part of citywide cycling promotion and bike lane enhancement in London. However, although with large population of bicycle users, there is no such integrated policy for Beijing park system and city official.

There is a significant potential for park system to be a framework of urban sustainability, and it should be considered as a huge asset for the city considering its environmental, economic and social benefits. To form such a green framework, the cooperation of city government, non-profit organizations, agencies and local communities is highly needed. Organization who in charge of the park system should have clear visions and specific strategies dealing with local issues, and have a consistent relationship with surrounding neighborhoods and government.

(Photos Courtesy of Yuan Lai. Top image: Hyde Park, London, UK.)

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