By Angelina Horn, City Parks Alliance
The glut of commercial space in U.S. cities threatens to pull down cash-strapped banks and stall the nation’s economic recovery. At the same time, urban parks can have a catalytic effect that improves the economy, environment and health of a city. Red Fields to Green Fields is an initiative that seeks to acquire vacant or financially distressed commercial properties for conversion into urban parks. In addition, adjacent land is "banked" for future sustainable development. The initiative hopes to capitalize on a historic opportunity to revitalize America’s urban core and create livable, walkable communities.
A White House urban policy adviser endorsed the Red Fields to Green Fields concept as a “perfect match” for the administration’s approach to cities and pledged to work with the project’s leaders to convene a meeting with administration officials. Derek Douglas, Special Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs on the Domestic Policy Council, says the White House had identified three goals for its urban policy: economic competitiveness, environmental sustainability and social inclusion.
“If you take these three broad policy goals and you overlay them on Red Fields to Green Fields, it’s a perfect match,” Douglas told city and parks officials gathered in Washington, D.C., on June 16 for a conference on the concept. The multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional approach, he said, “is at the core of our urban policy work.”
The conference included representatives from communities involved in both phases of the national research project: Atlanta, Cleveland, Denver, Miami, Philadelphia, Wilmington (Del.), Detroit, Hilton Head/Savannah, Houston, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Altogether, the plans on a national scale would create 30,000 acres of new green space and more than 300,000 new jobs over six years.
Catherine Nagel of City Parks Alliance, speaking at the conference, says support from Washington is critical to the transformational initiative. She argued for a multi-billion dollar federal investment and creation of a land bank with zero-percent interest on loans. “This is both a real estate problem and a banking problem,” she said.
Photo by City Parks Alliance. L to R: Gwendolene Angelet (Nemours), Catherine Nagel (CPA), Tad Leithead (Atlanta Regional Commission), Derek Douglas (WH Domestic Policy Council), Mickey Fearn (National Park Service), Will Henry (Nemours), and Jennifer Leonard (Center for Community Progress).