Cities around the country are competing to attract people, businesses, and money. To win – they’re polishing their image and rejuvenating their downtown. If they’ve got a waterfront, they’re finding it a good place to start. The spectacular successes seem to be the cities that have figured out who they are and what their citizens want. Memphis can join the list.
Here’s a short list of some of the best success stories with links to their websites:
Chattanooga - Twenty years ago, Chattanooga was faced with a rusting industrial downtown. Determined to do something about it, the City began a true public process to identify public goals and values. That led to the creation of 8 miles of green space along their riverfront connecting to a 75-mile greenbelt. They’ve built new museums, improved old ones, and added an aquarium and river facilities for the public to use.
The downtown renaissance has earned Chattanooga honors as one of the world’s great cities (NPR’s Morning Edition); one of the most enlightened cities in America (Utne Reader); one of the top 10 family vacation destinations (Family Fun magazine); and one of the country’s best places to live, work, and play (Outside Magazine).
Pittsburgh - Any packet of Pittsburgh postcards would be sure to include a photo of Point State Park. Located where the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers meet, the park, with its panoramic vista, has come to symbolize Pittsburgh.
In the early 1950s, the area had become a slum, but now reclaimed it is a National Historic Landmark.
The park's 36 acres are loaded with history, bike and skating paths, and plenty of green space. It gets plenty of use and is today the place to take people to show off the city.
Portland - The citizens of Portland stopped an interstate along the city’s riverfront and instead insisted on a park to connect its historic city with the Willamette River. Extensive public involvement was a key to the entire project. Advisory committees with representatives from a variety of interests and expertise but without a direct financial stake in the park’s outcome were appointed to work with the consultant team and staff to prepare the plan.
The outcome: a 36-acre green space which has helped build Portland’s reputation as one of the country’s most livable cities.
New York – The land for Bryant Park in New York City was designated as public property in 1686. In 1934 Architecture magazine described it as disreputable, and, by the 1970s, it aptly was called “Needle Park." Today it is described as "one of the most sensual, graceful open spaces in New York City."
What happened? The Bryant Restoration Corporation was formed to create a master plan and revitalize the park.
Today Bryant Park offers wireless technology, an outdoor library, places to play chess and bacci, a restaurant, free yoga classes, outdoor movies, and a space for events – all in a green park.
And it proves that parks are not just amenities; they are good for business.
In the neighboring area, leasing activity has increased by 60%. Demand for space in nearby office buildings was revived, and, between 1990 and 2000, rents for commercial office space near Bryant Park increased between 115 and 225%.
Chicago - Chicago’s lakefront and Memphis’ riverfront have a lot in common:
- In both cities land along the waterfront was set aside for parks.
- In both cities, this vision fell under pressure and gave way to other public uses: public dumps, railroads, parking lots, and roads.
- In both states, lawsuits to protect the parkland have been heard by the state’s Supreme Courts, and in both instances, the courts have ruled against development on the parkland.
Today Chicago is known as a city that recognizes the value of parks, trees, flowers, and street art citywide, but nowhere is it as apparent as in the city’s newly reopened lakefront park.
The magnificent 24-acre Millennium Park is part of 3,600 acres of green space along Chicago’s lakefront. Restored through a partnership of public and private funds, the park combines extraordinary contemporary architecture, sculpture, and landscape design into a space that is vibrant, exciting, and inviting to both Chicagoans and visitors. It’s been described as the crowning achievement of the city’s park system.
The renovation was expensive, but reopening in July of 2004, Millennium Park is already proving that parks are good for business. Luxury condominiums in a new 57-story tower just west of the park are 99% sold; 17 new high-rises are being built nearby in a $2.5 billion development on what was 28 acres of vacant land; and historic buildings along Michigan Ave. are being restored for adaptive reuse.
Charleston - In Charleston, Mayor Joe Riley, who has received award after award, among them the Urban Land Institute's "Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development," stopped developers when they wanted to erect high-rise offices on Charleston’s riverfront. A tempting scheme, but Riley said he wanted all Charlestonians and visitors to enjoy the sparkle and breeze of the riverside.
He created Waterfront Park instead, calling it a gift to the future.
Memphis – We can join the list. As President John F. Kennedy said, "I look forward to an America...which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future."
These are just a few role models. You can read more about these parks and others at these links:
- Trust for Public Land.
- Project for Public Spaces. Nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and sustaining public places that build communities. Online library of case studies and photos.
- Slideshow of Chicago's renaissance. (This is an PDF document; Adobe Reader required. Caution: Over 10.5 MB.)
- And this should be required reading: Mayor Daley’s remarks at the Urban Parks Institute’s "Great Parks/Great Cities" Conference, July 31, 2001