Monday, June 10, 2013

Parks: Acres or Access?

A great article just popped up over at The Atlantic Cities about parks. The article highlights work by the Trust for Public Land, which mapped park access in the fifty largest American cities. The article makes the point that cities with lower densities have a harder time providing access to parks, because fewer people are within walking distance of them. It is good, and it is short. Check it out.

Most cities have targets for parks based on acres, not access. Their goals often focus on providing a certain number of acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. The National Park and Recreation Association recommends 10 acres per 1,000 residents. This is the wrong way to look at it. I see three primary problems with this standard: 

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Renaissance of Downtown Redwood City

I wrote the following piece for's City Spotlight. The original article can be found here. CNU's website is packed with good stuff. Check it out.

It is unknown to many urbanists, but one of the most dramatic downtown comeback stories of our generation is taking place in Redwood City, California. I have been lucky enough to serve as Redwood City’s Downtown Development Coordinator for the past ten years, and to play a role in its renaissance. This dynamic district, formerly ridiculed as “Deadwood City,” has seen an amazing turnaround due to an aggressive program of code reform, a strong investment in public spaces, and a strategy of using entertainment as a catalyzing force.

Founded in 1852 as a port on a creek leading to San Francisco Bay, Redwood City took its name from the redwood lumber that was shipped from there to build Gold Rush-era San Francisco. When San Mateo County was broken off of San Francisco County in 1856, Redwood City was designated the County seat, and the town grew slowly but steadily around shipping and government. It became one of the primary towns on the San Francisco Peninsula and had a strong downtown until the middle of the 20th century.

As with so many American downtowns, it declined with construction of nearby malls and other shopping centers. A redevelopment plan was drawn up in the 1960s to completely demolish historic districts, create superblocks, and pedestrianize primary streets. Thankfully, this plan was never implemented, and Downtown Redwood City limped through the late 20th century struggling economically, but physically intact.

The citizens of Redwood City had long desired for their Downtown to be revitalized, and steadily demanded that actions be taken to improve the area. Some good steps were taken, such as the the 1989 preservation of the former fire station and its adaptive reuse into the main city library, the construction of a new city hall in 1997, and the development two city-assisted housing projects in 1998 and 2002. Some missteps were also taken, such as the construction of a suburban-style shopping center directly next to the Downtown commuter train station in 1994. However, the turnaround really began in earnest at the turn of the millenium and is now a juggernaut. It has progressed generally as a three-phase process.