Parks are critical to urban planning. Perhaps one of the biggest problems when it comes to designing and allocating space for urban development is that parks are merely a “perk” or a “visual” accent for urban areas that serve no other purpose than recreation.
Construction economists, like Richard Vermeulen, understand that the importance of parks goes far beyond intangible benefits like making people feel good. There are real social, economic, and ecological benefits to having these spaces present in a city. Instead of being an added cost, parks can be optimized to perform infrastructure functions. These functions become more efficient and pay for the park. Green at No Cost in other words!
Parks — The Alternative Route
Certainly, residents can take pleasure in larger, open spaces, with a natural setting that provides a pleasant contrast to the stone and metal architecture that is typical of urbanized areas. However, construction economists see the real benefit of park spaces when they are smartly planned in placement and usage.
Parks can be invaluable in providing alternative routes for both pedestrians and cyclists that allow them to enjoy a more pleasant setting, while still efficiently traveling from one point to the next, outside of the typical city sidewalks. Dedicated park bike and pedestrian paths can be far more accommodating and safer than typical city routes that divide up existing roads with bike lanes, leaving both cyclists and drivers at the mercy of unpredictable traffic activity.
The biggest economic benefit comes with networks of linear parks. These can provide a super low-cost subway or ride-share network, that takes congestion off of other surface routes while providing scenic passage through ecological corridors.
Parks can also be designated areas to bring residents together. The presence of a community center, or even community-centric planning, such as garden spaces, gives both adults and children a chance to come together in common activities that can actually benefit the entire area. A properly planned and utilized park can have major social benefits for a neighborhood, and provide safer areas for residents to plan and partake in activities.
All of this, however, requires real, detailed planning. As with creating a building, planning and constructing a park is about more than simply having a space with grass and no multi-story structures. Paths need to be laid out, areas need to be considered for usage and utilities, and local ecology needs to be measured.
Park spaces provide diverse ecological, municipal, and recreational benefits, but only if they are created through a value process, measured cost/benefit analysis, and optimization.