Our need for access to the natural world is paramount. To have greenspaces to frequent, trees to climb, fields to throw a frisbee in… The urban landscape would be pretty bleak if not for the brief (or sometimes vast) moments of respite provided by our urban parks. In this installment of the GOOD Cities Project—our look at how we make our cities and our cities make us—we examine the ever-vital urban park and how it’s evolved over time.
The moment we stepped into Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, we heard the music. We followed it to the corner of the park and saw a band playing for a local swing/lindy hop group offering free dance lessons. Here's what was interesting: while all of the benches around the band were full of people, there was about a ten-foot gap between the sitters and the dancers. The gap was just enough to discourage people from joining in the fun, and the dance group was more of a spectacle than an interactive experience.
What can you do to make your neighborhood bus stop—and consequently your neighborhood itself—a better place? Offer seating and shelter, for starters? Could a simple picnic table foster informal conversation by day and host the occasional neighborhood potluck by night? Maybe a mini-library or community bulletin or barter board to keep neighbors informed? How about croquet, checkers, or corn hole to invite interaction? A covered bike rack would be a great amenity and help extend transit access. What about providing simple ways for young and old to be more physically active while waiting for the bus with swings, tether ball, a climbing wall or tire drill? Better yet—why not collaborate with other neighbors to install these exercises as a fitness trail at several consecutive bus stops?
The quality and design of bus stops varies enormously, but all could benefit from a loving local touch. Urban locations are frequently blessed with well-lit shelters, seats, route information, and sidewalks. Still, the surreptitious addition of a stem flower vase (and a commitment to its replenishment) can work wonders at spreading smiles and building good neighborhood mojo.
In the 1990s, Philadelphia’s Love Park was an international destination for skateboarders. In a way, the park gave the city its identity. Neighborhood residents felt safe at night with the constant activity in the park, business people ate lunch there, and parents were happy that their kids had found a safe recreational spot in which to socialize and exercise. ESPN’s X Games extreme sports tournament even made Philadelphia its home for two years because of the park.
However, in 2002, Mayor John Street enforced a skateboarding ban, and a municipal controversy led to the need for the Skater’s Defense Lobby, which rallied for skateboarder’s rights and advocated for the positive value of skateboarding as a sport. Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund was founded to bridge the divide between the city of Philadelphia and the needs of the skateboarders, and they were determined to build skateparks.