Officials call for emphasis on parkland in Baltimore

Forum promotes benefits of urban green space

May 02, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The director of parks and recreation in Portland, Ore., challenged Baltimore's City Hall yesterday: "If Mayor Martin O'Malley wants a great city, he's got to have great parks."

Charles Jordan, the Oregon official who is described by some as a "spiritual leader" of a new urban parks movement, was the keynote speaker at a four-day convention of park advocates and experts in Baltimore. Officials from Baltimore and several other cities, including New York, Boston and Pittsburgh, hope to encourage a new way of looking at parks as critical to a city's well-being.

Whether it's Central Park in New York or a bit of flowers and earth, parks are precious assets, several speakers said. Leon Younger of Indianapolis, an expert on the economics of parks, said they could even be seen as "economic tools" for Baltimore if the city took a more aggressive tack in creating park partnerships with the business community.

Younger heads the firm conducting O'Malley's national search for director of recreation and parks. Thomas Overton, the current head, is among the candidates.

Jordan and other speakers urged the 100 or so participants to conceive of parks as working in harmony with other city government agencies -- not a "war of the parts against the whole," Jordan said. In fact, lively parks and recreation programs are a good crime-fighting solution, some said.

Kathy Madden, vice president of the Project for Public Spaces in New York, gave a slide show that featured parks from Brooklyn's Prospect Park -- "the United Nations of parks, an amazing social landscape" -- to the romantic Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.

Parks that enhance their cities have certain things in common, Madden told the group. "A good park has a lot going on," she said. "It's where you run into people. It gives the freedom to speak to another person, to a stranger. There are paths and destinations, activities and comfortable places."

In New York's Bryant Park, she pointed out, hundreds of movable chairs are available.

Madden said all the expert design advice in the world cannot do better than people who live near any given park. "The community is the expert," she said, in creating innovative parks.

Jordan pointed to Portland's Pioneer Park downtown as a brick-by-brick project, literally: A place built by selling each brick for a small sum to people who want their names inscribed. "Immortality, that's how we built that park."

For all the focus on community building, there was still a sense that leadership on this front in Baltimore is lagging behind other cities, especially New York, Boston and Chicago. As one participant, Carol Macht, a landscape architect, said, "We absolutely have to have inspiration at the top."

David Scott, a top mayoral aide, was on hand to listen yesterday, and O'Malley is scheduled to lead a park rally at City Hall Plaza at noon today.

"We've got to make parks as important as public safety," said Scott, a deputy mayor who oversees the recreation and parks department.

After taking tours yesterday, out-of-town visitors were impressed with what Madden called "incredible urban infrastructure." She said Baltimore was "poised for greatness."

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