New Book on Urban Parks

A new book makes the case for cities to find innovative places to create new parkland. In Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities, author Peter Harnik also defends parks as valuable attractions that must be actively promoted by private citizens and public officials. Peter Harnik is director of The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence. Island Press published the book, available online at

With Urban Green, Harnik details the political maneuvering needed to create new parks and offers 16 practical and realistic methods of making new parks in every kind of U.S. city, even crowded places as Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York.

A U.S. Conference of Mayors report recently highlighted the growing demand for parks and open space as one of the biggest challenges for urban leaders today. Urban Green details methods and best practices that will support city efforts to meet the demand.

With tangible examples and their stories, Urban Green provides realistic and proven solutions to creating new parks in cities. Examples range from reusing blighted land as new schoolyards, building trails on abandoned railroad tracks, planting community gardens, decking parks over highways to uncovering buried streams, greening rooftops, to re-conceptualizing cemeteries, and much more.

“In the nation’s 60-year migration to the suburbs,” Harnik says, “Americans not only burned up vast amounts of fuel and paved over forests and pasture lands, we also let our cities and city parks fall into decay. But now as cities begin to rebound-and as evidence of the economic, cultural, and health benefits of parks grows–investment in urban parks is swelling.”

U.S. cities are on an “upward trajectory,” Harnik writes. Some, like Chandler, Arizona, are in their very first growth cycle. Others, like Atlanta, are bouncing back from years of decline. Even cities like Cleveland, that are not yet on the path of full recovery, have sections and neighborhoods that are seeing revival and an overall urban picture that offer cause for hope. Parks have played-and will continue to play-a significant role in turning around a city’s fortunes.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg reinforces the book’s message in the foreword to the book, “The urban park is as fertile ground for fresh new thinking as it is for the plants and trees that clean our air and improve our lives.” Bloomberg has set a goal of having a park within a 10-minute walk of every New Yorker.

The key to success, says Harnik, is to return to considerations that were forgotten or ignored in the din of suburbanization and sprawl: human scale, walkability, efficiency, and respect for ecological principles. Parks, ultimately, are about the relationship between people and nature. After a long hiatus, the time is right to restart our public conversation with some very simple questions: Where can we put parks and how can we start building them? For cities of every size and character, Urban Green offers promising answers.

Peter Harnik is director of the Center for City Park Excellence at The Trust for Public Land. He is the author of Inside City Parks, a book about the park and recreation systems of the 25 largest U.S. cities. In 2003, his research resulted in The Excellent City Park System: What Makes it Great and How to Get There. Previously, he co-founded the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., whose mission is to create a nationwide network of trails from former railroad lines.