Report Provides First-Ever Review of City Park Conservancies

The major parks in America’s largest cities are in the midst of a golden age, and a new report from The Trust for Public Land provides details and insight into conservancies, which are an arm of the some of those parks.

“As historic destination parks are being renewed and great new spaces are being created, non-profit park conservancies – private organizations working in close partnership with city agencies – are playing an increasingly large role in the park resurgence,” said Adrian Benepe, Senior Vice President for City Park Development at The Trust for Public Land.

“This report supplies invaluable practical information for people working to strengthen their city parks through public-private partnerships,” said Benepe. “We know this idea is catching on across the country, and this report will boost local knowledge of best practices.”

The study, Public Spaces/Private Money: The Triumphs and Pitfalls of Urban Park Conservancies, reveals key components of these public-private partnerships. It was written by Peter Harnik, director of TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence, and Abby Martin, research coordinator for the Center.

It explores the critical components which make conservancies strong, including the nuances of management and planning. The study also includes important financial background on the work of selected conservancies, organizations which together spend more than $150 million annually on city parks.

Public Spaces/Private Money illustrates opportunities and challenges through in-depth profiles of conservancies in Atlanta, Denver, Louisville, Memphis, New York, and St. Louis.

Through those case studies and other analysis, Harnik and Martin have identified hallmarks of effective and sustainable organizations, including:

  • Formal agreements with their cities
  • Realistic, broadly supported master plans
  • Transparent operations
  • Diverse executive boards
  • Robust fundraising capacity
  • Outstanding public outreach and political advocacy
  • Respect for, and from, public-sector partners
  • Entrepreneurial approaches to solving urban park management challenges

“A conservancy can be extraordinarily successful, raising a park up to new heights,” said Harnik. “But great opportunities also come with some challenges. We’re pleased to offer realistic analysis and information to help to make effective organizations that avoid those pitfalls.”