Towpath Trail construction.
In the annual Hope and Stanley Adelstein
Endowed forum on the Environment at the City Club Wednesday afternoon, the National Trust for Public Land's Director of City Park Development Adrian Benepe spoke on the merits of city parks generally and the Cleveland Metroparks specifically.
Those merits are only occasionally (and even then, provisionally)
up for debate, but they were nonetheless encouraging to hear enumerated.
"You have a very sophisticated, very high-end, very skillful parks department here in Cleveland," Benepe said. "It's one of the best in the country."
After sharing background information on some of the more exciting urban parks projects nationwide — Chicago's Millennium Park, New York City's High Line, the entire blessed city of Minneapolis — Benepe turned his attention to Cleveland, where his regional colleagues at the Land Trust are working to secure funding for the completion of the Towpath Trail (over and above the $5 million grant from the Cleveland Foundation
announced in August).
The Towpath is the 110-mile walk- bike- and inline-skateway that will ultimately connect residents to the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie with a terminus at Whiskey Island.
(Benepe referenced "inline skating" with a straight face, by the way, and also flashed some impressive vocab. He dropped both "concatenation" and multiple variants of "amortize" on the unsuspecting blue hairs in attendance, not to mention the vocab-thirsty students from both the Horizon Science Academy and St. Martin DePorres High School).
Benepe, echoing the Zimmerman administration, trumpeted the value of urban parks foremost as a development tool, as a means of and magnet for major real estate investment. His powerpoint presentation also duly alluded to parks' promotion of beauty, community building and green infrastructure. He said that parks used to be mere afterthoughts in urban planning — have a look at Fresno, CA
—, but must now be considered "first-tier solutions to first-tier problems."
"It's also about social equity," Benepe said. "For the residents at Lakeview Terrace
and Riverview Tower (low-income and senior housing projects in Ohio City) suddenly, [the Towpath] is right in their front yard. These are low-income areas with a lot of children."
Anecdotally, Benepe dubbed Cleveland the "City of Bridges," and said that Wednesday morning he visited the fire boat that battled the Cuyahoga River fire in 1969 which led to the passage of the Clean Water Act.
"It's like visiting Lourdes," he joked.
Metroparks' CEO Brian Zimmerman introduced Benepe with some fairly stock remarks... that is, until he revealed his interpretation of "the great outdoors," an interpretation which should give at least some park users pause:
"[Parks] can make cities more efficient and less vulnerable to the effects of climate change," Zimmerman said. "They also provide opportunities to connect people to the great outdoors and to one another. And this is the case of downtown Cleveland's Perk Park, a bevy of food truck activity every Wednesday afternoon during the summer."
An elderly dog owner who enjoyed Benepe's talk zeroed in the outdoors-as-bevy-of-food-trucks interpretation during the Q&A.
"You've talked a lot about the development and the storm water and that," he said, "but what about the dogs? What about the birds and the animals and the nature aspect?"