Parks for People

How Newark Neighbors Are Reclaiming Public Land and Turning It Into Parks

Imagine driving through a city and passing by neglected lots. Often, these abandoned lots are flanked by deteriorating buildings and homes. This is a familiar scene – it doesn’t take much to imagine it, because you’ve seen it many times before.

Now imagine driving through that same city where those neglected lots have been transformed into vibrant parks and green spaces, where kids are enjoying the playgrounds, basketball courts and skate parks, where people of all ages are playing tennis and exercising, and where there are ample performance spaces and engaging public art installations too.

Maybe this scene is not as familiar as the first one, but you can still imagine it and believe that it’s possible, right? So can we. It’s called “Parks for People” and it’s happening right now in Newark, New Jersey.

The Need for Parks & Playgrounds

Fewer than 50 percent of the children in Newark, New Jersey's largest city, live within walking distance of a park or playground. Through its Parks for People initiative, Dodge funds The Trust for Public Land (TPL) to help build a citywide network of parks and playgrounds. And like Sustainable Jersey, another of Dodge’s signature investments, Parks for People is a decidedly community-driven program, in which teams of community members, students and school staff, and city officials are actively involved in all phases of the park development process: from visioning and design, to construction and long-term maintenance and stewardship.

“I work with communities to help identify their needs for their new green parks and playgrounds,” says Donna Kirkland, TPL’s Program Coordinator. “So, they might incorporate green elements such as trees, learning gardens, and planting beds, for example, or they may concentrate on play equipment, fields and ball courts that offer recreational opportunities. Encouraging communities to take the lead in designing these sites helps them stay invested for the long-term success of their new outdoor spaces.”

Investing in Newark

Dodge has committed $1.5 million over the past five years to help TPL develop multiple park sites, in collaboration with public and private partners supporting TPL's efforts across the city of Newark. So while Dodge has played an active role in opening four sites (Jesse Allen Park, Nat Turner Park, Mount Vernon School’s playground, and a new playground for kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students at the Quitman Street Community School), in total, TPL's Parks for People efforts have created ten parks and playgrounds, leveraging more than $30 million in public and private investments.

Reclaiming the Land

“Supporting Parks for People comes out of Dodge’s larger commitment to preserve open space in New Jersey,” explains Environment Program Director Margaret Waldock. “In urban areas, the only way to preserve open space is to reclaim it. We support Parks for People because community participation is a cornerstone of the program, and because The Trust for Public Land works directly with residents to improve the quality of life in Newark, neighborhood by neighborhood."

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The Trust for Public Land

The Trust for Public Land has created more parks in cities than any other national conservation organization. One of TPL's founding goals was to provide close-to-home nature, and in the forty years since, it has grown into the nation's premier organization creating parks and gardens, building playgrounds, and setting aside natural land for urban residents.

Some cities have plenty of parkland that's well distributed around town; others have enough land but an inequitable distribution; others are short of even a basic amount of park space for their citizens.

See how your city’s parks compare to others in TPL’s 2011 City Park Facts Report.

Photos courtesy Mark K. Morrison Associates, Trust for Public Land, and Avery Wham