Toward a New Order

By Phil Hayward | Posted on March 24, 2011

Having experienced numerous recessions in my professional lifetime, I’ve come to the conclusion that for all their destructiveness, some good comes out of them. It’s not always evident at the time. But you can observe tell-tale signs, especially when you hear the phrase, “New Normal,” as in we’ll be operating in a new normal. The current economic situation, however, is so far from “normal” recessions that we can expect all manner of changes in the coming year and beyond. I’m certain of one thing: the emergence of innovators in all fields and all areas of the country devising new products, systems, and schemes that this new order will enable.

We’re already seeing that in parks and recreation in numerous ways—from the nimble agencies that transform into special park districts, alter their revenue programs, embrace new technologies, and simply find ways to cut expenses and increase revenues without endangering service delivery. Our March issue features two thinker-doers who interestingly hail from outside the field. Their visions have the potential to help, if not alter, how parks deal with bad economic times. They do it on a large scale. And, ultimately, they support parks for all the right reasons.

A former Wall Street hedge fund manager, Michael Messner observed the vast power of boom and bust in commercial real estate and he lamented the trillions of dollars spent to back stop them, as Senior Editor Maureen Hannan writes. Instead, Messner envisions economic and societal viability in demolishing buildings in the financial “red” and converting them to green spaces, with part of tracts slated for eventual re-development. His Redfields to Greenfields project currently is centered in Atlanta, where he has partnered with Georgia Tech’s School of Engineering. You can read about his ultimate plan for a federally backed land bank that has the potential to create many new parks while simultaneously (re)engineering the urban landscape across the country in environmentally responsible ways. Page 14.

Less complex, but just as compelling for our field, is Dan Biederman’s public-private approach to refurbishing tired and over-used parks and public spaces. The New York-based entrepreneur and former economic advisor to Singapore’s urban development authority first tested his approach successfully with the transformation of New York’s Bryant Park from an eyesore to a popular public space in recessionary 1991. His current project is Boston’s historic Common. Read how Biederman is working with the city, friends groups, and private enterprise to restore this much loved—and used—54-acre park. Page 11.

These are just two examples of what may—or may not—be the new order of how things will be done in parks and recreation. It’s hard to recognize much of this innovation as it forms around us. But it’s there and we will do our best to bring it to you. Keep an eye out for our April issue which will explore the economy and its impact even more deeply.

Phil Hayward is the Editor for Parks & Recreation magazine.