Notable News

September 1, 2015, Department, by Sonia Myrick

- Bloomberg Philanthropies recently announced the first eight cities chosen for its new $42 million initiative, What Works Cities, to help mayors and planners make the most of big data. The goal is eventually to help 100 midsized U.S. cities with populations between 100,000 and 1 million by boosting open government in municipalities around the country, writing best practices guidelines and streamlining the use of data as it applies to effective policymaking, including planning and financing for parks and recreation. The first eight cities are Chattanooga, Tennessee; Jackson, Mississippi; Kansas City, Missouri; Louisville, Kentucky; Mesa, Arizona; New Orleans, Louisiana; Seattle, Washington; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Each will receive local support and education in capitalizing on data to improve resident’s lives. What Works Cities will first review each city’s current use of open data and then design a customized approach mayors can use to address issues such as economic development, public health, job creation and blight.


- Bloomberg Philanthropies isn’t alone in this sphere. In June, Google launched its own new urban solutions company, Sidewalk Labs, to develop technology solutions for city challenges.


- A recent study by Jessica Finlay, a University of Minnesota graduate student, in conjunction with a team from Vancouver, British Columbia, shows that older adults may also benefit from more experience with nature. The study, which was published in the journal Health and Place, found that even relatively mundane experiences, such as hearing the sound of water or a bee buzzing among flowers, can have a tremendous impact on overall health. Finlay found that while younger people may use green and blue spaces — environments with running or still water — to escape and rejuvenate from their busy work life, the participants in her study, people age 65 to 86, used nature to be active physically, spiritually and socially in later life. Many overcame barriers due to chronic illness, disability and progressing old age to connect regularly with green and blue spaces.


- The Outdoor Adventure Center in the heart of Detroit, Michigan, is designed to bring the experience of Michigan’s great outdoors — camping, fishing, kayaking and more — to its inner-city residents. Housed in the historic Globe Building, which had a significant role in the maritime history of the Great Lakes and has the Dequindre Cut Trail running through its backyard, the center’s goal is to shrink the “adventure gap,” for youth in the inner city. The reality, according to a recent National Park Service visitation survey, is that 22 percent of the roughly 292.8 million park visitors in 2014 were minorities, although they make up some 37 percent of the population. According to James Mills, a Wisconsin-based journalist and author of “The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors,” this deficit could have some serious implications for efforts to preserve and conserve wild and scenic places as demographics shift and the minority groups become the majority. He says if people of color continue to "spend less time in nature than their white counterparts, when that population becomes the majority population…that means a majority of people in this country will have no affinity for nature."


- The Kiwanis Tot Lot on Cambridge in Berkely, California, now boasts a bright red, two-shelf Little Free Library stocked with books for children and adults at its entrance. The idea of placing little libraries in parks is being championed by Shirley Hansen, a member of the Friends of the Berkley Public Library, whose goal is to see Little Free Libraries in all nine of the city’s parks. Berkley’s new Parks and Recreation Director Art Serafinski, an avid proponent of the little library idea, agrees. I think it’s a wonderful concept,” he said. “When you look at libraries and you look at parks and rec departments, although they are viewed differently, we all provide leisure opportunities to the community. To be able to partner with libraries for something like this is wonderful.” The Little Free Library movement started in Hudson, Wisconsin, in 2009 with a simple idea of offering free books inside of charming, small structures placed in neighborhood front yards. Passersby could take a book or leave one for others to enjoy, the idea was to get people reading the printed word. Little Free Libraries are now found all over the world.


- You’d probably be surprised to learn that the following 15 parks — 11 of which are located in the United States — started out as landfills and, thanks to the ever-improving body of knowledge about waste management, are now stunning recreational areas: Colorado Springs, Colorado's Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Staten Island, New York’s Freshkills Park, Virginia Beach, Virginia’s Mount Trashmore Park, Berkeley, California’s César Chávez Park, Seattle, Washington’s Washington Park Arboretum, Buffalo, New York’s Tifft Nature Preserve, Pulau Semakau, Singapore’s Pulau Semakau, West Roxbury, Massachusetts’ Millennium Park, Charlotte, North Carolina’s McAlpine Creek Community Park, Adelaide, Australia’s Chambers Gully Reserve in Cleland Conservation Park, Tel Aviv, Israel’s Ariel Sharon Park, Lam Tin, Hong Kong’s Sai Tso Wan Recreation Ground, Queens New York’s Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Balloon Fiesta Park, and Fort Bragg, California’s Glass Beach.