Innovation Requires Vision and Forethought

November 26, 2019, Department, by Jack Kardys

Jack Kardys 410

“We cannot solve a problem by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” — Albert Einstein

Einstein’s quote still rings true, especially in parks and recreation. Case in point, North Miami, Florida, which recently announced plans to transform a vacant lot into a park designed to combat sea rise. For seven years, this vacant property — where a single dwelling once stood on the northeast side of 114th Street — served as home to Mattie Mays, a retired 69-year-old. While Mays asserts that the area had been prone to floods for years, the last straw occurred in 2000 when a stormwater onslaught submerged her property in nearly 4 feet of water. As it turned out, her property was situated on the lowest part of the creek. The city of North Miami ultimately offered to purchase her property and demolish the structure as part of a program to relocate residents from areas susceptible to major flooding.

Fast-forward two decades, and this abandoned half-acre property will now convert into a neighborhood park with a dual purpose: serve as a public gathering space and act as a protective barrier against future sea-level rise, which will help keep surrounding homes from flooding. This innovative park design by the Van Alen Institute features a retention pond to accommodate high-water capacity and is complemented by a path walkway and lush landscaping to absorb stormwater overflow.

All across the United States, there are municipalities and park agencies that have myriad stories, illustrating how their innovative thinking helped to solve very real problems through parks, open space and recreation programming. To highlight these success stories, NRPA has recognized some of these park agencies through its 2019 Innovation Awards. This year, the team honored the following winners:

Innovation in Health and Overall Best in Innovation – City of Port St. Lucie, Florida, which developed a non-contact, boxing-based fitness program for individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Innovation in Conservation – Metroparks Toledo, Ohio, which worked with state and federal agencies to restore a wetlands area that provides a high-quality habitat, water-quality improvement and public access by Lake Erie in an area where water quality has been an ongoing issue.

Innovation in Social Equity – City of Santa Clarita, California, whereby city staff — with limited access to parks and facilities due to transportation, language, financial, safety and cultural barriers — worked with a local business to convert a vacant apartment complex into a mini-community center.

Innovation in Park Design – Three Rivers Park District, Minnesota, which designed and constructed a nature-based 15-mile long regional trail through fully developed cities full of homes and businesses through complex planning efforts, as well as critical partnerships.

Congratulations to all of the winners! You are a true inspiration to us all. Learn more about these agencies in our 2019 Innovation Guide, which accompanies this month’s issue of Parks & Recreation magazine.

As park planners, we realize the decisions that we make cannot be based on what we believe community members should want. Instead, we need to bring our residents, community stakeholders and elected officials to the table to have a broader conversation to identify the wants, needs and problems that should be addressed collectively and thoughtfully. If we hope to problem-solve through innovation, we must begin with clear vision through the lens of community resilience.

Jack Kardys is NRPA's Chair of the Board of Directors.