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Building the capacity of local nonprofits, grassroots organizations, and neighborhood residents is an essential part of our community-centered approach and ensures those that live, work, and play near these Parks with Purpose projects benefit from their development. Engaging with and empowering the community is key in the Fund’s approach to developing these new urban parks.

WHAT IS A PARK with PURPOSE? 

The Conservation Fund believes, of course, that all parks can provide benefits. But when we set out to focus our Parks with Purpose Initiative, we looked at three major elements: 1) A greenspace designed with the community—its primary beneficiaries—setting objectives and defining the goals for the park; (2) Greenspace that could provide not only environmental benefits but human benefits of equal importance: workforce training, a safe place for children to play and enjoy the outdoors, a community center providing a positive impact on surrounding residences and small businesses; and (3) providing essential green infrastructure for resilience to the effects of weather extremes and changing climate.

By purposefully choosing to work with vulnerable communities, we also seek to counter historic patterns of racial and economic discrimination and use the opportunities and networks we have developed to open doors of opportunity to those who live there and build environmental resiliencies in communities the most impacted by climate change and environmental degradation.  

cities where the fund is working include: 

  • Atlanta, GA
    The Fund's local partner is Park Pride and the organizations involved in the Atlanta Watershed Learning Network with a focus on English Avenue and Proctor North Avenue neighborhoods. Other partners include West Atlanta Watershed AssociationProctor Creek Stewardship Council, Greening Youth Foundation and EcoAction.

  • Baltimore, MD
    The Fund's lead local partner is Greater Baybrook Alliance. Along with Friends of Garrett Park, we are working in the Garret Park neighborhood within the Brooklyn/Baybrook community of south Baltimore.

  • Durham, NC
    The Fund's lead local partner is Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, with a focus on projects in the Ellerbe Creek watershed and in the east and northeast neighborhoods of Durham.

  • Raleigh, NC
    The Fund's lead local partner is Walnut Creek Wetlands Community Partnership, focused on the neighborhoods situated southeast of downtown Raleigh. North Carolina State University's Water Resources Research Institute is serving as the fiscal agent for the Partnership, including ILASS and CHER.

  • Washington, DC:
    We are partnering with additional philanthropic partners, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation to support a new Community Engagement Liaison position and new “friends” organization for Anacostia Park, the key unit of National Capital Parks East.

THE FUND’S ROLE 

The Conservation Fund’s Parks with Purpose program provides a suite of services to communities that create safe places for kids to play and families and neighbors to gather while reducing the impacts of stormwater flooding, air and water pollution, erosion control and increasing access to fresh and healthy foods, providing environmental educational opportunities, and creating new, green job opportunities for community residents. Through our equitable park development model, we are working hand in hand with residents from some of our most challenged and vulnerable neighborhoods to deliver new parks that meet the needs of these urban communities by encouraging community engagement and empowerment. 


Old Cities—Growing Populations and Dated Infrastructure

As if these pressures were not enough, climate change is increasing rainfall storm intensity, prolonging periods of drought, and sending temperatures soaring. Historically underserved neighborhoods are poorly positioned to deal with the triple whammy of increased extremes in weather, development pressures from neighboring areas, and the lack of adequate existing  infrastructure.

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These vulnerable communities suffer disproportionately from stormwater flooding, overflowing sewers, higher urban temperatures, and declining air quality. These persistent conditions lead to adverse health consequences for residents and deter investments that could support new businesses and jobs, improve housing, educational opportunities, and public safety. Parks with Purpose projects offer communities not only increased environmental resilience but also additional benefits from revitalized, safe and clean green spaces that create many positive impacts for the surrounding community.  

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NEW SOLUTIONS—SUSTAINABLE, GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE

Our cities are filled with streets, sidewalks, homes and other buildings, all of which prevent the rain from absorbing into the ground. During heavy rainstorms, city streets overflow with stormwater runoff, causing flash flooding and sometimes, sewer overflows. Parks and greenspaces provide natural space that can absorb stormwater during heavy rains, reduce flash flooding and erosion, and expand the capacity of our aging, urban sewer systems.  

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With cities growing and developing the built environment at rapid rates, protecting and restoring our urban greenspaces is more important than ever. 

The Conservation Fund is working with communities and city partners across the country on a variety of park and trail projects that will ensure that the conservation of precious ecological resources will provide the greatest value to vulnerable residents and wildlife alike. Having a strong network of greenspace will ensure our cities can support vibrant, healthy, thriving, and resilient communities.

WHY THIS PROJECT MATTERS

Urban environmental degradation is clearly linked to economic and social challenges. We believe all Americans deserve great parks and that new and revitalized greenspaces can be the cornerstones of healthier and revitalized communities. These Parks with Purpose can generate new opportunities for education, workforce training, and employment for neighborhood residents. By focusing on communities that have been historically denied a fair shot at the American dream, we aim to  empower and uncover community assets,  and harness the power of parks to make the revival of our cities more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable.  

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Our goal is to grow these opportunities, so that residents, cities, and other nonprofit partners can share successes, challenges, and lessons learned across a wide, collaborative network. Exchanges have included:

  • Delegations from a variety of cities have participated in a learning exchange through the Fund’s partnership with the US Water Alliance and American Rivers to share insights and lessons learned about large scale, integrated watershed management solutions. In addition, the US Water Alliance has engaged six cities—Atlanta, Louisville, Camden, Milwaukee, Buffalo, and Cleveland are working together on a Water Equity Taskforce aimed at delivering clean and healthy water resources to some of our most vulnerable communities.

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  • A partnership of non-profits has established the Atlanta Watershed Learning Network, connecting residents in three of Atlanta’s most imperiled waterways through a green infrastructure advocacy program. The Learning Network has graduated the first class of advocates and a second cohort is currently enrolled in the program. The University of Georgia is currently working with our collaborative partners to develop the curriculum in a web-based platform that can be shared with other watersheds across the country. 

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  • Our network of Parks with Purpose teams from six cities recently visited Atlanta for a two-day peer exchange to learn from Atlanta residents and collaborative partners how a community-centered development model was developed, creating new ripples of knowledge and collaborative learning that will expand our partnerships across cities and increase benefits to additional communities. 

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Optimization Modeling

If you’ve ever studied a crowded supermarket shelf—Which brand? Size? Price?—you know the challenge of comparison shopping. So do conservationists. From state governments to local land trusts, cash-strapped conservationists must choose which of America’s special places to save. Today, with tight budgets, those choices are tougher than ever.

But we’ve developed a tool that can help.  Our strategic conservation team, working with a resource economist, has crafted a computer model that enables conservationists to shop smart—by evaluating potential conservation projects for best dollar value.

“We all want the most bang for our buck, and conservation is no different,” says Will Allen, our director of strategic conservation. “Are you spending too much money on expensive projects, or are you getting real value? With public budgets so tight, government officials must be able to justify how they’re spending these dollars wisely.”

The new model “optimizes” conservation decisions. It works by turning raw data about conservation decisions—project costs, benefits (scored numerically), budget constraints—into a user-friendly spreadsheet yielding comparison shopping conclusions.  Using the model, for example, a government agency can quickly compare the relative value of all possible projects and then make, and justify, an informed choice.

Optimization Modeling On The Ground

On the ground, the Baltimore County Agricultural Land Preservation Program in Maryland has already used our optimization model to save 22% more farmland than it would have otherwise over the past three years. Every year since 2007, Baltimore County has applied the optimization model to choose which agricultural lands to save. Optimization has helped the county protect an additional 680 acres of high-quality agricultural land, at a cost savings of roughly $5.4 million—a return on investment over three years of more than 60 to 1. In other words, for every $1 that Baltimore County spent using the optimization model, it has gained more than $60 in conservation benefits.

Wally Lippincott, Land Preservation Administrator in Baltimore County, is pleased with the results: “After trying for years to balance price with farm quality using rank based methods, we switched to optimization. In the first three years of using optimization, Baltimore County has been able to protect an additional 680 acres for the same amount of funds that would otherwise have been spent.  This also translates into a savings of approximately $5.4 million.”

Rob Hirsch likes that the program is easy to use: “Optimization has proven easier to administer and run than our old methods.  During our rank-based days, we performed extra administrative and mathematical work in order to solicit discounts and award extra LESA points for discounting.  With optimization, this is no longer required.”

More about Green Infrastructure


Check out our Green Infrastructure Resources, including Case Studies, Services, and Webinar Series.
By the Numbers:
Strategic Conservation Planning has performed green infrastructure activities in close to 40 states.

Strategic Conservation Planning has completed greenspace plans for three of the largest metropolitan areas in the country.
The Conservation Fund works across America to support healthy, vibrant cities and more equitable and livable neighborhoods. We start by listening, working with people, local partners, and civic leaders to implement their visions. Our balanced approach to nature and our built environment is helping to revitalize neighborhoods, unite communities, and position cities to thrive for every resident.

We bring strategic conservation expertise to communities, government leaders, and industry across the country to achieve the multiple benefits from investing in clean air, clean water, habitat, climate resilience and adaptation, and community livability.

We help communities identify their conservation priorities and goals, recommend high impact, cost effective implementation strategies, and help build the capacity of communities to fulfill their conservation visions.

Through the use of maps, GIS modeling, and valuing the economic benefit of ecosystem services, we strategically evaluate areas for land protection and stewardship as well as identify opportunities to integrate planning for green and gray infrastructure. 

Our projects illustrate our strategic focus on the following themes:

Urban / Metropolitan Sustainability

    • We are an active partner in many ongoing urban conservation initiatives including the Urban Federal Waters Partnership, the Metropolitan Greenspaces Alliance, the One Water Leadership Summit, and the Ecological Places in Cities initiative. 


Green Infrastructure Plans

    • We offer a best-in-class planning solution to create comprehensive green infrastructure plans across multiple scales, from small watersheds to multi-state regions. Visit the Greenprint Resource Hub to learn how greenprints can be utilized to identify strategic conservation opportunities in communities.


Food Security / Farmland Protection

    • We offer asset mapping and analysis of food systems to better understand how working farms fit within a region’s green infrastructure.


Strategic Mitigation

    • We offer agencies and industry with best-in-class solutions to achieve their mitigation and environmental stewardship goals. 


Climate Resiliency / Water Resources

    • We offer a variety of solutions for climate mitigation, adaptation, and implementation of projects that protect water resources and make communities more resilient.

We provide custom tailored tools to help solve complex planning problems:

  • Green infrastructure networks / landscape design
  • Regional conservation visions
  • Ecosystem service valuation
  • Rapid open space assessments
  • Strategic conservation guidance
  • Implementation / acquisition targeting
  • GIS decision support tools and map services
  • Optimization models for cost effective decision making
  • Structured decision tools using the Logic Scoring of Preference method