Over the past several years, we have seen a new, decided focus in many American cities of all sizes on redeveloping and renewing their cores, reversing trends toward suburban growth that isolated residents and crippled once-vibrant downtowns that often served as a city’s heart and soul.
One key way this transformation is happening is through the building of new urban parks and public spaces in the city center. These “front yards” are not simply green relief from asphalt, concrete, and hardscapes. They are spurring connections among residents, promoting education, and equally important, driving economic growth and community development.
Yet, one of the great challenges is how to develop these vital parks and public spaces without straining government budgets. While these spaces are proving their worth as community and economic drivers, there are equally important investments in many other areas that also must be funded from tax dollars. An effective solution? Private funding and management.
Interested individuals and philanthropic organizations are teaming up with local governments to help address this challenge, creating a resurgence among American cities in transforming their core. An excellent example of this is our firm’s most recent project, the $10 million Carolyn & Maurice LeBauer Park in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, for which we provided consultation to the city on creating, managing, and programming the facility. The park is the centerpiece of nearly $300 million in public/private partnerships and private investments that are driving the revitalization of this southeastern city’s downtown and surrounding areas.
LeBauer Park, the construction of which was made possible by a bequest of a local family on land provided by the city, is more than just another passive green space. It has been designed to function as a multidimensional community gathering place, with entertainment, educational, athletic, relaxation, and cultural areas, including a performance pavilion and event lawn that can accommodate 4,000 people, an interactive fountain, a children’s park, a dog park, a putting green, a reading room, food and beverage cafés, a play-space sculpture designed to engage those with sensory processing disorders, more than one acre (0.4 ha) of ornamental gardens, and an art installation by sculptor Janet Echelman.
LeBauer Park, which opened this summer, will offer a dense schedule of daily programs that are free and open to the public, including live music performances, movie screenings, fitness/wellness classes, art classes, literary programs, dance classes, and kids and family programs. As the city’s front yard, LeBauer Park has been designed to attract every demographic segment of Greensboro’s population, along with visitors to the city and potential residents and businesses considering locating downtown.
We expect and hope that this trend—the focus on renewing urban cores, often through parks and public spaces made possible by private support—will continue. Spaces such as LeBauer Park are improving the quality of life, building sociability and community, and driving economic development, paying great dividends on a modest investment to Greensboro and many other cities across the country.
Dan Biederman, founder and president of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, is active in the field of privately funded urban and public space management. The firm has revived and activated spaces such as Bryant Park in New York City, Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Military Park in Newark, Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh, and most recently LeBauer Park in Greensboro, North Carolina.