NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Private Efforts Support Urban Park

November 20, 2000

Many parks in cities across the nation fell on hard times in the 1970s. Shortages of municipal funds to maintain them led to their decline, while rising crime rates led the public to avoid them.

But the very lack of funds turned out to have a welcome side effect. Private citizens stepped in to raise money and peak the interest of volunteers to maintain and rehabilitate urban green spaces. Urban park conservancies -- often raising tens of millions of dollars -- were formed to restore the parks and often create new features.

  • Among the first of these was New York City's Central Park Conservancy -- which was formed in 1979 and has raised $270 million to date to restore the park's 810 acres.
  • The Golden Gate National Parks Association, founded in San Francisco in 1981, has raised $40 million to protect and unify an eclectic collection of historic and natural resources covering 74,000 acres scattered throughout the city.
  • In 1989, citizens of Atlanta formed the Piedmont Park Conservancy to fight a potentially destructive sewer plan -- then went on the raise $12 million to restore features of the 190-acre urban park.
  • In 1991, residents of Houston founded Friends of Hermann Park with the initial aim of restoring a fountain - - but then proceeded to raise $14 million to rehabilitate the park's entire 446 acres.

Conservancies range in size from small neighborhood groups to much larger associations. The smaller groups tend to restrict themselves to advocacy, fund-raising and organizing volunteers. Much larger groups sometimes get involved in design, planning and construction of improvements.

Source: Stephen Mihm, "How Urban Green Spaces Got Greener," New York Times, November 20, 2000.


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