Micro-Connections - installment 1

Riverwalks, Belt-lines, Riverfront Parks are all awesome and transformative projects. They capture the public eye. They capture headlines. They are visionary. And us planners love to quote Daniel Burnham’s  “Make No Small Plans” to incite excitement and grand vision. These are important projects and have helped make our cities and our neighborhoods more livable and desirable.

As important as those projects are, I want to talk today about a new type of project that is smaller, perhaps not as sexy, and it may not capture headlines. However, it is something you can do today! Maybe you can even do it within your current budget! These small but critical projects can have generational impact on your communities.  What if you could complete an impactful project within 3-6 months? What if you could complete a project that connects residents to their local park within the current Mayoral administration?

When I say micro-connections, Im referring to smaller ways to connect people to parks and parks to people.

In the suburban model, these micro-connections may look like connecting a closed cul-de-sac to a park by way of a natural trail under or near a transmission line.  In other areas the small connector may link a neighborhood to a park by building a simple foot bridge over a drainage ditch. In more urban applications, these small connections may look like simply improving crosswalks or making crosswalks look more interesting and appealing to improve safety and visual connectivity.

I worked on a project preserving100 acres and converting into a natural park with mountain bike trails and hiking trails. It has become a great park. It is also within 5 minutes of downtown. One of the things I noticed was how close the park was to residents but how difficult it was for some people to get there. We took an inventory of the potential connection around the park: some of those opportunities looked like roads that ended into the park like a dead end street. Another opportunity was a large transmission line that ran along the western side of the park and was considered a “no-man’s” land and therefore it became a natural barrier between residents and the park. It became clear that we needed to figure out how to create these small connections so that people could easily get to the park from their front door. These connections are not completed at this time but progress is being made.

When these connections are completed and made simple, people begin to make the park a part of the daily life and it becomes a routine.

Transmission Lines and Slope creating a Barrier to the Park

Now, it not only becomes a improved amenity for your community - It becomes a part of your community's health and wellness plan.

There are lots of great examples across the country of these micro-connections and I am simply calling out that it is time to celebrate and encourage them. I want to encourage you to look at ways you can improve the boundaries of your park.

In my opinion, the park doesn’t end at the park boundary!  The park needs to flood over into its surroundings. The park needs to have fingers into the streets and the neighborhoods.  

Here is a list of things to consider as you think about creating micro-connections as a way to improve your park and neighborhood:

  1. Do an inventory of your park surroundings
  2. Identify the residential areas around and near your park
  3. Identify the commercial areas or special bars / restaurants near your park
  4. Identify the primary ways people get the park (any major hurdles?)
  5. Are there any new, faster and easier ways for people to access the park
  6. What are the barriers to access the park (fences, creeks, transmission lines, Rail Roads)
  7. Finally, you need Data: look at how many people you could connect with new connections and then estimate budgets for these new connections.

You might just find that you can create some strategically important connections for the people in your community that has lasting impact!  

I would love to hear your thoughts on Micro-Connections and any examples you may see.

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