By Charlie McCabe
Starting Saturday, 6/18/22, Philadelphia will host the (usually) every-other-year edition of Greater and Greener, the urban parks conference organized by the City Parks Alliance. Depending on how you count, this will be the fifth edition, with previous conferences hosted in New York City (2012), San Francisco (2015), Minneapolis and St. Paul (2017), and Denver (2019). The next conference will be held in Seattle in 2024. This year's edition was postponed a year due to the seemingly never-ending pandemic. The organizers are taking no chances, requiring everyone to provide proof of vaccination, a negative PCR test, and wearing masks while indoors. Fortunately, the best portions of the conference (in my opinion) take place outside in parks and green spaces across the city.
The City Parks Alliance, as I have written about earlier, is a national nonprofit working advocate for parks and green spaces in our ever growing and changing cities. While the organization's focus is the United States, the Alliance has members from a number of other countries, especially Canada and Mexico. The City Parks Alliance grew out of an effort in the 1990s and early 2000s to fund city parks efforts in 10 cities, funded largely by a multi-year grant from the Wallace Foundation. As the grantees wrapped up their work, they saw the importance of continuing to collaborate with each other and the Alliance was born. For many years it was "small and scrappy" (like many of its member parks nonprofits), but thanks to great staff leadership, several strategic plans, and many talented and helpful board members, it has grown and adapted to the times.
[My background: I served on the board of directors from 2011 through 2018, representing the Austin Parks Foundation (2011-2012), the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy (2012-2015), as a graduate student at Pratt Institute (2015-2016), and the Trust for Public Land (2017-2018). I think I gave both staff and fellow board members whiplash changing organizations and cities so frequently.]
This year, I'm simply an attendee at the conference. In prior years, I presented or moderated sessions, helped organize presenters and panels, staffed tables, assisted on field trips, and answered questions. As an independent parks, open space, and placemaking consultant, I look forward to the field trips to parks and public spaces large and small, the panel discussions, and especially the ability to network—it's a chance to talk with fellow public park officials, nonprofit parks organization staff, park researchers and consultants (my current niche) and funders, too. I'll write a post or two next week highlighting what I heard and learned.
This is the first in-person conference for me in a few years, and it will be a welcome change from the many virtual gatherings, meetings and presentations that I've attended, presented at, or helped moderate. While working virtually is a forgone conclusion as an independent consultant (as it was long before the pandemic emerged) a big part of working in parks and open space is, well, actually being out in parks and open space. As my recent trip to St. Louis showed, the work hasn't stopped and the public's appreciation of parks has only increased. It will be interesting to see and hear how 800 or so parks advocates, funders, and officials are feeling about this moment.
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