The Spatial Logic of Parks

Emily Talen

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Talen, E. (1). The Spatial Logic of Parks. Journal of Urban Design, 15(4), 473–491.

Urban parks are usually studied as discrete, green public open spaces. Less studied is how parks are geographically distributed from a ‘spatial logic’ point of view, i.e. how they ought to be geographically distributed across the urban landscape. This paper evaluates the degree to which normative principles about park distribution are in evidence from the standpoint of three spatial goals: proximity, diversity and social need. Using Phoenix and Chicago as case studies, it offers an empirical example of how park distribution can be shown to conform (or not) to one or more distributive patterns. Descriptive measures show that Phoenix parks do not conform to any of these three distributional principles, while Chicago parks do somewhat better. In both cities, land uses surrounding parks heavily favour residential uses. In Phoenix, single-family homes are prioritized, making spatial distribution based on proximity, diversity or social need difficult. A strategy for acquiring a better spatial logic, within existing realities and constraints, is suggested.

Main finding
This study finds that due to its low-density, sprawling urban pattern, parks in Phoenix do not conform to any particular distributional category compared to Chicago parks from the standpoint of three spatial goals: proximity, diversity and social need. Specifically the study notes the following: (1) Proximity to parks in Chicago is substantial; more than 70% of Chicago housing units are within quarter of a mile and 39% of all housing units in the city are within one-eighth of a mile. (2) Neighbourhood parks, which are smaller, had the highest level of resident access. (3) Just over half of the parks in both Phoenix and Chicago are located in the most diverse parts of the city. (4) Llittle difference between parks with active uses in denser areas (near central places) vs. parks with active uses in less dense areas - higher percentage of active uses surrounding parcels in the least dense areas (27%) than in the most dense areas. (5) Buildings around parks in Chicago are somewhat taller than in the city overall; 16% of the buildings around parks are three or more storeys. (6) Phoenix has greater numbers of parks in lower valued areas, but much less park acreage and Chicago had both fewer parks and less park acreage for lower valued housing.

Description of method used in the article
GIS data, including parks, parcels and aerial data were obtained from the City of Phoenix, Arizona State University, the City of Chicago and Cook County Assessor's office. The dataset consists of 154 parks for Phoenix and 524 for Chicago, which excludes trails, golf courses, undeveloped parks, desert and mountain preserves (in the case of Phoenix).

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Urban Design
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