Some of the hippest places lately seem to be very long, skinny parks. The High Line, in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, is a former elevated railroad turned into a 1.45-mile elevated walkway. The High Line doesn’t get you from point to point any quicker than the sidewalk. But it provides a different view of the city, and has landscaping and art along the way. The traffic noise is not quite so omnipresent. There are places to sit and people-watch. There are food carts, so if you want ice cream (as we so often do), you don’t even have to get off the High Line. What if New York said, we’ve just paved a mile of nice wide sidewalk, put in some landscaping and some art, but there’s no place to shop, you can’t bring your dog, and the food comes from a cooler on wheels. Would it get any attention at all, much less 5 million visitors a year, as the High Line has? The High Line’s hip factor makes it a destination all on its own.
Linear parks is the real name for long, skinny parks, and people love them. There’s a reason every town with a river, from Detroit to Crystal Falls, has or wants a riverwalk, also a linear park. The White Pine Trail, a rail trail from Grand Rapids to Cadillac, is another linear park. (Interesting factoid: at 92 miles long by 100ish feet wide, the area of the White Pine Trail is about 1.75 square miles. Huh.) Battle Creek has a 25-mile linear park that links its city parks, the Kalamazoo River, neighborhoods, and Kellogg Community College. Here in Cadillac, our most popular destination is probably the long, skinny park along the shoreline of Lake Cadillac. And lucky me, my office is right next to it.
So why is this placemaking? Because linear parks have features that make them unique:
1. A variety of things to do. Urban linear parks will frequently have public art that you wouldn’t see just walking down a sidewalk in town. There are places to sit or play or hear music or bike, walk, or run. And I know I want my next birthday party in a teepee, in a long skinny park on the Seine.
2. Public space. A linear park likely has places to people-watch, meet friends, flirt, picnic, soak up the sun, or talk.
3. Greenspace instead of concrete. Natural beauty, water, or interesting plants and trees (the High Line offers a number of programs focused on their landscaping). Spare me another cold, paved public space created for cars, not people.
4. Local history. Linear parks frequently have a historical connection that regular parks don’t – they may be built on old rail lines, canals, rivers, or lakefronts with historical interest. Cadillac’s linear park has historical markers along the shoreline to show and describe what used to be on the lakefront.
5. Walkability and mosey-ability. A linear park’s focus is completely not-cars. It’s about people. I can do a power walk along Cadillac’s lakeshore and not have to stop for cars, or mosey until I find a good bench where I can eat lunch.
6. Sustainability. The High Line reused an elevated train track, and they left some of the track in place for historical and visual interest (see the photo above). Rail trails reuse rail beds. Battle Creek’s trail links recreation, education, and neighborhoods so residents don’t need a car for every trip. Trees and other green stuff help mitigate runoff, flooding, and absorb pollutants. (On a fairly random side note, check out these photos of some of the world’s great trees.)
The lakefront pathway and access to the White Pine Trail are incredible assets in my adopted hometown of Cadillac. Bless those who had the foresight to buy up a mile of shoreline along Lake Cadillac for our long skinny park. If you have a long skinny park, do you love it? Leave a comment (there IS a way, some were left last week... just skip the whole "sign in to your account" thing. It works on my computer... sorry I can't give you more than that!) or send me an email at ordinaryvirtues(at)gmail.com.
As always, thanks for reading. If you aren't already a subscriber and would like to get these posts by email, please scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up.