As urban parks and green space projects take off in communities around the country, from New York’s High Line to Atlanta’s Belt Line to Greensboro’s Downtown Greenway, much is being written about the positive outcomes of converting old, unused parcels, plots, and parking spaces into glittering gems of green. From one corner of the country to another, the projects are being lauded for their effectiveness in getting people out of cars and back onto bicycles, addressing the country’s obesity epidemic by fostering outdoor play and recreation, or offering an alternative to the trappings of the urbanite life spent indoors, on gadgets, and in cubicles.
Meanwhile, the rationale for these parks – and the growing support for their creation, funding, and ongoing maintenance – is more readily articulated than ever before. The trend towards urban parks and greenbelt projects makes obvious sense for big cities where open space, pastures, nature trails, and good old fresh air are in short supply. But one could wonder, what’s it to us, here in Harrisonburg where nature’s valued amenities are abundant, and where urban, suburban, and rural experiences are all relatively accessible just by jumping in one’s car? What’s a narrow strip like a greenway mean for a community already well-endowed with places to frolic, streets to bike along, and people who don’t need prompting to get outdoors?
A recent set of interviews with over 150 members of the community asked this very question. Ninety nine percent of respondents agreed wholeheartedly that Harrisonburg would benefit from the Northend Greenway, citing the project’s quality of life enhancing potential, its ability to impact commerce, and its likelihood to act as a catalyst for other parks and open space projects to come.
- The Northend Greenway will connect neighborhoods. Immediately, the Greenway can impact quality of life and daily experience for Harrisonburg residents and visitors alike by offering seamless passage from some of the city’s major neighborhoods to the north, to existing bike lanes and sidewalks within several blocks of the downtown area. From the south, it will tie JMU to downtown, bringing an additional infusion of people and energy to activate our city. In later phases, the Greenway may likely pass through downtown itself, offering an official route for bike and foot traffic.
- The Northend Greenway will be a major draw to the city of Harrisonburg, enhancing commerce and increasing further investment. Just as it connects people to important locations around town, so too will the Greenway drive commerce by channeling shoppers, diners, visitors, community members, and tourists to Harrisonburg’s quickly-expanding collection of great restaurants, shops, and cultural attractions. The forecasted economic activity will lead to increased investments in building and revitalizing the town’s center.
- The Northend Greenway offers a safe alternative for travel by foot and by bicycle over 2.5 miles of Harrisonburg’s length. Harrisonburg was just named the Ninth Safest City in the country. Substantive public features like the Greenway will only help further this status as a safe community, while providing a physical buffer for walkers and bikers from traffic along unprotected streets.
- The Greenway will be a catalyst for other similar projects. Carrying out a project of this magnitude is complex and requires an extraordinary amount of collaboration between stakeholders, the City, the community, project funders, engineers, and designers. As seen in other examples around the country, these are precedent-setting projects that light the way for future parks and greenspaces to come. A project like the Northend Greenway will demonstrate exactly how attainable future projects of this nature are here in Harrisonburg and throughout the region.
The successful completion of the Greenway will serve as an example right here in our own community, as well as to others, of how a well-established, yet quickly-growing city can create a long-lasting public amenity which transects multiple priority issues. It takes the question, “Why a Greenway?” and offers an elegant response by way of alternative transportation, public safety, community development and town planning, smart land use, and individual wellness.
For more information on Northend Greenway progress, visit: northendgreenway.org
Guest blog by Melissa Fisher, Advisory Board Member of the Northend Greenway. Melissa recently moved to Harrisonburg with her husband Thabo, who grew up biking and adventuring around Harrisonburg’s streets, sidewalks and backroads. Melissa began her career at Dartmouth College, where she helped create the Dartmouth Organic Farm. There she discovered “the profound connection between people and plants.” Melissa later served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Tanzania from 2001 – 2003, where she led initiatives in natural resource conservation and women’s empowerment. This past winter Melissa and her husband relocated to Harrisonburg from New York City, where she was part of the team who built and opened the High Line to the public in 2009. Most recently, Melissa was Chief Operating Officer for Friends of the High Line, the non-profit conservancy that manages the High Line, NYC’s linear “park in the sky.” Reach Melissa at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Photo source: www.thehighline.org)