Cities are made up of more than just a collection of buildings. There are interconnected transportation systems, networks of utilities, and often overlooked are the public lands of parks. Less obvious than the physical space of buildings, public spaces like parks and plazas aren’t the first priority when it comes to funding or physical infrastructure improvements. The South Bend VPA’s Riverfront Parks and Trails Master Plan is a step in the right direction, leveraging the great resource of the river. With close to 70 parks, the system in South Bend reaches far and wide, but unless you’re looking, often you’d hardly know they are there (beyond the major parks anyway).
In 1913, George Kessler (a prominent landscape architect) devised a park and boulevard system for South Bend that was only partially implemented. His vision, reminiscent of Frederick Law Olmstead’s “Emerald Necklace” in Boston, connected the major parks with broad boulevards.
An updated plan would see a firmer connection to downtown from the outlying parks along an extended riverside trail and could see the westside fully connected along the north/south axis of both Olive and Bendix. Making use of abandoned railway lines could further connect the west side to riverside trail. Enhancing and extending spurs along Twyckenham would connect the far east side to the river and would enable north/south pedestrian travel from Ireland Rd. to Notre Dame.
Aside from the benefits of having a fully linked network for pedestrian travel, a system like this would increase the opportunity for physical activity for the city. Certainly, this would fit nicely with both the SB Parks and Recreation Dept and St. Joseph County Health Dept. obesity reduction campaign as well as Beacon Health’s drive to develop South Bend into the healthiest city in the nation (blue zones). Beyond that, the Trust For Public Land uses 7 Metrics to calculate the value of our public spaces: Hedonic (Property) Value, Tourism Value, Direct Use Value, Health Value, Community Cohesion Value, Reducing the Cost of Managing Urban Stormwater, Removal of Air Pollution by Vegetation. With these factors comes attachment value that people feel toward cities, energy value (reduced HVAC consumption), among others. No matter which perspective, it’s easy to see the value in having a strong, vibrant park system. Better connecting that system via an “emerald necklace” only increases that systemic value.