Elevating open space in community development
Open space as a path to healthy neighborhoods
From redlining to pollutants, Paterson, NJ, is one of many U.S. cities that has experienced sustained spatial and environmental injustice. The fourth-densest city in the country and home to many immigrant communities, Paterson residents lack equitable access to open space. For example, the park acreage per capita is far below the U.S. median for high-density cities — 2.1 acres per 1,000 residents, compared to a U.S. median of 6.7 acres (1).
A community development finance institution, New Jersey Community Capital (NJCC) is using the Framework as a finance and community development tool, to build the case for inclusive engagement and open space investments in community development. It has also supported two Paterson, NJ organizations in public space planning processes. Paterson Habitat for Humanity is working with locals to transform a neglected site into the future Clinton Street Park. New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC) is designing Lou Costello Park to include a playspace that is accessible and inviting for children with autism.
1) City of Paterson, NJ Parks & Open Space Vision 2021
NJCC + IHP
How the Framework is guiding NJCC and partner projects
NJCC · INTERNAL SYSTEMS
Prioritizing community health in planning and investments
- Aligned different NJCC departments around the connections between health, equity, and place
- Prioritized community health in all NJCC place-based investment decisions
- Incorporated the IHP framework into its numerous community-driven neighborhood planning projects around the state
PATERSON, NJ · LOU COSTELLO PARK
Designing a playspace for all abilities
- Engaged community members, who proposed active play opportunities and improved lighting to combat safety concerns
- Integrated inclusive design practices (e.g., multisensory features, enclosed playground) so children with autism can enjoy the park alongside their peers
- Developed a new model for community ambassadors to help program and steward Lou Costello Park
PATERSON, NJ · CLINTON STREET PARK
Expanding open space access
- Engaged residents through a co-design process to prioritize key features and programs
- Integrated open space into the Paterson Habitat for Humanity community development approach
- Mobilized residents to advocate for City approvals and funding to begin the construction process
Clinton Street Park
In the North Side neighborhood, Paterson Habitat for Humanity expanded its reach into public space planning by developing a concept design for Clinton Street Park. Located opposite a row of Paterson Habitat homes and next to a local magnet school, the site has strong potential to play a role as a community gathering spot. To bring the concept design to life, Paterson Habitat’s leaders worked hand in hand with residents to create a design and program for all to enjoy.
Paterson Habitat for Humanity started working in the City’s North Side neighborhood in 1984 to construct affordable, quality homes, but has since evolved its model to look beyond housing alone. Paterson’s park acreage per capita is far below the median for high-density U.S. cities — 2.1 acres per 1,000 residents, compared to a U.S. median of 6.7 acres per 1,000 residents. And in the North Side, residents have just one major green space to enjoy. As a result, Paterson Habitat realized it had a role to play in creating not just stable housing, but thriving communities inclusive of active green spaces and thriving commercial corridors.
Entrusting locals to design
Clinton Street Park is Paterson Habitat’s first foray into public space design — and leadership did not want to design the park in a vacuum. Paterson Habitat led co-design sessions with community members, who seeded a mix of ideas: an amphitheater for the performing arts that doubles as a bridge-builder between two divided neighborhoods; safety improvements such as fence removal and increased lighting (the park only has one light today); and areas for all ages to play.
Building resident power
The community-led design process has fostered attachment and organizing capacity among residents, who have marshaled resources to secure City approval of the park concept design. With the design process recently stalled due to City review cycles, actively engaged community members pressured city leaders to expedite the process. The Request for Proposal (RFP) process is now underway, and residents have a clearer timeline for construction — the park is slated to open in January 2023.
Filling a maintenance gap
As the City of Paterson supports green space improvements, it is cautious toward investments that lack a long-term plan for maintenance and project sustainability. In fact, one reason City Council was at first critical of the Clinton Street Park concept design was the dearth of budget or manpower available for maintenance. As a result, Paterson Habitat has stepped in with a sponsorship commitment for park programming and operations. This solution compensates for both lacking public funds, and time-strapped, working-class residents’ hesitancy to commit to volunteer-led maintenance through a typical “friends of the park” model.
Take a visit to Paterson’s North Side and hear the story of Clinton Street Park from local leaders.
Fund people, as well as design. Fund the human power — namely, community-based organizations that are stretched thin — that develops and operates public spaces.
Both New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC) and Paterson Habitat for Humanity noted the need for sustained funding of community-based organizations. These groups are often charged with engaging residents, guiding design processes, and programming open space. “If we want to put theory into practice in communities like Paterson, somebody’s got to say it’s important to invest dollars so the community groups have the capacity to do it,” said Bob Guarasci, Founder and CEO of NJCDC.
Engage to advocate. Use public space engagement processes to build social capital and civic participation — and thereby greater advocacy for public investment in disinvested neighborhoods.
New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC) and Paterson Habitat for Humanity found that their co-design processes for Lou Costello Park and Clinton Street Park, respectively, helped residents mobilize and take ownership of the spaces. For example, as approvals for Clinton Street Park stalled with the City, one citizen organized their neighbors to place pressure on local officials, who then expedited approvals. At Lou Costello Park, NJCDC is building a corps of local residents to serve as ambassadors at the park.
Rewire organizations to reflect values. Redesign organizational processes — from data collection to hiring to investment decisions — to prioritize open space in community development.
After years of providing accessible pathways to homeownership in the community, Paterson Habitat for Humanity began funding and supporting other elements of thriving communities — such as facade improvements for local businesses, and the Clinton Street Park design process. Now the organization operates as a community development organization, not just a housing organization. “Affordable housing is the foundation. … but it’s not enough,” said CEO Scott Millard.
Address the root of safety concerns. Improve sense of safety among residents through design-driven, policing alternatives — such as fence removal, improved lighting, and active uses.