The challenges of negotiating conflicting interests in a park system master planning process
Keywords:suburban parks, park politics, participatory planning, community outreach, environmental planning, park use
The demand for green spaces in highly urbanised, metropolitan cities is well documented. However, adjacent to or surrounding these densely populated urban centres are extensive areas of newer suburbs, where land use and public space demands differ from those found in large urban cities. Though dependent on the age of a suburb and its associated societal changes, the demands made upon suburban green spaces are changing. However, little research has focused on ageing suburban park systems, which today may be managed by multiple administrative entities.
The development of a master plan for the seventy-year-old network of Bergen County parks, located in north-eastern New Jersey, approximately 30 km outside of New York City, is a case study that illustrates this environmental planning challenge. Competing user interests can be traced to conflicting demands and expectations for open space amenities, highlighting the difficulty of providing an equal voice to all park user populations.
A primary goal of this user-driven public process was to foster mutual respect and understanding between relevant groups, creating the possibility that these groups will become stewards of the county park system over the long-term under subsequently elected administrations. Having these public champions will be critical to successfully implementing and sustaining the proposed parks master plan concept. The following discussion describes a community engagement process that surfaced and negotiated user conflicts linked to New Jersey’s specific administrative and political environment.