A park conservancy is a private, non-profit, non-political organization that works in partnership with a local government to help improve and/or manage one or more parks in the community. Conservancies work in collaboration with the local government entity, usually with a formal agreement or “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) in place. The MOU defines the scope and limitations of responsibilities of the conservancy as it pertains to the park property or properties, similar to the agreement Community for the Commons has in place with the City of Excelsior. Park conservancies currently operate in more than 50% of major U.S. cities, including both Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Some well-known public spaces that are enhanced by the involvement of conservancies include:
Central Park (NY). Central Park, the Manhattan landmark, was established in 1857 (more than a decade after the Excelsior Commons!) A noted 20-year decline in the park throughout the 60s and 70s was reversed in part due to the establishment of the Central Park Conservancy in 1980. Today, the Central Park Conservancy provides 75% of the park’s funding.
Balboa Park (CA). San Diego’s Balboa Park is home to 1,200 acres of natural space in addition to its world-famous zoo. Established in 1868, Balboa Park’s funding was purely public until the creation of its conservancy in 2008. The Balboa Park Conservancy was started to better manage park maintenance and help prioritize necessary improvements.
High Line, NY. New York’s High Line park is a relatively recent addition to the city, opening in 2009 after a 10-year planning process. The park uses old train tracks to create a unique urban parkland experience. Because the park was conceived in conjunction with its conservancy, the Friends of the High Line, it was designed to operate almost exclusively through conservancy funds. Today, the Friends of the High Line cover 98% of the park’s budget.
Grant Park, Illinois. Chicago’s Grant Park is an iconic lakefront space with a storied past that includes many changes in name and control. In 2002, a conservancy was formed to help tackle important projects as well as provide supplementary park funding. Today, the Grant Park Conservancy helps facilitate projects ranging from tree conservation to renovations of park sections to holding major park events.