The average city park of the 1950s, with a metal swing set, a seesaw, a few picnic tables with peeling paint and a dusty baseball diamond, are now passé. City dwellers of the 21st century are demanding more than just a little park for their neighborhoods. In addition to traditional ball field parks, they want greenways upon which to bicycle, hike and even roller blade through a strip of nature connecting our neighborhoods.
The past two decades have seen phenomenal growth in greenways. Exactly what is a greenway? We have all heard this buzzword. Exactly, a greenway is a linear park; a corridor of protected land overlain with a path that travels along or through specific natural features.
These paths can be asphalt, gravel or mulch. Greenways often follow along creeks or lakes. Greenways can utilize former railroad right-of-ways (like the forthcoming Tweetsie Trail here in Johnson City), utility right-of-ways or already established park lands to connect two parks together. New land is sometimes purchased; other times easements are granted across private land.
Greenways are most often linear, but can be a loop confined to one city park. Greenways are primarily used for recreational travel, but can also be used by commuters and other citizens simply trying to get from point A to point B.
Greenways have broad appeal. You will see mothers with strollers pushing their newborns, runners huffing and puffing, couples strolling hand in hand, dogs walking their masters, or birders with binoculars pushed against their eyeballs. Bicyclists use greenways for exercise and travel. Any reason and venue for exercise helps cut down on Tennessee’s sky-high obesity rate.
Greenways are more than family recreation venues. Urban wildlife inhabits these oases of nature amid the city. Critters use greenways to travel from one larger green space to another, wildlife corridors if you will. Animal health is improved since gene pools aren’t isolated, and allows overall larger territories for wildlife to exist. Shaded streams make for richer aquatic habitat, further improving stream quality.
Greenways have practical benefits, too. Wooded streamsheds cut down on urban flooding, reducing erosion for property owners. Wooded streams also absorb water and filter pollutants from urban runoff. Greenway forests help keep cities cooler, reducing the urban heat island effect, and cut down on the summertime electric bills. Trees also filter air, improving air quality, a major concern in the Tennessee Valley these days.
Greenways also improve property values of adjacent lands. Most residents realize greenways are more likely to carry alert citizens on the lookout for criminals rather than criminals themselves. Greenways have another practical value: providing alternative transportation corridors to car-filled roads.
What does the future hold? Greenways are being integrated into overall urban planning. Developers and city planners must deal with ever-increasing regulations regarding storm water runoff, public health and safety, resource protection and resource management. Integrating greenways into developments addresses many questions. For example, a greenway can cut down on storm water runoff, reducing flooding, which addresses public safety. A greenway helps protect the natural resource of an area. Developing a greenway enhances overall aesthetics, improving the “quality of place.” The whole process is known as integration. That is government-speak for putting it all together. Johnson City is growing fast. Let us develop greenways as we develop new areas of town. We’ll all benefit from it.