What Is a Conservancy?
Over the past few decades, a new approach to managing parklands has emerged across the United States and beyond. Nonprofit organizations formed by concerned citizens have begun to partner with public agencies to advocate for and, in some cases, operate parks and other tax-payer-owned properties for the benefit of the general visiting public.
The term “conservancy” generally refers to an organization dedicated to the protection of important public resources, such as natural resources, historical buildings, and parklands. The organization may have one of a number of different structures. For instance, it may be a separate governmental agency (e.g., the San Diego River Conservancy), or it could be a nonprofit corporation organized under the laws of the appropriate state or federal jurisdiction.
Park conservancies have usually been formed in reaction to what is perceived as a negative condition in the park. Often legacy parks that have been poorly maintained or programmed, or are perceived as dangerous, have been the focus of the advocacy and fundraising efforts of volunteers. As these volunteers get organized and professionalize their efforts, they often form a “Friends of” group. Once the Friends have developed sufficient credibility and stature with the public and the city, they sometimes take on long-term planning and advocacy, as well as capital improvement projects, programs, and events. For example, the Buffalo Friends of the Olmsted Parks, discussed below, evolved into a conservancy with a major grant from the Lila Wallace Foundation, allowing the organization to grow and deepen its impact and credibility.
Central Park Conservancy
The earliest and most widely recognized example of this model is the Central Park Conservancy, formed in 1978. Central Park had become one of the most notorious places in Manhattan, scarred by graffiti, defeated turf, and overgrown, weedy landscapes. The new Conservancy gathered concerned citizens to partner with the city to program and enhance the park, eventually growing into a full partnership in the management, care, and operations of the park. The results of this early experiment in public/private partnership have been extraordinary. The economic impact of the park is now over $3 billion a year, and more than 42 million visitors use Central Park each year. These extraordinary results got the attention of park lovers and advocates around the nation.
A group of park enthusiasts was formed in Buffalo in 1978 to promote and protect the city’s park system, a legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted, best known for his design of Central Park in NYC. Following the Central Park model, the Buffalo Olmsted Park Conservancy initiated programs to increase public appreciation and use of the parks. When the city fell into dire financial straits, the Conservancy assumed the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the entire park system’s 890 acres. The park landscape conditions at the time were in desperate need, so the Conservancy brought in volunteer resources and non-unionized labor to work with a unionized city workforce and greatly enhanced the care of the parks. Private donations fueled a massive reforestation effort, with over 5,000 new trees planted by staff and volunteers in the parks and parkways over the course of ten years. The impact on the visual character of the entire city was dramatic, positively enhancing the quality of life and real estate values around the parks.
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway
The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway was established proactively to assume the care and programming of a new linear park in downtown Boston, created as a result of the Central Arterial Project, which removed an unsightly waterfront double-decker highway and buried it underground. Designed by leading landscape architects and completely managed by the Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, the resulting sun-filled parklands are among Boston’s great open space resources. This conservancy was on the ground and ready to operate the new parklands as they were completed thanks to early planning and a major endowment campaign. Recognized for ongoing contemporary art installations and family-friendly programming, the Conservancy has assured a consistently high level of landscape maintenance and visitor experience that greatly enhances downtown Boston’s waterfront experience.
Battery Park City Park Conservancy
Another leader in organic landscape management is the Battery Park City Park Conservancy, (BPCPC) charged with the daily maintenance of this busy mile-long slice of lower Manhattan. The Conservancy cares for 36 acres of parkland created with fill from the Twin Towers construction in 1968. Formed in 1987, BPCPC is responsible for all normal park operations, ranging from trash removal to lighting maintenance, from tree pruning to education. At the forefront of “green” practices, BPCPC has been exploring and implementing sustainable maintenance techniques for twenty years. BPCPC believes that developing an environmental consciousness is an important public mission, both for individual park users as well as for the organization.
The Balboa Park Conservancy
The Balboa Park Conservancy was formed in 2011 as a public-benefit 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to raise funds, develop public-private partnerships, and collaborate with Balboa Park stakeholders to address sustainability and accessibility needs in the Park. The impetus behind the Balboa Park Conservancy’s formation was a growing backlog of deferred maintenance projects at a time when the city’s limited resources, exacerbated by the Great Recession, were proving inadequate to properly maintain and care for the 1,200-acre park. Since its formation, the Conservancy has worked with the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department and other partners to plant trees on the West Mesa, reactivate and turn the Plaza de Panama into one of San Diego’s primary public gathering spots, and host the annual December Nights holiday festival, among other projects. The Conservancy is currently developing plans and raising funds to completely restore the 100-year-old Botanical Building.
There are many other examples of park conservancies around the nation that have accomplished remarkable results. It is hard to find a superior public landscape that is not the result of a public-private partnership. These partnerships can be challenging to form and operate, but the resulting common good for the visiting public can be extraordinary.
To provide expertise, advocacy and resources to envision, enhance and sustain Balboa Park for all visitors in partnership with the City of San Diego and in collaboration with other organizations in the Park and the community.
For Balboa Park to be a sustainable, world-class destination where all who visit are inspired, engaged and enriched.
Formed in 2011 as an organization responsible for developing a public-private partnership in the management of the Park, raising funds, and collaborating with Balboa Park stakeholders, the Balboa Park Conservancy merged with the long-standing service organization Balboa Park Central, in 2014.
Originating in 1923, Balboa Park Central (previously the House of Hospitality Association) promoted cultural and recreational use of the Park through the Balboa Park Visitors Center and Balboa Park Marketing. These programs provided a valuable service to the City of San Diego, the park institutions, the San Diego community, and visitors from around the world.
During its developmental stage, the Balboa Park Conservancy worked to identify and implement projects to address sustainability and accessibility, gained valuable input from park stakeholders during a set of Collaborative Conversations, successfully co-hosted Balboa Park December Nights with the City of San Diego, and identified its first signature project in the Park: the rehabilitation and restoration of the Botanical Building.
This merged organization, operating as the Balboa Park Conservancy, is fully committed to pursuing the goals of improving, ensuring and enhancing the sustainability and accessibility of the park through fundraising, to implement projects, and a commitment to park-wide initiatives that improve the visitor experience.
The Balboa Park Conservancy is a values- and data-driven organization. From late 2015 through early 2016, the Conservancy developed a set of guiding values with a group of more than 100 park stakeholders and tested their validity through a public survey. These values informed a strategy screen that the Conservancy weighs all decisions against.
- Accessibility: The Park should be easy for everyone to get to and visit.
- Connection to Community: The Park is integral to the quality of life of the San Diego region and should be a reflection of the community’s voice.
- Transparency: Balboa Park should be managed and improved with transparency, maintaining constant “two-way” conversation with the community.
- Collaboration: Public and private partners must work together to find collaborative ways to enhance and sustain the Park.
- World-Class Destination: Balboa Park is recognized and should be experienced as a world-class destination.
- Open Space: Open space in Balboa Park is important and should be preserved and enhanced.
- Cultural Values/Traditions: Balboa Park presents visitors with opportunities to enjoy and learn about history, art, cultural values, and to celebrate diversity and traditions.
- Recreation: Vital components of the Balboa Park experience include organized (e.g., sports matches and tournaments) and informal (e.g., walking dog, picnic) recreation.
- Safety: Balboa Park seeks to always be a crime-free and safe environment.
- Preservation/History: Balboa Park’s history is uniquely valuable and should be preserved, enhanced, and interpreted to visitors.
- Financial Sustainability: Balboa Park should be financially sustainable, avoiding a large backlog of accumulated deferred maintenance.
- Environmental Sustainability: Balboa Park should be “green” and environmentally sustainable, which includes limiting its carbon footprint, recycling, water and soil conservation, and energy efficiency.
The Balboa Park Conservancy is committed to transparency and accountability. Download our latest IRS form 990, our determination letter, and other documentation here: http://www.guidestar.org/profile/95-0850465