Envisage Anchorage’s Central Park

Cultivating an urban greenspace to scale with Alaska’s largest city

The Delaney Park Strip, or simply the Park Strip, is the physical separation from the Central Business District (CBD) and South Addition, one of Anchorage’s oldest residential neighborhoods and someday one of the densest (sorry NIMBYs). When looking at a satellite image of the downtown area, one can easily imagine Anchorage’s future urban developments surrounding the Park Strip and see some potential similarities with NYC’s Central Park.

A one-block by one-mile-long stretch, The Park Strip was historically a runway, and thankfully, leaders of the past had the forethought to preserve it as a public space. We should consider future density in planning this park’s future by attracting it. I’m not suggesting we emulate NYC’s Central Park features; I’m recommending that we focus investment on this park and work to establish it as a city park with the distinction of being considered Anchorage’s Central Park.

New York City’s Central Park – Google Maps
Anchorage’s Delaney Park Strip – Google Maps

The Park Strip Today

Today, the park is mainly underutilized; most of it is open green space. Except for annual events like the Governor’s Picnic and Independence Day, most activity is concentrated on the East end. Some curiously ad-hoc installations are sprinkled throughout; notably, the Pope John Paul II memorial -No disrespect, departed pontiff. Still, if the need arises, we should be flexible with continuing dedicated public space honoring a man who visited Anchorage once. The tennis and volleyball courts, ball fields, skating rinks/basketball courts are fantastic public assets, and improving the park around them will showcase their value which will make improvement and maintenance bonds more likely to succeed.

Short-term considerations

Several short-term investments should be made to increase usage, encourage development, and literally set the stage for future growth.

Bandshell

An outdoor music pavilion or bandshell would be ideal for concerts and live performances and a far better location for the popular Live After Five events hosted by the Anchorage Downtown Partnership at Town Square as well as public addresses etc. The Park Strip is only three blocks from Town Square and offers a quieter, sunnier, and more convenient location for live performances – Best of all, it’s still downtown!

The Schubert Club Bandshell on Raspberry Island in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Housing Density

An abundance of surface parking covers the park’s northern edge. The new housing project set to break ground at 8th Avenue and K Street is a good start, and market-rate apartment projects should be prioritized. Also, reclaiming former housing like the former Caye-Ann Apartments, which now operates as a halfway house, should also be considered (halfway houses should be geographically dispersed). Eventually, upzoned sections of South Addition will also contribute density to the area.

Former Caye-Ann apartment building along the Park Strip

Park Design

Our talented designers at Parks and Recreation have a bounty of space to work with at the Park Strip. They will undoubtedly find the perfect balance of open space and recreational infrastructure to make this place a crown jewel of Anchorage. People want to live near a park, and frequent visitors bring their visiting friends and relatives.

What about Town Square Park?

Town Square Park hinders density in the area designed for peak density

The statement below, taken from the Anchorage Downtown Plan, contradicts itself. The downtown core cannot have the tallest buildings if the height restrictions of Town Square Park prohibit them from being built.

DOWNTOWN CORE
The Downtown Core is considered the most active and intense
part of the city center and a high priority area for high-density
mixed-use development, active sidewalks with pedestrian
amenities, great access to store fronts, accessible parking,
and the center of outdoor events using flagship open spaces
and buildings. The Downtown Core is expected to have the
greatest development intensity and tallest building heights,
creating a concentration of office, civic, government, cultural,
entertainment, housing, and retail uses. The Downtown Core
may retain historic buildings of different era and architecture.

Anchorage Downtown District Plan 2021

Although taller buildings may be built just outside the restriction area, the downtown core is relatively small as-is. Any restriction places an unnecessary limitation on our success as a city.

Building a conservatory on the Town Square site, as I described previous article, would complement the functions of both the PAC and Egan Center while easing restrictions on nearby development.

Everything we do at Town Square Park now would be better at the Park Strip. The tree lighting ceremony can accommodate far more people with room for more entertainment, burn barrels, warming huts, and access to skating rinks. The street conditions are safer for pedestrians, especially children. The Park Strip is closer to South Addition and Fairview – a shorter walk. As I mentioned above, the live music events hosted at Town Square would be far better at the bandshell on the Park Strip – A park to scale with Alaska’s largest city.

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