Riverfront Parks and Trails Master Plan
Venues Parks & Arts is the innovative and award-winning city agency that oversees a variety of public open spaces and facilities for South Bend, a northern Indiana city of 103,000. SmithGroup worked with them to develop a master plan that would explore how effective recreation and arts-related programming was being provided to its residents and where should the agency focus improvements.
Based on a thorough evaluation of Venues Parks & Arts properties and substantive engagement with a broad representation of residents, the master plan lays out how South Bend can best utilize city resources on behalf of its residents. With design justice at its heart the plan identifies where South Bend can direct more resources to underserved areas and how to improve connectivity making the entire system more cohesive and accessible to all. As the plan began implementation, South Bend Venues Parks & Arts earned the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management from the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration in 2022.
The project area encompasses all riverfront parks and trails along approximately 8 miles of the St. Joseph River. Although the city has a wealth of public park land, multiple GIS studies and analyses of existing parks and trails documented that resources were outdated and underutilized in several neighborhoods. In particular, the parks located along a 3.5-mile stretch of riverfront in the downtown core were especially in need of improvement. Community forums (presented in both English and Spanish) exposed concerns about safety, frustrations with lack of connectivity, and a desire to maintain historic elements of its older parks.
The resulting plan addressed the macro-level issues with several recommendations to improve the trail system’s overall continuity and accessibility. By connecting the city’s parks through an on-road and off-road looped multi-modal trail network, the plan can provide better park and river access for users, while strengthening the physical and visual connection between disparate neighborhoods.
On a more micro scale, the plan gives particular emphasis to the 3.5 miles of riverfront in downtown South Bend recognized as substandard. Recommended improvements in this area increase riverfront access for underserved neighborhoods and transform two downtown parks. The master plan project signifies the value of planning at different scales simultaneously, ensuring a cohesive recreational system that erases societal divides and inspires a more livable South Bend for all.