Pennsylvania Legacies #114 (encore): The Greenway Imperative

In celebration of National Trails Day on June 4, a repeat of our 2020 conversation with planning architect and trails historian Chuck Flink about his book, The Greenway Imperative.

Chuck Flink wrote the book on greenways — literally. 1993’s Greenways: A Guide To Planning Design And Development, co-authored with Robert Searns and addressed to the professional planning community, helped launch a global movement in landscape architecture. In The Greenway Imperative: Connecting Communities & Landscapes for a Sustainable Future, published in 2020, Flink makes the case for greenways to a broader audience. He has collaborated extensively with PEC throughout the years and has worked on 270 communities in 35 states since starting as a greenway planner in 1984. 

“To me, greenways are really the corridor of land. The trail is the place where humans are, the tread,” said Flink. “I think when people say the word greenway, they often mean trail.”

What often makes greenways unique is the possibility for variety, depending on the location where they are built. 

“That corridor of land can be all-natural, completely nature. Or through urban areas, it can be this mixed-use landscape: industrial, residential, commercial, institutional. But that varying corridor of land, because greenways are long and skinny, they’re sort of a linear park, is what makes them so attractive and so fascinating for people to work on and develop in their communities,” said Flink. 

While greenways are a great way to connect communities with nature and the outdoors, they have become so much more than that: thus, “the greenway imperative”. Flink first noticed this change when he took on two separate clients that had just experienced 500-year flood events. 

“We went from trying to design a path through the woods to trying to design landscapes that would mitigate damages and save lives,” said Flink. “That’s a big switch for a linear landscape in a community. And to me that’s when everything began to change.”

In addition to providing spaces for recreation, greenways can improve public health, provide expanded transportation options, boost economic development, address climate change impacts, and mitigate social inequities. 

“I think sometimes [building a greenway] is connecting to the natural world, but sometimes it is connecting to the social fabric of our cities, which are very diverse, they’re not just one kind of thing and they’re not just one kind of audience that we’re focusing on in that regard,” said Flink.