Nearly 6,000 planning practitioners and scholars converged in Philadelphia last week for the 99th annual national conference of the American Planning Association (APA). A theme evident in many of the 300 seminars was how U.S. cities are grappling with what one presenter termed the “post-Federal” era: the current climate in which municipalities can no longer rely on federal monies but must instead secure philanthropic and corporate support to help resolve social and infrastructure problems.

Green space, many speakers agreed, is a critical asset that cities may use to their benefit. Environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy gave the conference’s keynote. He contended that only through planners’ individual commitments to embracing sustainability can the nation preserve its natural infrastructure—its parks, waterways, and woodlands—and counter the current lack of public investment in environmental policy. America’s green spaces, he added, are critical to sustaining the foundation of our nation’s global identity.

In a panel titled “Urban Form and The Language of Open Space,” co-presenters Joe Webb, of Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin, and Larissa Brown, of Goody Clancy & Associates, discussed how they helped Miami-Dade County understand the social impact of public space. They are working with the county to distribute its open spaces so that all residents have full access to them. Doing so could help reduce the severity of the county’s social problems: for instance, providing much needed outdoor recreation areas for the county’s very high number of obese children.

Brown added that because the federal government has sharply reduced its investments in parks during recent years, communities should ensure that they program these spaces to meet residents’ recreational needs and serve the greater public good. Today’s urban parks must function as sustainable environments: a green infrastructure that forms part of the larger realm of integrated public spaces, she said.