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Parks: One of the Most Important Ingredients of a Successful City

(Republished from NextCity)

An audience member at the Philly Parks Future Forum last week called the panelists assembled a “dream team.” The experts represented parks agencies from Seattle, New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Chicago. Presented by the City Parks Alliance, the forum wasn’t so much an event to unravel the issues that Philly parks will face specifically, but to discuss how city parks are one of the greatest assets to our country and how they are progressing nationally. Philadelphia Daily News writer Sandra Shea moderated the panel of parks and recreation officials, who shared what’s been working in their necks of the woods. Here are five important takeaways from the Forum.

1. Seattle’s New Park District Was 20 Years in the Making
Proposition 1, which called for the creation of a Seattle Park District, passed with 53 percent of the vote in August. Prop 1 did away with the need to return to voters to secure funding, permanently backing parks through property taxes. (This new source of revenue will be in addition to the $89.5 million that Seattle already receives each year from the city’s general fund.)

What turned the tide? Seattle Parks and Recreation Acting Superintendent Christopher Williams said it was Mayor Ed Murray’s outspokenness on the issue. Since city officials at Parks and Recreation don’t run for their jobs, they don’t campaign on their stances. Williams said having a public face mattered. “I can’t say enough about advocacy,” he stated.

Williams said the Seattle department knows it still answers to voters, and because of that responsibility, he suggested, parks departments everywhere should be using a strong performance management model, relying on spreadsheets and data and report cards to track success.

2. 96 Percent of San Franciscans Can Walk From Their Homes to a Park in 10 Minutes or Less
According to The Trust for Public Land, close to 10 million Americans live within a 10-minute walk to a park. According to San Francisco Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg, some 800,000 of them live in San Francisco. Ginsburg got more than a few laughs from the Forum audience when he pointed out that many of those park visitors have four legs: San Francisco’s a city of 80,000 children … and 150,000 dogs.

Of course, just having abundant park space isn’t enough. Ginsburg pointed out that as San Francisco’s population continues to grow, his department is focused on modernizing one of the oldest park systems in the U.S. by acquiring more land to create new parks. He pointed out that prioritizing long-term capital planning (thanks to former Mayor Gavin Newsom and current Mayor Ed Lee) is making that expansion possible. Ginsburg emphasized that investing in children — in their health and public safety — with parks improvements was better than paying on the “back end in emergency rooms.”  Continue reading

The Land and Water Conservation Fund Turns 50

By Julie Waterman

Today the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) celebrates its 50th anniversary.  Not all Americans are familiar with LWCF, but they are probably familiar with parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, urban wildlife refuges, trails and open space that have been protected or built with the support of this effective federal program.

As one of the most successful pieces of legislation in the nation, LWCF has supported more than 42,000 projects in 98% of the nation’s counties. And since its creation in 1964, LWCF has had strong bipartisan support.  Over the past half century, more than $4.1 billion has been appropriated to states not through tax payer dollars, but through revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling royalties.  This funding has been matched by state and local contributions, for a total LWCF grant investment of $8.2 billion–doubling the return on investment.

But in September 2015, LWCF will expire unless Congress decides to reauthorize it.

That is why the City Parks Alliance launched the bipartisan Mayors for Parks coalition. Mayors around the country recognize the importance of LWCF and are taking action to ensure it continues to serve their communities.  The coalition is urging full funding at $900 million annually and reauthorization of LWCF before its expiration date next year. Co-chairs of the coalition are Mayor Michael B. Hancock (D) of Denver, CO and Mayor Betsy Price (R) of Fort Worth, TX.  The Mayors for Parks coalition now has 28 mayors on board, representing cities of all sizes across the United States.   Continue reading

A Centennial Celebration

Each month, City Parks Alliance names one “Frontline Park” as a standout example of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship from across the country. The program identifies city parks that find innovative ways to meet the unique challenges faced as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures and urban neighborhood decay. In recognition of its innovative practices in community engagement and fundraising, Hermann Park has been named a Frontline Park.

“Broad community support has been vital to the renaissance of Hermann Park.  Volunteers have been vital to every aspect — from guiding the planning and construction process to devoting over 20,000 hours each year to caring for the Park,” said Doreen Stoller, Executive Director of Hermann Park Conservancy.  “We are grateful to the City parks Alliance for recognizing the value of community engagement in the public-private partnerships that have created magic in so many urban parks.”

Continue reading

Denver Parks on Parade

Earlier this month, more than 30 park professionals from the US and Canada were hosted by Denver Parks and Recreation Department in collaboration with City Parks Alliance for a tour of their park system. Eighteen cities were represented, including teams from Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.

Photo courtesy of Hope Gibson

Photo courtesy of Hope Gibson

The Denver team put on a first class demonstration of their expertise in planning, design, construction and programming – from the smallest neighborhood park to Red Rocks Amphitheater, a part of Denver’s mountain parks system – and in every case showing us how a twenty-first century city parks department operates: seamlessly.

From the neighborhood partnerships to the collaboration with their own city departments to alliances with social service providers, arts and music organizations, and other parks programmers, Denver’s parks department uses and leverages all the value that parks offer and its mission can muster. Citywide partners like the Trust for Public Land – perfectly exemplifying its urban mission – and the Colorado Health Foundation are working closely with the department on many of its projects; as are local developers, transit, and bicycling partners. On some of our park visits it was hard to tell who worked for whom; in fact, most simply said they worked for the parks.

Continue reading

Rebuilding Tattnall Square

Each month, City Parks Alliance names one “Frontline Park” as a standout example of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship from across the country. The program identifies city parks that find innovative ways to meet the unique challenges faced as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures and urban neighborhood decay. In recognition of its innovative practices in partnerships and neighborhood engagement, Tattnall Square Park has been named a Frontline Park.

“Month after month we’ve looked to the Frontline Parks highlighted on the City Parks Alliance website for best practices for non-profit park groups,” said Friends of Tattnall Square Park Board Chair Andrew Silver. “We’ve posted links to these inspirational stories on our own social media and sent them to city officials so they could better understand our national models, and to encourage the city to see our public private park organization as a long term partnership. To join the ranks of these remarkable nationally recognized park models is a powerful acknowledgement of the thousands of hours of volunteer labor and the hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment we’ve brought to this diverse and historic park.  We’re thrilled to be part of the 21st century movement to cherish, restore, and reinvigorate our public parks.”   Continue reading

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