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Casting a Broader Net for P3 Lessons

Lately I’ve been reading about the growing number of for-profit companies offering their service to local governments to manage certain agency functions. Since the 1980s, when outsourcing became popular, local governments hoping to create cost efficiencies have turned over many of their service needs to private contractors – waste collection, landscaping, IT, and public transit.

But increasingly, smaller cities are contracting to have private companies run whole departments or whole cities. Elected officials and even some voters see this as a cost cutting move and an efficient use of tax dollars. Companies offering this service can proudly show their success with improved management, lower costs, and better value for the tax dollar. There is, of course, a lot of debate about all this.
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Green Infrastructure in Grand Rapids

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 unique approach to partnerships and green infrastructure, Joe Taylor Park in Grand Rapids, MI has been named a Frontline Park.

“The completion of Joe Taylor Park was a major milestone for our community and set the stage for us to have critical conversations about sustainable park design, equity and access, maintenance and funding, and partnership development,” said Steve Faber, Executive Director of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.

“We selected Joe Taylor Park as a Frontline Park because it exemplifies the power of urban parks to build community and make our cities sustainable and vibrant,” said Catherine Nagel, Executive Director, City Parks Alliance. “We hope that by shining the spotlight on Joe Taylor Park, we can raise awareness about the ways investment in our nation’s urban parks pays off.”
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Breakthrough Public Private Partnerships: The Work of New Yorkers for Parks (Part 2)

This post continues from last week on the work of New Yorkers for Parks and public private partnerships, gathered through an interview with outgoing Executive Director Holly Leicht.

 In 2012, NY4P undertook a detailed analysis of the growing number of private park conservancies in New York City, closely scrutinizing the 25 legal agreements between conservancies and the Parks Department.  The result was a set of recommendations to encourage greater consistency, transparency and accountability in public private partnerships.  The report found that partnerships are indeed augmenting the public budget, but that the city needs to do a better job of tracking funds and should require more consistent financial reporting that is made public on the Parks Department’s website.

“There’s no question that these organizations are value added to the parks they’re working in,” Holly told me, “but we also found that there was value added to the whole system since other parks benefit from freed-up public money, but the Parks Department does not quantify this dollar value.  It’s evident private money is making Central Park work, for example, but we have no real data to prove the benefit at the neighborhood park level.” Continue reading

Forging New Partnerships in Birmingham

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.

aerialphotographRMPBirmingham, AL
Like many industrial legacy cities across the United States, Birmingham is undergoing a transition.  Formerly the “industrial capital of the South,” the city is moving away from steel production to a more knowledge-based economy, including banking and medical research.  Fifteen minutes from downtown, the iron ore-rich mountain that so many companies depended on for raw materials has been undergoing a transition of its own, thanks to a dedicated group of citizens and community leaders in Birmingham who came together to create Red Mountain Park.

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Breakthrough Public-Private Partnerships: The Work of New Yorkers for Parks (Part 1)

Executive Director Holly Leicht’s last day with New Yorkers for Parks was January 10.  She has been appointed by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan to serve as Regional Administrator of HUD Region II, which comprises New York and New Jersey. In her new role, Leicht will be instrumental in carrying out ongoing Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.

Last month I had a chance to talk with Holly about public-private partnerships in New York, the new mayor, and the work of New Yorkers for Parks.  I’m glad I did, as her new job will take her far beyond park boundaries and the work of the more than 100-year old New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P).  Founded in 1908 because there were not enough resources for children’s play in the city, it’s only been within the last two decades that research to substantiate advocacy has become an important part of what they do.

New Yorkers for Parks
Around the time that the Bloomberg administration took office in 2002, the former Parks Council took on its new name and broader mission.  “But,” says Holly, “one issue that has crossed our 100 years is that we are a watchdog on alienation issues – protecting parkland all the way back to the Moses era.  We work to maintain the ‘public’ in public parks.”

Holly arrived at NY4P in 2011 just as NY4P was solidifying its reputation for airtight research and reporting on the city’s parks, essentially creating a database that now supports the efforts of both citizen advocates and elected officials. Continue reading

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