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City Park Facts: public agency spending

This information is gleaned from the new 2018 edition of City Park Facts, written and published by The Trust for Public Land in August 2018.  Download your copy today!

(We revised the public spending and total spending amounts, based on some corrections to data on September 7, 2018.)

This year saw an increase of 5 percent in public spending on city parks in the 100 largest cities, continuing a slight upward trend of the past five years. The combined public parks agencies reported a total of $7.4 billion in spending, up from the $7.1 billion that we reported in 2017. This trend is likely a result of department budgets being rebuilt slowly as cities recover from the Great Recession of 2008. The median figure that the 100 largest cities spend per resident on parks and recreation is $83, when looking at public and private spending combined, and $81 per person of public agency dollars.

2018-PublicAgencySpend-91018

Despite this recent good news, public agency budgets still face a particular set of financial challenges. Although budgets seem to be recovering, this process is slow. Agencies remain underfunded, a chronic reality of the country’s park systems. Furthermore, parks agencies are among the first departments to be cut in times of fiscal crisis, according to a 2017 study by Penn State University and the National Recreation and Parks Association.

Usually, increases are a result of more capital spending, rather than on operations, maintenance and programming. Spending on operations and maintenance has grown by about 3 to 5 percent annually over the past five years. Capital spending, on the other hand, varies widely, sometimes with as much as a 23 percent increase from one year to the next, as was the case from last year to this year. Capital budget increases indicate new and re-built park facilities and amenities, repairs to significant park infrastructure, and the acquisition of more parkland.

Even with increased capital spending, public agencies are often left to look for additional sustainable sources of operating revenue to help bolster daily operations and maintenance activities as well as programming. Operating dollars are what keep the grass mowed, the weeds pulled, and the trash cans emptied in parks across the country. And while there’s no argument that these tasks are crucial to keep parks and their cities beautiful and functional, the challenge to find enough sustainable operations and maintenance funds remains.

cityparkfacts-totalspend2018

 

Rose Kennedy Greenway’s New Business Partner

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Aerial Photo of Rose Kennedy Greenway, by Hellogreenway – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

In 2013, I interviewed Jesse Brackenbury, Executive Director of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy in Boston, for a City Parks Alliance blogpost about the challenges of operating a city park owned by the state – the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In 2008, legislation established the Conservancy as the official steward of the Greenway.  This year, Brackenbury told me, the Conservancy added a new partner to help fund operations of The Greenway – the Greenway Business Improvement District (BID) – which brings the Greenway partnership to four: the city, the state, the Conservancy, and now the abutting property owners.

The Funding Challenge

Despite efforts over the years, The Greenway has never been supported by a long-term funding plan. Since its inception, The Greenway has been financed by a series of agreements with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and supplemented by the Conservancy’s own fundraising and revenue as well as unstructured contributions from abutters. A June 2017 memorandum of understanding solidified six months of discussions regarding a sustainable funding solution involving the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, City of Boston, Greenway Conservancy and commercial property owners. By April 2018, the new BID was created and a plan was in place.

MassDOT had been granting the Conservancy short-term agreements for the park property, and under the new collaborative agreement, the state has now agreed to a 10-year lease with two 10 year renewals to the Conservancy.  “We now have the stability to engage philanthropists and innovative partners in continuing to improve the Greenway over the long-term,” Brackenbury said.

Brackenbury and other Greenway supporters long realized that a BID was a good idea and in fact started working on it 8 years ago.  But Boston only had one BID in place and wasn’t yet comfortable with using BIDs to help fund parks; in the aftermath of the Great Recession, conversations about a BID became even more challenging.

In 2008, Charlie Baker, a founding board member of the Conservancy and now the state’s Governor, foresaw the future with his comments in a Commonwealth magazine article, “As the value of the land surrounding the Greenway increases, I would hope we would see more enthusiasm from the abutters in the future.”   He understood the funding challenge from the beginning and when he became Governor, he saw both the Conservancy and the state’s challenges and created the momentum for addressing the Greenway’s needs. f property owners did not figure out a way to meaningfully contribute to a project that was hugely successful – including throwing off lots of added value to adjacent parcels – the state would stop its contributions.

The Solution

“What made the idea of creating a BID easier to do at this time,” Brackenbury says, “is that the Greenway Conservancy now has a successful track record. In 2016 we welcomed 1.3 million users and the numbers keep going up.”  The Greenway hosts over 400 free events annually and in the last five years the Conservancy has won seven awards from Americans for the Arts for its public art commissions.

Park-attendence-01-900x720“Others began to believe that the Conservancy was a credible negotiating partner,” said Brackenbury.

Before reaching a city council or other local governing board, a BID effort in Massachusetts must generate support from at least 60% of property owners representing at least 51% of the total asset value within a proposed BID district. The Greenway BID exceeded these legal thresholds by a significant margin, securing support of 82% of owners representing 89% of total asset value.

Most of the property owners surrounding the Greenway are members of A Better City, an organization originally set up made up of a diverse group of business leaders united around a common goal — to enhance Boston and the region’s economic health, competitiveness, vibrancy, sustainability and quality of life. A Better City has a long history of influence on shaping the Greenway, helping to craft its master plan and design.  Brackenbury says, “They have a history around this project and a stake in making the Greenway a success; they understand that their future is tied up in the greenway and they are keenly interested in making the greenway work.  But they wanted to make sure that their dollars weren’t going to simply substitute for the public funding.”

As a result of the negotiations, the City of Boston committed annual funding to the Greenway for the first time. The property owners had also expressed interest in the City contributing directly to care of the Greenway. A planned development project will allow the city a source of revenue to contribute five million dollars, money which has gone into a trust expected to generate $250,000 a year for the Conservancy.

The Funding Formula

So how did the Conservancy make its case in the face of little familiarity with BIDs in Boston? They made the economic case.  The conservancy gets credit for re-introducing the idea of a BID and making it a priority.  The state has been asking them for a solution for a long time and had been talking about cutting back for a long time but no agreement had been found. If they really stopped providing funding to the Conservancy it would go away and the property owners would be some of the biggest losers with reduced Greenway operations and maintenance.  The state’s most recent argument was the most credible that property owners finally took serious.

“The value of having a BID was to look ahead at capital maintenance.  The state had a desire to spend fewer tax dollars, so how could this happen,” said Brackenbury.  “Property owners did not want to do more than the state and city combined.  We had to determine a future budget of what the capital costs could be and then propose a funding allocation.”

As negotiated, the Greenway BID will contribute $1.5 million to the Greenway each year. The geographic boundaries of the BID will extend approximately one block off the park on either side. The BID will include commercial properties and rental residential properties, consistent with Massachusetts law.

In addition to the BID, the funding agreement for the Greenway includes an annual state contribution of ~$1 million for operations and up to $500,000 in funding for capital repairs; the city will contribute $250,000 annually.  The Conservancy will continue to raise/earn $3M+/year. Annual funding for Greenway operations will be approximately 80% private and 20% government funds.

“Decision-making about the Greenway remains with the Conservancy; our volunteer Board of Directors has representatives appointed by community groups, government agencies, and elected representatives,” says Brackenbury.  “The BID will have nominees in 2 of the twenty-one Board seats. If the property owners are contributing $1 million to maintenance and horticulture they should have a seat at the table.”  The Conservancy leads all park services and programming and will continue to do so — in the same spirit of accessibility and inclusivity with the BID in place.

“In the first year all BID funds will be for foundational maintenance & horticultural care (M&H) for the park. After the first year, $1 million will be for M&H and $500,000 will be for enhancements to the park.” Greenway enhancements will be mutually agreed upon by the Conservancy and the property owners on the board of the BID Corporation.

The funding solution for the Greenway will keep it a vibrant and thriving space welcoming visitors from neighborhoods throughout Boston and beyond.

More BIDs Working on Behalf of Parks

BIDs have emerged as one of the most important developments in urban governance over the past two decades. They are galvanizing private-sector creativity to solve public problems – and increasingly they are taking on public parks.  Across the nation, BIDs and other special taxing districts, originally focused on creating safer and more vibrant downtown neighborhoods, are now seeing public space as vital to community and economic development.

In New York alone, contrary to Boston’s two BIDs, there are 75 BIDs investing nearly $150 million in public spaces, including the famed Bryant Park with the highest BID budget in the city. The Center City District (CCD) in Philadelphia, established in 1990 enlivens its city and manages Dilworth, Sister Cities, John F. Collins and Cret Parks.

The Downton Detroit Partnership, a BID, operates, maintains, and programs downtown Detroit’s parks — Beacon Park, Campus Martius Park, Cadillac Square, Capitol  Park, and Grand Circus Park — providing world-class public spaces that help the city attract businesses and residents as well as catalyze new investment and development.

In Washington, D.C., a planning partnership was formed in 2012 between the National  Park Service, the District government and the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID) to transform Franklin Park, downtown D.C.’s largest park with a sustainable maintenance and operation plan for the park. Earlier this year, Congress approved a partnership between NPS and the District, allowing the DowntownDC BID to move forward with an anticipated annual $750,000 budget to operate and maintain the park.

Moving west across the country, Downtown Des Moines manages and programs Western Gateway Park; and in Minneapolis, the Downtown Business Council recently created Green Minneapolis, “…to advance the vitality of downtown Minneapolis through parks, greening and program activation.

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The Commons, Minneapolis, MN.

There are no single models for operating and maintaining parks but special taxing districts are increasingly a solution that harnesses the property value – thrown off by successful parks – and the private sector interest in economic development. The goal of BIDs has always been to keep a city’s public spaces in line with private investment – either driving or managing that commitment – to enliven the civic experience.

Public parks are very much a part of that experience and the fact that BIDs – existing or new like The Greenway BID – are choosing to invest in parks is confirmation that their success is important to a city’s image, quality of life and economic development – further driving the role that collective endeavors involving nonprofits, private business and public agencies are already leveraging on behalf of city parks.

Kathy Blaha Consulting: Strategic Solutions for Park Partnerships 


Stay Tuned for an upcoming City Parks Alliance webinar on October 17: Funding Parks through Special Tax Districts. 

City Parks Alliance members enjoy free access to the webinar, others may join for $50. Join to hear about how special tax districts can fund the development, programming, and long-term operations of parks. Presenters will discuss lessons learned from special district establishment to implementation, and how their parks benefitted as a result. From business improvement districts to park districts, tax districts that support parks can be helpful mechanisms for ensuring park sustainability.

City Park Facts 2018: the impact of park partners – nonprofits and volunteers

<This is an excerpt from City Park Facts 2018: the year in parks, focusing on parks non-profits and volunteers and the incredible role they play in our 100 largest U. S. cities. You can download your copy of City Park Facts from www.tpl.org/10minutewalk >

Park partners: nonprofits and volunteers

One way to ease funding pressures on agencies and add more money into the mix is through private and philanthropic dollars. While past editions of City Park Facts reported on a select group of parks conservancies, this year’s report includes a more robust depiction of the role these groups play. We identified more than 160 nonprofits in the 100 largest cities, and collected data to determine just how big a factor these groups are in urban park systems.

For the purpose of this report, nonprofit park organizations are those qualifying under
section 501(c)3 of the federal tax code. These organizations can be citywide advocacy or partnership organizations, or be focused on a specific park or group of parks. These
groups are often called “conservancies” or “friends of” groups. They typically
have a working relationship with one or more public park agencies and contribute
funding, volunteers, and advocacy to their park systems. Outside the larger cities, park
nonprofits are often small, with a staff of one to two people and a host of volunteers
working to support their efforts.

Over the past year, these groups spent roughly $500 million on public parks in the
largest 100 cities, including on programming, capital improvements, maintenance, and
operations. As a result, contributions by these nonprofit partners made up 6.2 percent of
the total spending on parks and recreation in the past year. Furthermore, an additional
$433 million in value was contributed in volunteer time to both public and nonprofit
parks agencies in the past year. With public and nonprofit dollars combined, a total of just over $8 billion was spent on parks in the most recent fiscal year.

Increasingly, more parks agencies—both public and nonprofit—are working with volunteers to provide recreation programs, support efforts in planting, watering and weeding, and even for assistance in constructing capital projects. Over the past year, nearly 1.1 million volunteers contributed 16.9 million hours in work to the park systems of the 100 largest U.S. cities. Put another way, it is like adding another 8,330 full-time positions to these parks and recreation agencies.

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Buffalo Olmsted Parks, Buffalo, NY

City Park Facts 2018: Spending in the 100 largest cities

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City Park Facts 2018 was released by The Trust for Public Land on August 22, 2018.  Published annually, its an almanac of information on public park systems of the 100 largest U. S. cities.  20 percent (65 million people) of the U. S. population lives in these cities.

The combined public parks agencies reported a total of $7.5 billion in spending, up from the $7.1 billion that we reported in 2017. This trend is likely a result of department budgets being rebuilt slowly as cities recover from the Great Recession of 2008. The median figure that the 100 largest cities spend per resident on parks and recreation is $83, when looking at public and private spending combined, and $82 per person of public agency dollars.

Further, 167 parks non-profits operating in the 100 largest U. S. cities spent an additional $500 million on public park programming, operations, maintenance and improvements.

Combined, over $8 B was spent to manage  22,764 parks covering more than 2.1 million acres inside the 100 largest U. S. cities.

There’s a lot more in this year’s City Park Facts report, including our “year in parks” executive summary, 99 individual city profile pages and all data collected available for download. Download a copy of City Park Facts 2018 at www.tpl.org/10minutewalk

Send us your comments, questions or suggestions at ccpe@tpl.org

City Park Facts: Cities with most top ten rankings

We’re working to share news and aspects of The Trust for Public Land’s City Parks Facts 2018 report, which debuted on 8/22/18.  The data that we collect is pretty wide ranging and there’s a lot to talk about.  We wanted to share another aspect of City Park Facts and that’s the cities who hav the most top ten rankings in the amentiies, acreage, and visitation categories.

First is Louisville with eleven top ten rankings.

Tied for second are Cincinnati and Madison, each with nin top ten rankings.

Third are perennial ParkScore winners Minneapolis and St. Paul, with eight top ten rankings each.

Fourth are Anchorage and Arlington, VA, with seven top ten rankings each.

Details about each city and where they stnad in terms of individual categories follow.  Download the individual city profiles at www.tpl.org/10minutewalk

Louisville has eleven top ten rankings, the most of any of the 100 largest cities.  Louisville is ranked 1st in restrooms, golf courses, splash pads and tennis courts. Louisville is ranked 2nd in playgrounds, 3rd in baseball diamonds, 4th in trail miles, 5th in community gardens, 7th in nature centers, 8th in basketball hoops, and has the 5th largest city park, Jefferson Memorial Forest.

profile-louisville

Cincinnati has nine top ten rankings. Cincinnati is ranked 1st in nature centers, 2nd in golf courses, 4th in baseball diamonds, 5th in disc golf courses and basketball hoops, 6th in restrooms, 9th in playgrounds and 10th in splash pads.

profile-cincinnati

Madison has nine top ten rankings. Madison is ranked 1st in playgrounds, 2nd in disc golf courses, 3rd in basketball hoops, ice rinks and Pickleball courts, 4th in community garden plots, 6th in dog parks, 8th in volleyball nets, and 10th in golf courses.

profile-madison

Minneapolis has eight top ten rankings. Minneapolis is ranked 1st in ice rinks, 2nd in both recreation & senior centers and baseball diamonds, 3rd in beaches, 4th in restrooms, 6th in golf courses, 10th in volleyball nets and has the 10th most visited park, the Chain of Lakes Regional Park.

St. Paul has eight top ten rankings. St. Paul is ranked first in baseball diamonds and community garden plots. St. Paul is ranked 2nd in ice rinks, Pickleball and restrooms. St. Paul is ranked 7th in basketball hoops and trail miles and 9th in recreation & senior centers.

Arlington, Virginia has seven top ten rankings. Arlington, Virginia ranks 8th in park acreage per 1,000 residents. They are 4th in nature centers, 6th in playgrounds, 7th in tennis courts, 9th in both Pickleball courts and community gardens and ranked 10th in dog parks.

Anchorage has seven top ten rankings. They are number 1 in terms of percentage of the city that is parkland, at a whopping 84%. They have the 9th largest park: Far North Bicentennial Park.  Anchorage is ranked 3rd in trails, 4th in ice rinks, 8th in restrooms and 9th in disc golf courses.

If you have questions, comments or thoughts about City Park Facts, please let us know – ccpe@tpl.org is the easiest way to reach us! @Parks for People