Philadelphia Parks a Wreck
Even as Philadelphia has developed showcase outdoor parks, winning Mayor Nutter national acclaim for his efforts to increase green space and create an environmentally friendly city, Parks and Recreation facilities in many areas remain neglected.
“Facilities are just going to go fallow. They’re going back to nature,” said Walter Marlin, a member of the Finley Recreation Center friends group in the city’s Stenton section.
The lack of upkeep is about more than appearances, said Lauren Bornfriend, executive director of the Philadelphia Parks Alliance, an advocacy group. Delaying work on a leaky ceiling may result in a bill for a new roof, she argues.
“We’re turning $500 problems into $500,000 problems,” she said.
On that point, everyone interested in city parks seems to agree. The historic merger of the Fairmount Park Commission with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, approved by voters in 2008 and largely completed last year, was intended to improve care of the parks. In theory, shifting control of Fairmount Park from an appointed board to the city would improve accountability and increase the likelihood that the mayor and City Council would spend more money on parks.
Mayor Nutter even came up with a plan to do that: He and Council increased the parking tax in 2008, with a plan — the advocates call it a promise — to use some of the revenue to help pay for $8 million in new funding for Parks and Rec.
As could have been predicted, when the recession crushed city finances beginning in 2008, the new parking tax revenues were diverted into the general budget instead of parks and recreation.
Yet the city was able to spend $789 million expanding the convention center!
By almost any measure, Philadelphia ranks near the bottom in parks spending compared with other cities. The cities that spend the most on parks on a per capita basis — San Francisco, Seattle and Minneapolis — each lay out $200 or more a year per resident. Philadelphia? Just $64.
“On the list of things that are priorities, parks and recreation are not the loudest priority,” said City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who has catalogued dangerous conditions caused by poor upkeep at parks and recreation centers. Butkovitz said the city should consider closing some rec centers if it can’t figure out how to pay for maintenance of perilously decrepit facilities.