Appoint qualified leadership, generate new funding, and create public and private partnerships to improve parks.
Parks are important to the health and vibrancy of neighborhoods. The parks in Philadelphia are currently in two systems, the Fairmount Park Commission and the Department of Recreation. Unfortunately, many city parks have been neglected in recent decades and today are in unacceptable condition. Keeping our parks well maintained, safe, and attractive will take strong, experienced leadership and adequate funding.
In order to maintain our neighborhood and regional parks, the city should take the following actions:
» Replace the secretive process of selecting Fairmount Park commissioners with a modern, open process.
» Form effective private-public partnerships to improve parks.
» Authorize Fairmount Park to retain 100% of all income earned from activities on parkland to provide additional resources while maintaining the city's annual appropriation.
The outdated and undemocratic commissioner selection process should be eliminated and replaced with an open, modern appointment process based upon clear criteria. Since 1867, the Board of Judges of the Court of Common Pleas has appointed Fairmount Park commissioners through an undemocratic process. The judges interview the candidates behind closed doors and announce the winners. There are no qualifications the candidates must meet and no selection criteria the Board of Judges must follow. As a result, there is no public input and no ability for the public to ensure that individuals with the necessary vision, skills, and experience are appointed.40
The city should adopt legislation to place a referendum before Philadelphia's citizens41 to amend Philadelphia's Home Rule Charter so that commissioners are appointed fairly and openly, with clear roles and responsibilities, selection criteria, staggered terms (so all commissioners do not complete their terms at the same time), and term limits. The Board of Judges' secretive process should be eliminated. In its place, a nominating panel comprised primarily of private and nonprofit representatives should propose qualified candidates to the mayor for appointment.
Create the infrastructure to form coordinated publicprivate partnerships to improve parks. To achieve the shared goal of safe, clean, attractive parks, the city should take advantage of the wealth of information, people, and resources that exists outside of the Department of Recreation and the Fairmount Park Commission. The city should bring key community stakeholders to the table so they can inform these two agencies' ongoing efforts to better coordinate and share functions. The city also should revise city policies and regulations to make it easier for nonprofit groups to collaborate and find resources to support the seasonal maintenance workers needed to clean up parks.
The city should engage key city government partners as well, such as the Philadelphia Police Department. Given the significant number of violent incidents that occurred last summer in or near a park or recreation center, friends-of-park groups, the police, the Recreation Department, and the Fairmount Park Commission should work jointly to increase safety in and around our parks. Partnerships with citizens, nonprofits, and the private sector are key to revitalizing park assets. The city's infrastructure must be strengthened to enable it to reach out to, collaborate with, and harness the power of potential partners.
To provide the park system with much-needed additional revenue and a strong incentive to be entrepreneurial, the city should authorize all new money earned from activities and events in the parks to be used for park purposes, supplementing revenues from the city budget. In 1870, when the state created the Fairmount Park Commission, the legislature granted it the right to earn money from rent, licenses, fees, and activities and to reserve that money for park purposes.42 Money made in the parks was intended to stay in the parks. Yet this policy was not followed.
Funds generated within the parks over the last century have gone into the general city fund for general use instead. By authorizing earned income generated within the parks to be used for park purposes, the city can encourage the park to be entrepreneurial and innovative in finding needed funding.