IN JULY, on a sunny afternoon, a crowd convened at the Mander Recreation Center in Strawberry Mansion to listen as Mayor Nutter announced the members of his new Commission on Parks and Recreation. As he named his nine “guardians of the city’s treasures,” he urged them to swiftly pursue his ambitious vision: to creating the nation’s premier parks and recreation system. And that’s precisely what we’ve set out to do.
In November 2008, after years of debate, Philadelphia voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the Home Rule Charter that transferred the powers and duties of the Fairmount Park Commission to a newly merged Department of Parks and Recreation and reconstituted the Fairmount Park Commission as the Commission on Parks and Recreation. Playing a leading role in shaping the future of park and recreation policy in the city, the commission is working with public, private, and nonprofit partners to make bold changes in the way we use and support our park and recreational assets.
We know that foremost on the minds of Philadelphians is the protection of our existing inventory of park and recreational land and cultural resources from disposition and inappropriate use. In fact, the city’s GreenWorks Philadelphia plan calls for adding 500 new acres of green public space by 2015 and ensuring that all residents are adequately served by parks and recreation centers.
Using best practices and pragmatism, the commission has been drafting a proposed open-land disposition ordinance that it plans to release for public comment this spring. Our goal is to work with City Council and the mayor to drive the swift adoption of this ordinance into enforceable law.
While it is paramount that we protect, preserve and increase our park and recreational assets, we must do so in a way that leverages economic sustainability and growth. Working with the Parks and Rec Department, the Fairmount Park Conservancy and other partners, the commission will establish guidelines for revenue-enhancement that embrace entrepreneurship in ways that are appropriate and transformative.
Faced with a seemingly interminable financial crisis, cultivating private-sector support and investment in our parks and recreation system is essential. Compelling reasons to contribute to our parks and rec system abound. But to emulate the success of other cities, we need to replace onerous regulations with reasonable revenue-raising guidelines and create new opportunities for financial growth.
We’re already doing many things well in Philadelphia. But we need to get better at fostering entrepreneurship and efficiency, improving transparency and accountability and providing sensible pathways for private-sector participation.
Fifty years ago, Philadelphia was known throughout the country as the leader in the park and recreation field.
Today’s commission hopes to draw inspiration from our past, learn from today’s public opinion and help create an enlightened 21st century parks and recreation system that wisely protects and promotes our land and facilities, establishes revenue-enhancing opportunities to maintain our resources and grow our programs, and significantly contributes to the competitiveness and attractiveness of our city.
Nancy A. Goldenberg is chairman of the Commission on Parks and Recreation.