Parks & Recreation Commission Chairperson Nancy Goldenberg began last night’s public meeting at the Central Branch of the Free Library, by wishing everyone a happy new year. She then went on to observe that just as this is a good time to set new resolutions, it also merits a glance back.
She then briefly outlined the Commission’s accomplishments of 2010.
They included the body’s formation itself, she said, and the “careful crafting” of its role. Other highlights included an organizational retreat and several full-day tours of P&R facilities; a series of public meetings; the retention of consultants to look into expanding opportunities for concessionaires; the creation of a web site and blog; and, last but not least, the drafting of an Open Lands Protection Ordinance.
Next on the list, she added, is a look at formulating an acquisitions policy.
First, Commissioner Debra Wolf Goldstein was charged with putting forth the final version of the lands protection ordinance, a task delayed since the last Commission meeting to include several recommended changes. These minor changes added clarity to a provision governing the qualification of substitute land and to ones related to the environmental impacts of proposed transfers or conversions.
This latest version was unanimously approved by the Commission last night.
Responding to cheers and claps from the audience, Wolf Goldstein sounded a cautionary note. “This is just the beginning,” she said, adding that the whole thing was subject to changes at the City Council level. The draft ordinance is expected to go before Council immediately.
Commissioner Alexander “Pete” Hoskins next delivered news of two efforts underway by the Revenue Enhancement Committee. One is accessing the concession situation as it stands now, the second involves committee members conducting extensive phone interviews with parks systems in other large cities to determine best practices.
A questioner from the audience asked if new concessions would include a healthy eating component. Hoskins pointed out that two, cafes at Ohio House and at Cedars House, already offer such options, while Goldenberg reminded the audience that “concessionaires” extended beyond the realm of food and might include, for example, bicycle rentals.
The evening’s feel good atmosphere continued as Commissioner Carol Rice, chair of the Communications Committee, awarded the Commission’s debut PaRC (for Parks & Recreation Commission) Star to Richie Yoka, president of the Fairmount Sports Association, a volunteer-run program that gets youngsters playing baseball and softball out onto the fields of the Ben Franklin Parkway and along Kelly Drive.
Yoka began his thanks with his signature phrase, “Everybody hits!,” then acknowledged the Commission, the FSA board, Councilman Darrell Clarke, and his wife, Margie. In addition to a plaque, Rice presented Yoka with a gift certificate — “it’s really little,” she teased — for a show at the recently-renovated Dell East Music Center (seating in the Commissioner’s box) and dinner.
Rice also took a moment to congratulate ex-officio Commissioner Bernard Brunwasser, upon his retiremen as Commissioner of the Philadelphia Water Department. After praising his fellow Commissioners as “fine, fine people” who “truly, truly love the park,” Brunwasser signed off by saying, “thank you — and good night.” Goldenberg called him the “consummate public servant” and encouraged everyone to stick around for a piece of vanilla-iced cake, to be served in his honor.
First, though, P&R Department spokesperson Patrick Morgan presented on behalf of Department Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis, who was unavoidably delayed and missed the meeting. Morgan spoke of three P&R initiatives currently underway, thanks to funding from the William Penn and Lenfest Foundations.
The first is the launch of the Green 2015 action plan, written in conjunction with PennPraxis. The second is a study examining outdoor recreation and entertainment opportunities in East and West Parks.
The third is a pilot program that seeks to fulfill the department’s mandate to ensure that existing site’s are safe, clean and accessible. In taking a close look at three representative sites — a large rec center, a smaller one, and a neighborhood park — the effort will draw lessons that can be applied across the spectrum of park and rec properties, Morgan said.
Two Commissioners followed up with questions regarding the department’s hoped-for alliances with the Philadelphia School District and PIDC. Morgan said that no formal strategies had yet been cemented. A few audience members asked for clarification on the pilot program, and then Goldenberg brought the meeting to a conclusion.
Lauren Bornfriend, executive director of the Philadelphia Park Alliance had the very last words. Speaking of the Alliance’s long-time “dream” of a Commission that would draft a lands protection ordinance, she offered congratulations to the entire Commission. And, with that, everyone (happily) ate cake.