Message from Parks and Rec friends: find the money

June 10, 2010

By JoAnn Greco
For PlanPhilly

If weather has any significance as an omen, today’s park-related activities were very interesting indeed. Under a threatening sky, 17 representatives of parks groups made impassioned plea after impassioned plea for City Council and the Mayor to “go back to the table” to make the approved parks and recreation budget a reality.

The recurring theme: Find the money. Find the money.

“These speakers represent thousands of constituents who think it will be tragic not to find a way to fund the budget which was passed,” Lauren Bornfriend, executive director of the Philadelphia Parks Alliance told PlanPhilly before a sparsely-attended press event got underway outside City Hall this morning.

Echoing her sentiments, David Masur, director of PennEnvironment, said, “We all feel like we’re at the 26th mile of the marathon. We’ve gotten so close with the budget and it’d be unfortunate if we can’t actually cross the finish line.”

The FY2011 budget, as passed by City Council, features a $3.3 million increase in operating funds and more than $10 million in capital funds for P&R. But parks advocates — and others — now fear that (in light of the failure of the soda tax, for example) the budget will not be sufficiently funded, forcing cuts. The cuts under consideration for P&R amount to $2.5 million.

After Bornfriend offered some opening comments, park reps took the mic, one by one. Frank Chance of Clark Park in West Philadelphia spoke of how the budget for parks and recreation has already been “cut to the bone.” Darlene Branch Smith of Julian Abele Park in Southwest Philadelphia issued a challenge that was repeated by others, calling on Council to “revisit all possible revenue sources.”

Throughout it all, one volunteer stood patiently, hoisting a sign that spoke volumes. “Budget Neglect of Fairmount Park,” it read. A graph illustrated slight declines in the last three fiscal years. As has been well-documented, Philadelphia’s park and rec budget is already significantly below that of smaller cities. Cincinnati, for example, spends $126 per resident on its, and Minneapolis, $214, while Philly comes in at $50.

Toward the end, Doris Gwaltney of Carroll Park in West Philadelphia, sounded a rallying cry. “We have a green movement in this city!” she said. “We have a parks movement in this city!”

Maybe so, but the skies above were still gray.

And then, 90 minutes or so later, the sun broke out. Just a block away, at LOVE Park, the Fairmount Park Art Association launched its new multi-platform, interactive audio program, “Museum Without Walls: AUDIO.” A festive air presided, with t-shirted volunteers handing out free water and, after a raffle, even a few iPod Shuffles.

The program encourages the public to experience 51 outdoor sculptures clustered around LOVE Park, the Parkway, and the Art Museum, by listening to three-minute audio segments, via cellphone or a downloadable app. (The segments can also be streamed at the website,

Listeners will hear artists Robert Indiana and Mark di Suvero discuss their respective works, the LOVE sculpture and Iroquois. And, they’ll gain a better understanding of the contexts and significance of the works through the insights of experts such as Michael R. Taylor and Joseph Rishel, curators at PMA, or citizens of local prominence like John B. Kelly III (those Kellys) and Sarah Garonzik (of the Philadelphia Theatre Company).

As lunchgoers and passersby watched, and others pressed smart phones to their ears, Penny Balkin Bach, executive director of the Fairmount Park Art Association and Mark Focht, executive director of Fairmount Park, unveiled a plaque that introduced the LOVE sculpture as “an icon of American pop culture [that] made its first appearance as the artist’s personal Christmas card.” 

Who knew? To hear the rest of the story, you’ll have to dial 215 399 9000 and press “1.”

Contact JoAnn Greco at
Check out her new online magazine, TheCityTraveler at

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