Since there will be no bimonthly meeting of the newly-formed Parks & Recreation Commission, PlanPhilly caught up with Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis in a brief phone chat. The next scheduled meeting is Wed., Sept. 15 at the Central branch of the Free Library.
So, what’s going on these days?
We’re deep in operations mode. We’re running things with fervor and desperation! This is high season crunch-time for us, so we’re very program-driven right now.
And are you working on the merger?
Oh, yes! In the next four or five months, we’re going to be moving people and shops and storage facilities. We’re creating new districts and we need new district managers. This is a very serious unification process. We’re going from nine rec districts and six Fairmount Park districts to eight unified ones. The parks and rec staff will be mixed on all levels, hopefully in a thoughtful and smart way.
Will there be a smaller staff overall, then?
Well, the merger was never billed as a shrinkage of departments — both historically and from a peer perspective, they’ve always been understaffed as it is. Mainly we hope people will just be re-deployed, but yes there will be efficiencies. We have lost staff over the last two years, and that will likely be the case for this year.
How are you making do with the budget?
The first unified budget is only four or five days old, but we’re forming and acting on the new structures that were set up after we talked to people all over the city last year. We’re moving forward with the set of operational imperatives and strategic objectives that resulted from those discussions.
What are they?
In the end, it’s the basics: safe, clean, and fully functional parks and rec centers. Our objectives include, as you know, a cohesive youth development program, programs to better connect people to the outdoors, 500 additional acres of open space, and 300,000 new trees.
Will it all happen?
Looking out over the next six years, yes. These things are all measurable and do-able. If you have a shorter view, you’ll fail. The data and research on public sector mergers say it takes at least three or four years for the shakeout to occur.
Taking a look at one project, the trees, how many new ones will we see in the ground by the end of this year?
We’re shooting for 10,000-15,000. That’s our goal, and I think we’ll do it.
In the end, how will this merger benefit the city?
Hopefully, it will mean better service, higher quality, better maintenance and more access. Which will, we hope, transfer into more use.