Philadelphia park system gets high marks despite tight budget

 Philadelphia's Wissahickon Valley is one of the popular areas of Fairmount Park. (Photo courtesy of Friends of the Wissahickon)

Philadelphia's Wissahickon Valley is one of the popular areas of Fairmount Park. (Photo courtesy of Friends of the Wissahickon)

A new study says Philadelphia has the 14th best park system out of the U.S.’s 50 largest cities.

Patrick Morgan, the Parks and Recreation Commissioner’s Chief of Staff, said his office is “very excited about the high ranking.”

But for some park proponents, the ranking, put together by a non-profit called The Trust for Public Land, highlights Philadelphia’s shortcomings as well as its strengths.

“One thing that really stands out for me is that spending per resident is really low, ” said Philadelphia Parks Alliance Executive Director Lauren Bornfriend.

The ranking—also known as the Park Score Index—was based equally on three categories: park access, park size and investment. The Index pointed out that although the vast majority of Philadelphians live within a 10-minute walk from a park, Philadelphia’s parks spending per capita, $54, lags below the median $76.

In comparison, Minneapolis, which topped the list, spends $210 or about four times as much per resident as Philadelphia.”Philadelphia is not spending as much as it needs to,” said Peter Harnick, Director of The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence.

Mayor Nutter’s budget allocates $51 million to parks in the fiscal year that begins July 1, a figure that is lower than what he had once promised

Bornfriend of the Parks Alliance says this level of funding is taking a toll, “We need staff and we need programming.”

The city acknowledges that the parks budget has been lagging behind. Moran with the Parks and Recreation Commissioner’s office says it’s a reality of the times. “You have to work within the confines of the budget,” he said. But, he added, “I think over the next few years we’re going to continue to rise in the rankings.”

Philadelphia is also planning to expand its park system. In 2010 the city, along with The Trust for Public Land, the Fairmount Park Commission and other local partners, launched the Green 2015 Initiative to add 500 acres of public green space by 2015.

For Green 2015 and other projects, according to Morgan, the city is supplementing public funding with private investment. With that investment, he said, “You’re going to make up for those gaps in resources.”

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