Philadelphia parks ranking plummets with less funding

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Philadelphia’s parks are underfunded compared to those in other major cities, according to a new report, a problem that has been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the 100 largest US cities, three-quarters have more funding per capita than Philadelphia.

Philadelphia’s ranking by the Trust for Public Lands, which annually ranks U.S. park systems, fell to 32 out of 100 cities from 19th in 2021. It ranked 15th in 2020 (tied with Pittsburgh) and 18th in 2019.

The decline was partly due to a decrease in funding after the pandemic and partly because the score did not include multi-year funding for Rebuild, the city’s program to improve parks, the parks and recreation commissioner said, Kathryn Ott Lovell. The lump sum was included in the calculation for last year’s report, but is spent over several years, she said.

Still, she says, the report highlights Philadelphia’s underfunding for parks and recreation, saying the city has never ranked among the best for funding.

“We’re really struggling trying to fund all of our city’s needs, and unfortunately we know from the report that TPL does every year that Philadelphia has one of the most underfunded parks and recreation systems. of the country,” Ott Lovell said in an interview on Friday.

Averaged over the last three years of data, the city spends $73 per capita on parks and recreation, according to this year’s report, up from $138 in 2020 and $112 in 2021. (Ott Lovell said the way whose reconstruction funds were accounted for lowered this year’s number.)

Washington, DC, which ranks first, spends $284 per person in an average year, according to ParkScore. The national average is $98 per capita.

READ MORE: Camden County plans to spend $100 million to overhaul its park system and add a 34-mile trail

In March 2020, the Department of Parks and Recreation’s budget was set to get “probably the biggest increase we’ve had in years,” Ott Lovell said. But then the pandemic hit and the city’s budget was reworked, with cuts in many areas. For parks, that meant a 20% reduction, the commissioner said.

Meanwhile, Philadelphians were using parks more than ever, with a 50% increase in park users during the pandemic. Parks even became vaccine and COVID testing sites, and the city opened recreation centers for children when schools were closed.

“At budget time people think it’s just a nicety and not a necessity, but the truth is we’ve demonstrated over the past two years that parks and recreation is an essential service,” he said. she stated.

This is one more reason, said Ott Lovell, to increase funding. ParkScore can be used by city leaders “as a tool to help inform” where the money needs to go, she said. She pleads for the city to create a source of revenue dedicated to parks and recreation rather than financing it from the general fund.

Although some funding has been restored and another increase is planned for next year, the department’s budget has not returned to pre-COVID levels. During the pandemic, the ministry cut everything from programs to operations without laying off full-time staff. Ott Lovell said she would like the city to be able to better maintain parks, have restrooms and recreation centers open longer hours, and better manage the city’s tree canopy.

The city spent nearly $65 million in 2020, according to budgets. In fiscal 2021, that amount dropped to $52.6 million. (The total budget figures include some funding that doesn’t directly impact operations, Ott Lovell said.)

The current of the city budget, approved in June, brought Parks and Recreation’s budget to $65 million. Approximately $68 million is proposed for FY2023; City council must approve a budget by July 1.

READ MORE: Who decides Philly’s budget? Here’s how the process works.

The 2022 report also focused on whether local park departments are doing enough to mitigate climate change through park space. Parks can reduce urban heat, mitigate flooding, and sequester carbon, which means funding parks can fight climate change.

“Communities are grappling with real threats from the climate crisis, like flooding and extreme heat,” Diane Regas, president and CEO of Trust for Public Land, said in a statement. “And areas with the least park space, namely communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, are suffering the most.”

Ott Lovell highlighted some recent accomplishments: a composting program at a recreation center; the city’s first urban forestry plan, coming in the next few months, which will determine how to increase the tree canopy; and a future plan for urban agriculture.

The city also scores well on access to parks: 95% of the city’s population lives within a 10-minute walk of a park. But equity could improve: Asian and Hispanic neighborhoods have less park space than the city median, while white neighborhoods have significantly more, the Trust for Public Land reported.

Overall, according to TPL, residents of neighborhoods that are not predominantly white have access to 28% less park space per person than those in predominantly white neighborhoods. Residents of lower-income neighborhoods have access to 42% less park space per person than those of higher-income neighborhoods.

The lack of funding is affecting parks across the city, including the sprawling Fairmount Park. The funding shortfall for West Fairmount Park — a 1,400-acre swath that includes the Mann Center, Philadelphia Zoo, Strawberry Mansion and Belmont Plateau — is so acute that some advocates want to seek money outside of the city’s budget. city.

On Friday, the Fairmount Park Conservancy hosted a panel on the future of West Fairmount Park with the Urban Land Institute, an international nonprofit that helps communities shape their built environments. Its senior vice president, Rachel MacCleery, said the city and the Fairmount Park Commission spend $1 million a year on West Fairmount, but $3-5 million is needed.

MacCleery suggested a 1-3% surcharge on ticket sales at Mann, Zoo, Please Touch Museum and Shofuso Japanese House that could generate between $250,000 and $1.5 million a year. She said other possible funding could come from leases, concessions and major event permits from individuals or groups using historic buildings in the park.

“There really isn’t enough money to invest in the park,” MacCleery said. “These city resources are really very severely limited.”

Here’s how Philadelphia was scored by TPL, out of 100:

Writer Frank Kummer contributed to this article.

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