Time For A New Day In Fairmount Park A Merger Of The Commmission With Recreation Dept. Is Long Overdue

Posted: June 11, 2008

IN 1993, the Philadelphia Charter Change Commission recommended the merging of the Fairmount Park Commission with the city Recreation Department, but Philadelphians weren't ready.

Oh, boy, they weren't ready! That proposal engendered so much opposition, it doomed the entire comprehensive charter-change proposal to defeat.

Fast - actually, not so fast - forward to yesterday. City Council's Committee on Law and Government voted out a charter amendment proposal to go on the November ballot that, if passed, would merge the operation of parks and recreation in the city.

That finally would bring the governance of Fairmount Park in line with the way most great cities care for their parks.

It's an important moment and one this newspaper has urged since its landmark editorial series "Acres of Neglect" in 2001. It's the one we shouted louder in a series in 2005 in an editorial that began "The Fairmount Park Commission must die."

It has taken far too long, and has wasted too much time and money. But today we choose to focus on the improved future for the city's parks that this change will bring:

If the charter amendment is passed, the day-to-day operation of the 9,200-acre Fairmount Park jewel will not be dependent on the judgment of 10 volunteers selected by Common Pleas judges - who likely know less about modern park governance than the volunteers do.

Instead, a new Department of Parks and Recreation will be created and professionals with experience will be in charge. Since they will work for the mayor directly, they can be held more directly accountable than they are now.

This will mean that the precious city resource that is our park system will have more resources spent on it. (It already has benefited from a new infusion of money from Mayor Nutter.) The new department will be an integral part of the mayor's program, with its director part of the mayor's Cabinet. The elimination of duplicate functions between the commission and the Rec Department, begun a few years ago, will be completed, and that will free more money for maintenance the parks so desperately need.

The new nine-member Commission on Parks and Recreation will make it easier for the city to see the forest - that is, the Big Picture - when integrating our parks into a comprehensive plan for revitalizing our neighborhoods and increasing our tourism.

We applaud the perseverance of the bill's sponsors, Darrell Clarke and Blondell Reynolds Brown, who worked on this issue for three years, alleviating many of the concerns of longtime parks advocates while dealing with a sometimes-unpleasant political undercurrent.

We urge Council to pass the bill, and for the people of Philadelphia to approve this new direction on Nov. 4.

We respect the view of Commissioner Phil Price Jr., whose great-great-grandfather served on the Fairmount Park Commission and, fittingly, was the last to testify at yesterday's hearing in favor of

keeping the traditional structure of the commission established in 1867, although he acknowledged the need for change. But it's time to move the fate of, and responsibility for, Philadelphia's parks from the control of the few and place it in the hands of all Philadelphians. *

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