... and public-private partnerships to thrive

August 25, 2002|By Jacqueline M. Carrera

BALTIMOREANS want a healthier quality of life for their families, communities and businesses and, by working together, we can retake the recreation and parks system to help attract residents and visitors to our city.

Cities throughout the country face similar challenges. Among them are the need to manage valuable public resources and human services for the parks with fewer dollars available from the city, state and federal governments. Competing city priorities such as education, police and housing have left recreation and parks with an insufficient and unstable funding base.

Business as usual is no longer satisfactory. Strategies to maintain Baltimore's recreation and park system should include a well-trained staff, higher accountability for finances and programs, greater efficiency, highly effective marketing, customer-driven strategies and better use of private resources.

Mayor Martin O'Malley and the department are trying to reform the system. The city and the Parks & People Foundation, a Baltimore-based private nonprofit organization, are ready to embrace all who benefit from the parks as full partners in creating beautiful and lively parks, a healthy natural environment and increasing recreational programs.

There are several priorities that, if addressed through partnerships, will propel reform.

First, Baltimore needs to recognize the value of its parks -- a tremendous asset when well-maintained, a liability if neglected. Residents and businesses need to capitalize on the parks to strengthen community relations, keep children and adults active and healthy and attract customers and homebuyers. Parks and recreation programs should be integrated into strategies for economic development and urban renewal to help reduce juvenile crime and create a healthy environment.

Secondly, park users and others who benefit from the parks need high expectations from the park system and must demand accountability; they can become the eyes and ears of the system.

The mayor's 311 call center, media and public forums should be used to provide feedback to ensure that standards are being achieved.

If expectations are not met, reform should be sought within the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, rather than supporting other agencies and groups with separate programs and infrastructure to fix the problems. Parallel systems are costly and do not promote accountability.

Formal agreements with the department should be considered for maintenance and management of the parks; these can include money-making concessions. One example is to rent recreational equipment.

Finally, as stewards with a clear vision, we can insist on sufficient funding.

For example, a significant portion of the city's money to create and maintain our parks and playgrounds comes from the state's Program Open Space. Funded by law through the real estate transfer tax, the future of this vital, nationally recognized program is at risk. About 50 percent of local Program Open Space funding was diverted from Baltimore City for fiscal year 2003 to cover other state expenses.

Baltimore's citizens and its elected officials should require full funding of Program Open Space. At the same time, we need to be resourceful about financing recreation and parks, going beyond annual funding sources and creating long-term, dedicated revenues.

Baltimore's open space, playgrounds, ball fields, squares, golf courses, forests, gardens and lakes have done so much to make Baltimore livable. Public-private partnerships can transform the park system.

Jacqueline M. Carrera is executive director of the Parks & People Foundation.

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