Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fairmount Park Forever

By Ariel

The Urban Sustainability Forum continues to impress; tonight they brought together a wide range of speakers from St. Louis, Portland, and our own backyard to talk about Parkland’s Use and Protection. Lucie Springmeyer, the Executive Director of the St. Louis non-profit Forest Park Forever and Zari Santner, the Director Portland Parks & Recreation were joined by Michael DiBerardinis, the Commissioner of Philadelphia’s newly formed Department of Parks & Recreation in a panel discussion that ranged from park planning to fundraising.

Springmeyer’s work with Forest Park Forever (FPF) was particularly impressive as it illustrated the flexibility that enables park systems to thrive, grow and prosper. A few key principles have helped Forest Park continue to serve its 12 million annual visitors, and ensured that the park (500 acres larger than Central Park) remains relevant, over 100 years after its creation.

For one, FPF ensures that no development or non-natural use of parkland can be built without replacing similar acreage elsewhere in the system. More over the design of recreational activity abides by strict guidelines that preserve the wildlife; the golf course is designed according to standards set by Audubon International. FPF has established a delicate balance that proves that evolution, change and preservation do not have to operate at opposite ends.

However where FPF stands firm is in ensuring a superior level of maintenance. No new construction is begun without appropriate additions to the maintenance trust. The trust is governed by both the City and FPF who have equal votes in its administration and ensures a close working relationship between the city which owns the park and the friends group which has raised over $100 million for the parks rebirth.

How did they raise so much money, half of it from private sources? They did it by ensuring that all their work was built on time and on budget. It’s funny how powerful that word pair is, “on time and on budget” is, but it proved both to private donors and public partners that they could be trusted with their money. Portland Oregon asked its citizens to approve a $10 million bond and their management of public funds was rewarded by another bond approval five years later.

Parks are a unique public service, not only are they universally loved but their good stewardship is easily evidenced. If anything, the most important part of parks is that very stewardship; it is that maintenance of trails and relationships that allows parks to bloom.

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