By Katherine Klosek, Scott Richmond and Aaron Tomarchio
Sep 17, 2019 | 12:27 PM
Organizers of the festival had hopes of bringing together a large group of people to celebrate the diverse cultures of Baltimore’s immigrant community.
Despite the important role of Patterson Park and Baltimore’s park system as a whole in improving health, recreation and quality of life among residents, spending on parks and recreation is dramatically lower in Baltimore City than in comparable cities. For instance, in 2016 Baltimore City Recreation and Parks (BCRP) spent $17,000 less -- 66% -- on operations per acre of parkland than other comparable cities. This large disparity suggests our park system lacks proper resources to serve those who depend on our parks for access to green space and recreation.
To protect Patterson Park, Baltimore’s first park and most used large park at 133 acres, the city adopted a community-driven Master Plan in 2016 that prioritized a long-range vision and specific goals. But the stark difference in operations spending between Baltimore and other comparable cities suggests little opportunity to fund the recommendations made in the plan.
A recent survey of Patterson Park users reveals a growing discontent with this chronic underfunding. For instance, 92% of survey respondents wanted to see an increase in BCRP spending on park maintenance and operations; 83 percent of respondents also said they would be willing to pay an additional fee based on the assessed value of their home if that funding went specifically to implementing Patterson Park’s Master Plan. These survey results suggest that park funding is an emerging issue that requires a solution.
One potential solution to fund operations and maintenance in Patterson Park is to adopt a special benefits district model, in which residents pay a little more to have a lot more influence concerning how their parks and recreation centers are maintained and operated. This has worked for Midtown Benefits District, Charles Village, Downtown Partnership and Waterfront Partnership. While each district’s model is structured differently, their existence and success are based on receiving marginal, additional funds from property owners for dedicated uses in a designated area. An in-depth analysis of the special benefits district model was published this spring in the Journal of Land and Development. The article examined several potential funding options for Baltimore’s park system, including raising money through private philanthropy, dedicating permit fees to the park and other tax models, and concluded that Patterson Park is well positioned to take advantage of a special benefits district model to help supplement maintenance and operations spending by the city.
Residents and leaders in other cities are increasingly recognizing the importance of parks as a public good, as demonstrated by the many ballot initiatives to fund parks that voters across the nation approved in 2018. In Baltimore, city leaders and candidates who will be asking for your vote have an opportunity in 2020 to demonstrate leadership by addressing the chronic underfunding of our park system. City parks like Patterson Park are important reflections of our community and the citizens they serve. We should treat them as such, and demand action from our elected leaders as we head to the ballot box next April.
Throughout the next few months, Friends of Patterson Park and other advocates for clean, safe green space in Baltimore will be making an appeal that Park funding should be a priority in the 2020 Election. We will call on candidates for local office to make increasing park funding a pillar of their campaigns in the remaining months leading up to the primary. You can join this movement by signing the petition, and visiting baltimorecityparks.com to read the series on park funding.
Vibrant parks are critical to improving the quality of life in the communities they serve, and it’s time we think differently in order to ensure our parks get the funding and attention they deserve.