The City Parks Alliance website has two very interesting video from two very different mayors: Betsy Price, a Republican from Ft. Worth, Texas, and Michael B. Hancock, a Democrat from Denver.
These two mayors co-chair the newly formed group Mayors for Parks. This is a significant development, because the mayor of a city can make a huge difference in the success of developing, constructing and maintaining great parks and trails systems.
Citizen input and City Council good will goes a long way, but there is no substitute for having a visionary, committed mayor when it comes to maintaining a vibrant parks system. This is why each candidate for mayor of San Jose should be articulating a vision for our city’s parks. And this is why every citizen who cares about parks needs to be asking each candidate to articulate a vision.
Below I’ve included a few examples of mayors taking the lead. There are plenty more, including the Seattle Parks Foundation, which has turned into a major community power through its private nonprofit work with the help of the city’s mayor.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg dramatically changed the parks system of New York City. I attended a reception at Gracie Mansion in 2012, when he boasted of New York City’s commitment to parks and of the very real accomplishments under his administration. The most obvious success story is The High Line, an elevated park made from a so-called “eyesore” of an abandoned rail line in Manhattan. Bloomberg’s predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, had tried to demolish it, but Bloomberg supported it and New York City has been rewarded with more than $2 billion in investment along the line.
In San Antonio, former Mayor Howard Peak began formulating the idea of a “ring’ for hiking and biking along city-owned creeks while he worked in the planning department. As a councilman, he championed purchasing of the land, which began the Salado Creek trail system. As mayor, he solidified his vision of hike and bike trails and won citizen support to dedicate one-eighth of a cent of the sales tax to begin development of the trail system. In tribute, San Antonio named it the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails System in his honor.
Another example of leadership and vision is former Mayor Tom Murphy, of Pittsburgh. His tenure, from 1994 to 2006, included the construction the popular riverfront trails. While Mayor Murphy’s predecessor was afraid to challenge the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mayor Murphy insisted that having the riverfront trail complete was a community priority and the team actually cut back the length of its practice fields that abut the trail.
Yes, a mayor with vision and commitment can make a big difference.
James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected] or 408.893.PARK.