Parks are a valued amenity in communities and residents across the country are demonstrating their support for development of parks in their neighborhoods.
One of the most reliable indicators of public support for parks is measured by how residents vote on public funding for parks.
Last November voters across the nation approved local and state ballot measures providing more than $6 billion for land conservation, parks, and restoration according to the Trust for Public Land , a national leader in helping cities, counties, and states pass funding measures for parks and land conservation. Many of the ballot measures called for tax increases or bonds. 86 local protection measures were on ballots and 68 passed.
“Tonight, we saw again that while American voters are divided on many issues, parks and natural areas are an issue that we can all agree on. Whether they were voting for ‘red’ or ‘blue’ candidates, voters are ‘green’ – they want local parks and close-to-home places for recreation and they’re willing to pay for them.” Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public Land.
Earlier in 2016, 14 of 17 park and land conservation ballot measures passed, creating an additional $3.3 billion for parks and open space for a total of 103 state and local measures on the ballot in 2016. Since 1988, the United States has seen 2,524 ballot initiatives approving new taxes for open space, according to the Trust for Public Land. 1,902 of these measures have passed.
One example was in LA County where a survey revealed a dearth of open space and functioning park facilities but also noted that half of county residents do not live within walking distance of a park. So, voters overwhelmingly approved a parcel tax to fund the creation and restoration of parks countywide, making it the largest urban park measure that’s ever passed in history. Now, 88 cities, unincorporated areas, and community partners have the opportunity to enrich park-poor neighborhoods with open green spaces that double as stormwater capture and water quality management facilities.
A few more examples of residents in support of parks include the following:
- Boston: voters approved a 1 percent surcharge on city property taxes that is estimated to raise $20 million annually.
- Alachua County, Florida: voters approved (60-40%) a ½-cent sales tax for parks and protecting environmentally sensitive land.
- Grand County, Colorado: voters approved (60-40%) a new sales tax for parks and trails.
- Clermont County, Ohio: voters overwhelmingly approved new funding for parks (63-37%).
See the list of all ballot measures in 2016.
Many of these ballot could not have passed without the commitment and advocacy of local community organizations and coalitions.
Before a vote on a park ballot measure can take place, local community organizations must first work to get the word out to residents and advocate for funding to create and enhance parks.
The Citizens for Parks and Trails reached out to voters in Missoula County, MT to support the Missoula County Parks and Trails bond. The 20-year bond would fix the County’s aging city parks and playgrounds; invest in a new county trails program; and begin construction of the long-awaited Fort Missoula Regional Park. At the request of more than 100 citizens, businesses, organizations and community leaders, the Missoula County Commissioners placed a measure on the November ballot that would authorize a $42 million, 20-year general obligation bond for parks and trails. Although the average cost to homeowners would be approximately $3 per month over the life of the bond, residents voted for the bond.
The Jersey City Parks Coalition advocated for the creation of the Municipal Open Space, Recreation and Historic Property Preservation Fund to create dedicated funding for municipal parks, open spaces and preservation of historic resources. This was a non-binding referendum, as the city wanted to gauge the residents’ willingness to pay a small amount of money directed specifically to improve, repair, develop and acquire open space and parks and the preservation of historic structures. The referendum was passed.
In Maryland, the Coalition of Bethesda Area Residents is leading an effort to turn parking lots in downtown Bethesda into community parks. They have gathered hundreds of signatures with an online petition which has garnered the attention of county leaders. Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner indicated that he was supportive of the group’s proposal and said the council would be discussing it.
And, in Portland, OR, Thomas Cully Park is being developed on the site of an old construction pit through a partnership between the city, which owns the property, and a coalition of sixteen other nonprofit organizations. The coalition along with the city raised about $6 million toward the park including a $4.5 million contribution from Portland’s parks and recreation department. House Speaker Tina Kotek and Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith worked hard in recent budget sessions to secure $300,000 in state funding and $190,000 from the County towards the park construction. The park project now heads into the homestretch for fundraising, looking to raise a final $1 million.
Other organizations are advocating for the creation of parks and open spaces at the Federal level. The National Recreation and Park Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of public parks, recreation and conservation, supports the Community Parks Revitalization (CPR) Act, to provide matching federal grants for park and recreation infrastructure, and Community Development Block Grants to support local community development activities such as parks and recreation. Historically this program has provided up to $100 million annually for park and recreation infrastructure but that may be in jeopardy in 2017.
So if your community is in need of a park, it may be time for you to step up, take action and vote for a park.