Supplement Feature - April 2015
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Flourish Through Funding

Strategies to Support Park Creation and Maintenance

By Chris Gelbach

As recreation managers consider funding for public parks today, they are faced with a growing array of options. To fully harness these resources requires an increasing sophistication about potential funding mechanisms, which can include everything from legislative approaches to grants, volunteer coordination, concessions contracts and even crowdsourcing.

A Golden Age for Parks

Departments that are savvy in assembling in-house expertise across these areas may be able to access more potential funds for their parks than have been available for generations—particularly in urban areas.

"There's been a greater level of investment and interest in creating new parks in major cities than we've seen in a number of decades, maybe even going back to the 1930s," said Adrian Benepe, senior vice president and director of city park development for The Trust for Public Land (TPL). "It's very much a golden age right now for park development in a number of cities."

According to Benepe, this urban growth includes everything from traditional parks to playgrounds, trails and greenways, as well as fitness facilities. "There's been some very heavy investment in certain cities and what I sometimes refer to as a peaceful arms race as to who can develop the biggest and best new parks," Benepe said.

Ballot Victories Fuel Parks

Recent successes in passing ballot initiatives to secure park funding have been integral. Among the park-funding victories in 2014 were the creation of the Seattle Park District through city residents' approval of a ballot proposition that provides sustainable funding for Seattle Parks and Recreation. In Florida, voters passed the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, Amendment 1. This dedicates a portion of the existing excise tax on documents to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, which was developed to acquire and improve conservation areas and other public lands. According to Benepe, this could generate up to $18 billion over 20 years.

"It's an interesting paradox that while there was a move toward Republicanism in many places, there were also resoundingly strong votes in favor of the environment and conservation in California, in New Jersey, in Florida and in many other places," Benepe said.

Cities are additionally turning more often toward other funding mechanisms for public space creation and maintenance. These include tax increment financing and business improvement districts. Cities are also increasingly relying on public-private partnerships such as conservancies to provide financial support for parks. According to a new TPL paper on the topic, 41 of the most prominent conservancies across the United States spent $158.9 million on operations and capital construction in 2012. As the report also notes, more than half of those organizations weren't founded until after the year 2000.