A task force from the Trust For Public Land (TPL) recently released the results of its year-long study of Hartford’s parks. According to the report, although Hartford still has “an impressive quantity of parkland in relation to its size and population, decades of deferred maintenance has diminished the quality of park landscapes and buildings to the point that this multi-million dollar resource is at severe risk.”
The TLP report goes on to list both the parks’ strengths and weaknesses and also outlines how the latter might be remedied.
According to the report, the decline of the city’s parks are due primarily to lack of funding. Although local volunteer groups have done admirable work in maintaining the parks, these groups lack coordination and should be integrated into a system that supports the parks as a whole.
When the Hartford Parks System was first created over a century ago, it was considered one of the best in the country. But back then, Hartford was one one of the richest cities in the nation; it is now one of the poorest. As a result, funding once earmarked for park programs and maintenance has been transferred to more immediate problems, such as public safety.
The TPL report states that the Hartford Parks and Recreation Department once had approximately 350 workers but now has only about 40. By way of comparison, Chicago allocates $110 per person to its parks system; Hartford’s spending is only $36 per person.
Jack Hale, Executive Director of the Knox Parks Foundation, said part of the lack of funding for Hartford parks stems from a lack outside funding. The reports compares Houston, TX, which recently found substantial funding from nine different sources while Hartford gained financial support from only two external sources. Hartford’s lack of funding might be due, in part, to the lack of staff needed to agressively pursue the necessary grants and donations, according to the report.
“Everyone knows that Hartford’s investment [in its parks] is low. My tendency was to believe that this was simply because we’re a poor city,” said Hale. “But the report showed it’s also because we’re not doing the work to bring in money to support the [parks] system.” He added that the Hartford Parks Trust Fund will help to secure financial assistance by providing matching funds.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez accepted the report and says he will use it as a foundation to work with City Council and key departments to achieve a number of goals including:
• Increase public awareness and promotion of the park system to highlight the assets of these jewels;
• Increase the number of residents and “friends of the park” participation in improvements and then help to protect these investments
• Work with City Council on revenue generating ideas as well as other short and long term park improvements
• Utilize the Mounted Police to promote community policing, increase security, and improve public perception of our parks
In accepting the TPL report, Perez said, “Our ancestors saw the wisdom in creating beautiful, welcoming public spaces as an essential part of a thriving city. For more than 25 years, however, our parks have dropped in priority because other economic needs have dominated our attention such as education, public safety, and economic development. We want our parks to rise again – as the city is rising again—to be part of the quality of life our city residents and visitors deserve.”
Hale also said that the many volunteer “Friends of” groups have done wonderful work at various parks and playgrounds around the city. However, he added that a city-wide parks advocacy group is needed to ensure that parks and recreational areas that do not have volunteer groups associated with them are not neglected.