Monday, September 12, 2016

Help keep Milwaukee’s outstanding park system intact!

Ravine Bridge, Lake Park
Parks make cities livable. Great parks are a vital part of great cities. These statements have a long history of support and are rarely disputed. I would say “never disputed” except that there is an attempt afoot right here in Milwaukee to diminish the quality of our exceptional park system. It is being perpetrated by the county administration, the very agency that we depend upon for sustaining that system. 

In August the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a story about a survey that was mailed to “4,000 randomly selected households requesting information on participation in recreational programs and use of facilities, as well as opinions on possibly closing parks….” [emphasis added.]

Below is a list of public hearings as well as contact information so that you can provide input to the county on this vital issue.

The survey itself and the perceived need for it by the county administration raise too many questions for me to cover adequately in a brief blog post. Gerry Broderick, retired chair of the Milwaukee County Board’s Parks, Energy and Environment Committee and current board member of Preserve Our Parks, has written a thorough analysis of the survey and the threat it poses. He also offers alternatives that would make the process more transparent and democratic.

Here are excerpts:

“Our enviable parks system is in grave danger of being dismantled by Milwaukee County’s administration. A seven-page survey mailed to 4,000 randomly selected households proposes actions to “reduce the size of the Milwaukee County park system to match current available funding.” It asks which parts of the well-crafted parks network could be abandoned…
“Those proposed extreme tactics were tucked amid benign questions about parks usage. I believe this survey pits park users against each other and is based on flawed premises and misrepresentations…
“With no prior discourse about specific funding methods, respondents are asked to “vote” for how to fund the parks, whether through parking meters in lakefront parks, a wheel tax, higher user fees, more partnerships with businesses and sponsors, or a sales tax. The latter was approved through a referendum in 2008 but never enacted by the state Legislature. That section’s sketchy introduction includes inaccurate and misleading statements about deferred maintenance and the county’s budgetary restrictions…
“I believe this survey is an effort to gather data to justify privatization, sale and abandonment of our public parks and facilities. Milwaukee County’s parks belong to all of us, and citizens should rightfully demand an inclusive public conversation about their future. Parks are not “businesses” and must not be cavalierly spun off or sold like divisions of a corporation. Parks all have a purpose — the greater good — regardless of how much revenue they generate.”

Followers of Urban Wilderness already know that I agree with Broderick wholeheartedly. I submit that we must change the conversation. We shouldn’t be talking about park closures and reducing expenditures on the park system. Instead we should be exploring ways to restore sustainable funding sources, revitalize the system and even expanding it.

Here is how you can help.

First, a series of public workshops are being offered starting tomorrow at locations around the county:

Sept. 13, Kosciuszko Park Community Center, 2201 S. 7th St.
Sept. 14, Lake Park Marcia Coles Community Room, 3133 E. Newberry Blvd. (lower level)
Sept. 15, Wilson Park Pavilion, 1601 W. Howard Ave.
Sept. 20, Brown Deer Park Golf Clubhouse, 7625 N. Range Line Road
Sept. 21, Gordon Park Pavilion, 2828 N. Humboldt Blvd.
Sept. 22, Dineen Park Pavilion, 6601 W. Vienna St.
Sept. 27, Sheridan Park Pavilion, 4800 S. Lake Drive
Oct. 4, McCarty Park Pavilion, 2567 S. 79 St.
Oct. 5, Center Street Park Community Room, 6420 W. Clarke St.  

All workshops begin at 6:30 p.m. with a presentation, followed by interactive workshops from 7-8 p.m. For more information, click here.

Second, contact the Parks Department directly:
  • email: Contact Parks with Purpose
  • call: (414) 257-PARK (7275)
  • write: Parks with Purpose–Milwaukee County Parks, 9480 Watertown Plan Road, Wauwatosa, WI 53226

Third, contact your Milwaukee County Supervisor. To find out who your supervisor is and for contact info click here.

If you wish to peruse the survey itself, click here. (Note: it is not available for the general public to fill out.)

I don’t believe that any of our iconic parks, such as Lake (pictured at the top) or Greenfield (above), are in danger of being lost—although there was a serious attempt just last year to sell off O’Donnell Park recently, so who knows?! My worry is about some of the less-well-known natural areas, such as the Root River Parkway in Franklin.

The Oak Leaf Trail runs through parts of the Root River Parkway (above), but large areas are both completely undeveloped and essentially inaccessible to the majority of the public that is unlikely to bushwhack their way into it like I do (below).

To see many more photos of our glorious park system go to my Flickr album.

Full disclosure: I am a board member of Preserve Our Parks.  

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