Baltimore Parks Face An Uphill Battle (MD)

Baltimore, MD — A new study about parks in the nation’s fifty-five largest cities ranked Baltimore forty-fourth when it comes to parks spending. Charm City fares better, though still below average, when it comes to parkland per thousand residents and open space as a percent of city area.

The study, conducted by the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit organization that protects land and open space, includes figures for total parkland, acres per thousand residents, and parks spending per capita. These new figures offer a vivid snapshot of urban park systems in the United States.

City parkland in Baltimore totaled 5,091 acres, or 9.8 % of city land, which is slightly below the average 10.3 % for other high-density cities.

According to the new report, New York City is the leader in sheer size, with almost 50,000 acres of parks, including water preserves. On an acres-per-capita basis, the leader is El Paso, with almost forty-seven acres of park and open space for every 1,000 residents.

Baltimore’s 7.8 acres per thousand residents, although significantly lower than El Paso, is only slightly below the high-density city average of eight acres per thousand residents. “Over the last century, Baltimore’s parks have been in a steady decline. Even the greatest parks cannot survive without sufficient funding,” said Rose Harvey, Mid-Atlantic regional director for the Trust for Public Land. “Mayor O’Malley’s leadership and commitment to parks will turn the situation around, but it will take a long-term commitment and investment,” said Harvey.

Of the fifty-five cities, Kansas City, Missouri, spent the most on its parks in fiscal year 2000 with an allocation of $184 per resident. The range of spending is large, with the top city devoting seven times as much per resident as the lowest-funded city. Spending only $48 per resident on parks and programming, Baltimore falls near the bottom of the list, ranking 44th.

“The importance of parks for America’s collective psyche was shown again after the tragic events of September 11th,” said Peter Harnik, director of the Trust for Public Land’s Green Cities Initiative. “From New York City’s Union Square to the National Mall in Washington to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, people used urban open spaces to come together for remembrance, solace and community. With cities rebounding, many are giving attention to their once-beautiful park systems,” said Harnik. “There is sudden interest in gathering information to help cities allocate resources more efficiently and equitably.”

The study also divided the cities into four groupings by density levels, comparing the older, more tightly packed cities; the newer, more sprawling cities; and two density groupings in the middle. Each type of city seems to use its park acreage differently, making cross comparisons difficult. However, since spending levels are not related to density, budgetary information was not broken into sub-groups.

The Trust for Public Land determined financial rankings by analyzing both the operating and the capital expenditures of all the park agencies serving a city while subtracting non-park costs like running stadiums, zoos, aquariums or museums.

“Revitalized cities need revitalized park systems,” said Harnik. “They help clean the air, reduce stress, improve health, diminish crime, increase tourism and property value, and provide an alternative to sprawl. Parks are the urban land issue of the twenty-first century.”

The Trust for Public Land began quantifying city park systems in 2000 with the book Inside City Parks, which looked at the country’s twenty-five largest cities. The new study more than doubles the amount of data collected. In the original report, a chapter about Baltimore cites the city’s Gwynns Falls Trail project—a partnership of the Trust for Public Land, the City of Baltimore, the State of Maryland, and the local Parks & People Foundation—as an example of dynamic new thinking about parks, portraying it as an opportunity to revitalize neighborhoods and link communities to the Inner Harbor.

Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law to protect land for public use and enjoyment. For the second year in a row, The Wall Street Journal’s Smart Money magazine named the Trust for Public Land the most efficient conservation charity in the nation, having dedicated 92% of its funds to programs in 2001.

The Trust has taken a lead in the development of the Gwynns Falls Trail, a safe and accessible hiking and biking greenway that runs through West Baltimore. The route will eventually traverse 14 miles along the Gwynns Falls stream valley, winding its way through Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park, connecting to Carroll Park then continuing to the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, and culminating at the Inner Harbor in downtown Baltimore. The first four miles of the trail were opened 1999 with the re-opening of Leon Day Park in 2000. Construction on the next phase is expected to begin in early 2002.

In the late 1990’s, Peter Harnik worked as a consultant for the Parks & People Foundation helping to establish the Gwynns Falls Trail Council, which works in collaboration with the City of Baltimore to manage the greenway project in the long-term. In 1991, he organized the National Rails-to-Trails Conference in Hunt Valley. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, Harnik supported efforts to create the Northern Central Rail-Trail in Baltimore County and the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail in Anne Arundel County from 1987 to 1993 and worked to stop highway proposals in Baltimore in the late 1960’s.