Valley Voices

Fresno’s city parks are not a problem – they are a solution

From left, Eliseo Gonzalez, 6, Thomas Melton, 2, and Cayleigh Melton, 11, all of Fresno, ride on the swings as they celebrate the universally-accessible Inspiration Park in west Fresno. The swing on the right accommodates a wheelchair.
From left, Eliseo Gonzalez, 6, Thomas Melton, 2, and Cayleigh Melton, 11, all of Fresno, ride on the swings as they celebrate the universally-accessible Inspiration Park in west Fresno. The swing on the right accommodates a wheelchair. sflores@fresnobee.com

I truly believe we can’t have enough safe spaces for our children. Fresno Unified School District decided that schools should be safe havens, where all students feel protected and respected. This decision is a welcoming message in these troubling times, as families live in fear of being ripped apart. We need more safe havens. We also need more healthy havens, especially when our health care and safety net are under attack.

Parks are prevention.

Healthy parks have tremendous power that we all benefit from. Parks help prevent heart disease and diabetes by providing children and families with safe places to play and exercise. Building new parks, upgrading current ones, and enriching all parks with programming and amenities is not only good medicine, it is also good for the bottom line.

Our city is finally working on a parks master plan.

This is thanks to hundreds of residents across the city, several community-based groups, youth and many others who have been working on this issue for several years. We the people pushed and the city responded.

It’s a sound step. A parks master plan will not only serve as a blueprint for creating more places to play, but will also help attract additional funding because a plan is one of the first items governments and granters look at when divvying up their dollars.

It’s also about time. The master plan for parks hasn’t been updated since 1989, and in the nearly 30 years since the plan was last crafted, the state of our parks has plummeted. By now, we all know our park system is near the bottom compared to others across the nation.

Unfortunately, we also know that our leaders are not ready to lead us out of this mess. Recently, according to The Bee, our City Council received some news they didn’t like about the amount of money it will take to replace equipment and other items at city parks during the next 10 years.

Our city leaders are already complaining about the price tag, instead of offering ideas and solutions. They desperately want the story to be: we just can’t afford this.

I say, cry me a river.

Parks are engines of significant economic activity and job creation.

Take Oakland, for example. According to the American Planning Association, the East Bay Regional Park District is estimated to stimulate about $254 million annually in park-related purchases, of which $74 million is spent in the local East Bay economy.

The National Recreation and Parks Association reports that local and regional park systems create more than 356,000 direct jobs. And it doesn’t stop there. Parks increase property values and boost the standard of living for all.

Don’t fall for the city’s pleas of being a pauper. The city simply hasn’t committed to an equitable plan. Years ago, the city received a 49-acre gift from the National Park Service with one condition: to turn the space into a park. Yet here we are more than a decade later and there is no plan to turn these 49 acres in southeast Fresno into a playground that will make us all proud.

It’s never the right time. There is never enough money. There are always other priorities.

But right now, we are seeing new efforts to help invest in parks statewide; the recent Assembly vote to place a $3.1 billion bond to fund state parks, on the 2018 ballot, can spur new investments in disadvantaged areas, and decades-old parks, and comes at a perfect time for Fresno to take full advantage of our ongoing parks master planning process.

“Something drastic and revolutionary is needed if we’re going to deliver the kind of parks that our community wants,” said Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier.

I agree. It’s called leadership – so let’s get to work.

Venise C. Curry, M.D., is San Joaquin Valley Regional Director for Communities for a New California Education Fund.

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