Fairmount Park beats odds as world-renowned

Travel website Frommers yesterday placed Philadelphia among the world’s best cities for public parks, noting the scope of Fairmount Park’s

9,200 acres and the wonderfully interwoven history of old mansions and museums.

“The parks are home to more than 200 historic buildings, America’s oldest zoo, six golf courses, cycling trails, performance venues and an array of landscaped gardens and wooded areas,” the website observed while ranking Philadelphia in its top 10 list.

But ask park advocates much closer to home, like Lauren Bornfield of the Philadelphia Parks Alliance, and they’ll likely say the city’s parks are like flowers that blossom without expensive fertilizer.

“Imagine how extraordinary our system would be and what could be possible and how maintained it would be if it was adequately funded,” said Bornfield, executive director of the alliance. “The tragedy is that it’s not.”

It’s no secret that the expansive Fairmount Park system has received the same level of funding — give or take $2 million or $3 million — for the past four decades. Since the early 1970s, the city has annually allocated $12 million to $15 million per year, according to the city’s longtime Fairmount Park top official, Mark Focht.

Inflation has gradually forced cuts to maintenance, employment and programming. So how does Philadelphia rank with the world’s best like Paris and Tokyo and Chicago? Bornfield credits what she calls “$5 million last year in sweat equity.” Focht touts the city’s partnerships with private donors.

“We have this extraordinary resource,” Bornfield pleaded yesterday, echoing her annual message during the past several city budget seasons. “Let’s leverage it and make kids healthy and fit and provide it for families and visitors and all Philadelphians.”

Steady funding

Exact funding for city parks the last three years hasn’t been available since the Fairmount Park Commission merged with the Department of Recreation.

But Focht said yesterday that the park system received a small dose of good news in Mayor Michael Nutter’s 2012-2013 budget proposal that would begin July 1 when Nutter held the line on funding for the first time in three years.

He also noted capital spending in the next couple years that will expand the city’s tree canopy by giving out thousands of free trees to property owners and improving safety measures like lighting at park and recreation facilities.

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