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Danya Henninger/Billy Penn

Neighborhoods

How Rebuild can catch Philly’s parks up to those of other major US cities

By the budgetary numbers, our city lags its peers; half a billion dollars should help.

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Danya Henninger/Billy Penn
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Philadelphia will soon be embarking on the Rebuild program, thanks partly to funding from the new soda tax. Over seven years, some $500 million will be allocated to parks and recreation centers, as well as libraries.

It’s a good thing, because they need it. Leaky roofs and cracks in walls aren’t uncommon at recreation centers, and facility directors are excited over something as simple as new playground equipment.

So how did they get into such rough shape in the first place? The simple answer is Philadelphia just hasn’t been spending that much money on its massive park system, compared to its peer cities.

The city contains about 10,000 acres of parks, which includes the green areas easily associated with the Parks and Recreation Department, like Fairmount Park, as well as hundreds of other locations. The Parks Department controls more than 50 recreation centers, 70 pools, dozens of playgrounds and more. All together, Parks and Recreation properties account for 13 percent of Philly’s total land mass.

To take care of those areas, the Parks Department has received a budget of around $60 million. As is obvious from the various problems at recreation centers and playgrounds, that’s not enough. Philadelphia’s park system has been providing tons of resources on a shoestring budget, compared to many other cities.

Here are the numbers that explain it.

Philly vs the top 10 biggest cities and Baltimore/DC

Philadelphia, with a budget of about $58 million, ranks well behind the three biggest cities in the United States and about middle of the pack for the rest of the top 10. It’s also behind Dallas and San Diego, which have smaller populations, and only a little ahead of Baltimore and Washington DC, which are about half of Philadelphia’s size.

Parks budget by acreage

The Trust for Public Land has acreage numbers for every major city in the United States. Take that number divided by total parks budget and again Philly is middle of the pack among its peers at best. It ranks ahead of sunbelt cities like Dallas and Phoenix but behind the biggest cities in the United States and its neighbors to the south, Baltimore and DC. While the budget in the nation’s capital seems small, it has very few city-controlled parks, as the National Park service operates its most famous ones.

Park spending as a percentage of the budget

Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation share of the overall budget is a tiny blue sliver in the lower right corner of this city graph:

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City of Philadelphia

How does that compare to these other cities? Not great.

The average Parks and Recreation share of the overall budget for the 12 cities is about 2.6 percent. Philly’s Parks and Recreation gets about 1.4 percent of the total. The only two cities Philly ranks better than are Washington DC and New York, and their overall budgets are significantly higher than those of most other cities.

But it’s getting better

The amount of resources provided by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation is vast, especially considering the budget. Philly has 70 public pools, more than anywhere else in the country. It has 50-plus recreation centers, about 20 more than New York — even though New York’s a much larger city. It has over 400 basketball courts and nearly 300 tennis courts.

Rebuild, if successfully enacted, could be a major boon. With the possibility of injecting some $70 million a year into playgrounds and recreation centers over the next several years, the Parks & Rec budget will essentially double. That means new improvements and repairs for long-neglected facilities — and care for parks closer to what other cities have been regularly seeing.