Empowering our Parks with Alex Doty

News // May 10, 2023

If you had the chance to sit down with Philadelphia’s next mayor, what would you ask them to prioritize?

Friends of the Wissahickon had Alex Doty, Director of Parks and Rec Heroes Fund, as our speaker for the first installment of our spring Valley Talks last month. Alex spoke with us about the importance of advocating for the city’s green space, with urgency regarding Philadelphia’s upcoming Municipal Primary election next week. This is a chance to elect a mayor to increase our parks’ funding.

According to Alex, Philadelphians should demand three things from their next mayor to secure a bright future for the city’s green space: keep the 300 sites in the Parks & Recreation system safe and clean, grow the urban forest, and increase the availability of recreational programs.

These pillars are the foundation of the Parks and Rec Heroes Fund’s program, Rec It Philly Coalition. They use this criterion to ask candidates important questions about their intentions surrounding Park & Recreation and its lackluster funding as compared to other major cities.

Alex asks the seven candidates hard-hitting questions, including what they intend to do about short dumping in our parks and if they suspect a connection between well-maintained parks and reducing gun violence.  Read their answers here.

Despite having over 300 parks in the system that require restroom maintenance, trash removal, tree pruning, grounds upkeep, and various other operational needs, Philadelphia only spends $50 per capita on its parks. This is 10% less than Detroit, 46% less than Newark, and 3.5 times less than Atlanta, which spends $176 per capita.

As it turns out, many Philadelphians already share an interest in many of the sentiments Alex’s organization advocates for. The results of a recent focus group Parks and Rec Heroes Fund conducted revealed that the main priorities for Philadelphians are improving streets and sanitation, public safety, racial equity, and public spaces.

Our speaker argues that increasing funding for Parks & Recreation could aid the success of these goals.

According to Alex, if our next mayor were to prioritize funding our parks, it would aid operational needs like sanitation, foster safe spaces for youth to play, increase equity by providing more access to green space for underserved neighborhoods, and of course, directly impact the vitality of our parks.

We learned that for the 300 parks, recreation centers, and playgrounds, the 400 basketball courts, 200 tennis courts, 600 athletic fields, 74 pools, and 60 community gardens in Philadelphia, there are only 408 Parks & Recreation employees to maintain them. Caring for 10,200 acres of green space is a huge undertaking that requires investment in operations, maintenance, long-term capital needs, and programming.

Alex has classified this disinvestment in our parks as something that “hurts all of us, but the pain is not shared equally.” While every site is underfunded, an increase in funding will have an immense positive impact on lower-income communities that could benefit from it the most.

If you’d like to hear more about the candidate’s plans for Parks & Recreation, check out these interviews conducted by Parks and Rec Heroes Fund’s Teen Podcast Team!

To learn more about Alex, Parks and Rec Heroes Fund, and their work, you can visit their website here.

Photo courtesy of Parks and Rec Heroes Fund