Policy Hearing: Healthy Parks and Open Spaces

Focused on how legislators can support outdoor spaces in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA, AUG. 15 – Ideas to support and grow local parks and other open spaces took center stage during a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing Monday afternoon in Philadelphia.

“We have many beautiful spaces in our region and the potential to have many more. It’s important to have clean and healthy parks, recreation centers, and community spaces to give our neighbors incentive to be outside and provide alternatives to spaces that breed unwanted litter and blight,” said Rep. Morgan Cephas, who co-hosted the hearing. “This hearing provided us with a helpful opportunity to gain a better understanding of how we can help transform, grow and maintain these spaces for generations to come.”

Monday’s hearing was hosted by Cephas and Rep. Rick Krajewski (D-Philadelphia) at the Kingsessing Recreation Center. It featured testimony from local and state government officials, as well as organizations dedicated to cleaning up and maintaining parks and open spaces.

"When it comes to Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, the depth of need always outstrips available resources," said Bill Salvatore, who is deputy commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. "We would welcome additional support from the commonwealth, whether in the form of specific program dollars for any of our many programs, additional opportunities for grant funding for our capital investments, and more direct funing of trails and green spaces."

According to Philadelphia Parks and Recreation (PPR), there are 156 rec centers and playgrounds, 154 neighborhood parks, 10 watershed parks, 232 miles of trails, 74 pools, over 1,400 sports fields, 40 community gardens, and many other facilities in the Philadelphia area. PPR also coordinates citywide events, after-school programs, and adult education classes. Philadelphia councilmember Jamie R. Gauthier said they could use all the financial help they could get to support the department’s operations.

“Philadelphia Parks and Recreation has been doing so much with so little for so long it has come to be expected," said Gauthier. "However, those efforts cannot be relied on to continue indefinitely. We need to start viewing our parks and recreation assets as essential neighborhood infrastructure, vital to saving the very lives of our children, and fund them accordingly."

The Pennsylvania Horticulture Society (PHS) is present in over 230 neighborhoods and works tirelessly to use horticulture to address social determinants of health. PHS Chief of Staff Casey Kuklick testified that the simple tools used to improve health and well-being in neighborhoods are currently under-tapped and underrecognized. He noted a plan PHS proposed to invest money in the Philadelphia Green Equity Commission and make sure all resources are being utilized.

“An annual $10 million investment in this plan would help build and maintain green infrastructure, put people back to work and help bring our neighborhoods to more equitable standards of health, well-being and quality of life,” said Kuklick. “Specifically, PHS believes we need to clean and green more vacant land, restore the tree canopy and strengthen community gardens.” 

Testifiers and legislators at the hearing agreed that to continue allowing parks and recreation spaces to provide these vital services to residents, the lack of funding needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

“Today, we heard just how much of a role our local parks, recreation centers, and other outdoor spaces play in the community. This industry offers more than 1,000 jobs, dozens of educational programs, and countless active, safe spaces to support all ages,” said Krajewski. “But it’s clear they need more funding, and we’re going to do everything we can to support these spaces in Philadelphia and across the commonwealth.”

Full testimony from Monday’s hearing can be found here. Photos will be available here.

Information about this hearing and other House Democratic Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy.