A couple of weeks ago, I told you about city’s Finance Department. It wasn’t a department that many of you were familiar with and I was glad to be able to get information to my constituents about it.
This week, I want to tell you a bit about the Parks and Recreation Department. It’s definitely higher profile than finance, and the work they do gets a great deal of support from all of you. The fact that we passed Proposition 407 last year is a great demonstration of that.
First, I’d like to give you some of the boring statistics. Parks and Recreation has a $41.9 million dollar budget that they use to manage 128 parks that cover 2,695 acres of developed park land. They do this with 860 employees.
Our city parks directly impact the quality of life for all Tucsonans. From after school programs for kids to recreational opportunities for seniors and everything in between. I will continue to be an advocate for our parks system. Like many parents, I have kids that routinely use the parks for youth sports programs. They are important to many families who can’t afford large yards or swimming pools. We are providing many families with outdoor recreational opportunities in our parks.
And we offer a variety of recreational opportunities for Tucsonans no matter what their interests. Udall Park’s amphitheater is a place for free community concerts, Ft. Lowell has a museum about Tucson’s history and Case Park is a good place for a quiet desert walk.
Those bonds that you and your neighbors passed last year have already begun to make a difference in our Ward 2 parks. Palo Verde Park is a great example of this. The park has already seen construction of a splash pad as well as renovation of their pool. This is part of a $2.5 million improvement plan over the life of the bond program that will include an upgrade to the irrigation system as well as pickleball courts. I’ve been pursuing other sources of money, public and private, to make other improvements as well.
The story of Palo Verde Park is more than just the money that our city is spending there though. It is also a great example of the importance of our parks for our neighborhoods and broader community. The newly formed neighborhood association there has been very active and has used the park for a variety of activities, including movie nights, dog chipping and a “park fest” earlier this year that included both food trucks and musicians from all over the city. It’s been gratifying to see what the improvements in the park and the activities they bring mean for that neighborhood.
There is still a lot we can do, however. We do not have enough park land in the city. The median amount of land dedicated to parks in cities, according to the Trust for Public Land, is 15%. We are at a paltry 3%. I take issue with how that number is calculated (El Paso and Anchorage, for example, have state parks within their borders), but we still don’t have enough. A standard that is also used is how many people live a ten-minute walk from a park. Less than two thirds of our citizens do.
The decisions that determined how much of our land has gone into parks predates my time on the council and the current leadership of Parks and Recreation. Still, we need to continue to make the important investment to improve the parks we have as well as look for new opportunities to expand the system.
My staff spoke with representatives of the sustainability office. We will be getting solar panels here at Ward 2 very soon. I’ll be giving you an update over the next couple of weeks since those of you that come here regularly will see some changes.