As we leave the summer behind, the new Parks & Recreation Commission is ready to get down to work, with its first meeting since the official merger scheduled for Sept. 22. PlanPhilly caught up with Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis to see how things will move forward.
PlanPhilly: Can you give us a look-ahead at the September meeting?
: The big deal is that we're moving forward on the land disposition ordinance
. The legislation that created the new commission calls on us to create guidelines for the use and disposition of parks and recreation land, and a big fear of a lot of people who either opposed or had concerns about the merger is that it might cede control away from the commission. So when the mayor appointed the new commissioners, he asked for us to think of enforceable guidelines. We've been working on that draft legislation and that'll be a big part of the September meeting.
What are the specific issues that you're wrestling with?
DiBerardinis: We're trying to get to a clear and smart process that essentially creates a reasonable but thoughtful bar for the taking of parks and rec land, and using it for something else. People worry that we'll have another Fox Chase type situation or a School of the Future, even though that was more of a gray area. So we need to clearly set forth: what are the standards, what is the public process?
PlanPhilly: Some are afraid of too much councilmanic control. . . .
DiBerardinis: Well, now we'll have something, an open and clear process. This is modeled after other cities, we did some significant research to learn about how places like Seattle and St. Louis handle their disposition.
PlanPhilly: What are some differences between this commission and the last?
DiBerardinis: The last one was a governing body with, I believe, a very vague mission. My interest is to have this commission be part of the work of the new department, to help think about programs and to come up with ideas for revenue generation in a meaningful way. I can't remember that the commission ever did this kind of work when I served on it in the past. This is significant kind of work and I think the mayor was smart to expand the commission's role. On the other hand, yes, this commission may not be as formally authoritative as the previous one.
PlanPhilly: Has there been much progress on getting everything under one roof operationally?
DiBerardinis: Once we settle down after this summer, we will move all the shops, warehouses, and vehicles, and we'll have new districts with a single district manager to whom all park and rec maintenance people will report to. This will be a single agency. And we have both the flow chart and the operational structures in place now to support that. If a citizen has a complaint about a tree, a park, or a rec center, you go to that district manager and he or she reports up into a system that has a single structure, not two structures.
PlanPhilly: And the advantages of that are?
DiBerardinis: It's the combination of the assets together into a single agency. Take Cobbs Creek, for example. We can see this big swath of watershed land in a trail, plus three recreational facilities that were formally separated:, the rec center, the skate house, and the environmental center. So the question becomes: how can we manage all of them as a single asset for the greater good of the community. Well, for one, that trail is way underutilized, but the rec center has some really good programs. How do we build connections to that trail with our youth development goals? When one strong asset lifts the other one up, the access and use of all of the resources will go up.
PlanPhilly: Any ideas?
DiBerardinis: Sure, how about we take the kids in the after school program down to the trail? Or, let's get a bicycle club that meets at the rec center and then uses the trail. Or, let's meet at the rec center and have evening family walks. Everybody wins, there's better stewardship of resources, better utilization of resources, and higher quality programs that serve a more diverse population.