Yesterday, Mr. Rick Davis, who is running for mayor of Evansville, released his vision for our local parks. You can view the plan and some additional comments here...
First of all, I really like this plan. Even if nothing at all were to come from this plan, it would still be a step in the right direction as it will serve as a wake-up call to those in elected positions that it is time to get serious about our parks.
Like everything else not on the far west or east sides, our parks have gotten into an unacceptable and unimaginable state of ruin. This cannot be allowed to continue if we are going to have any desire at building our downtown back and putting the rest of our city under an urban renewal process.
I would like to dig into just a few quotes from the plan because I feel like there are just a few things missing from the plan that I would like to add.
Sadly, for the health and well-being of our citizens, the City of Evansville recently was listed as the No. 1 most obese city in America. Evansville is rightly proud of many of its achievements and resources, but being ranked the No. 1 most obese city in America is not one of them.
Correct. Like the rest of the cities in the US and around the world, Evansville must convert from an auto friendly community to a walkable and livable community. To do this, we must look at our parks from a whole new perspective. We cannot look at our parks as designated areas on a defined plot of land. Rather, we must begin the process of connecting our entire town, our transportation mode, and our way of life with the parks system. They must be a bigger part of our life than just recreation.
For instance, instead of driving to Garvin, Wesselman, or Sunset Park for a few minutes of recreation and then leaving, you should be able to walk through park like settings on your way to your transportation source and on your way around town. Atlanta's new Beltline Project executes this theory perfectly...
Once complete, MARTA, high speed rail, and Atlanta's parks system will all be connected.
Under my plan, the Evansville Parks & Recreation Department would receive an infusion of at least $150,000 and an additional summer workforce of about 50 school-aged summer workers.
The Parks & Recreation Department maintains 65 parks and four other facilities on a $10.31 million budget in 2011. But the amount of acreage is simply too much for our overworked and hard-working full-time staff to maintain. An additional 50 high school and college-aged students would comprise a Community Service Corps under the umbrella of the Evansville Parks & Recreation Department. The students would be paid minimum wage for 40 hours per week and be charged with cleaning and improving the parks and cemeteries during a 10-week summer period.
The Community Service Corps would help give teen-agers their first job, teach them discipline and encourage community spirit.
This part of Mr. Davis' Parks Plan is the part that I desperately want to see changed and upgraded and I will tell you why.
Back when I attended the University of Kentucky, I too worked in the lawn care industry to make enough revenue for college. This is not easy work. One time, it ended up with me dehydrating and having to take an ambulance ride to the hospital. Granted I was working 2 other jobs with Fedex, giving Plasma, going to UK, and walking to polls for political candidates at the same time, but this is the type of job that can certainly cause negative health consequences.
Because of this level of hard work, it is my strong belief that these students should not be relegated to minimum wage pay. Last year, I talked about a program that the city of Louisville, the state of Kentucky, UPS, UPS Teamsters, Jefferson Community & Technical College, and the University of Louisville created for students needing money for college...
The program is called Earn & Learn and it works like this...
1. A student signs up to work the night shift at UPS.
2. UL & UPS assign this student a special dorm that is away from noise during the daylight hours.
3. The student receives free tuition and books.
4. The student gets a fair hourly rate to live on.
5. The tuition expense is split between UofL and UPS.
Simply put, this program works. It is the byproduct of the Chamber of Commerce, the Teamsters, the state of Kentucky educational department, and the city of Louisville all coming together to work as one.
Can we bring in a big company like UPS to work on our parks? Maybe, maybe not. Is our parks program going to be as large as UofL's Earn and Learn? Doubtful.
However, this system will be a vast improvement over the proposed minimum wage system for a number of reasons...
1. It will reallocate our local educational funds to students who actually want to work.
2. This program will allow the Chamber of Commerce/ business community, the Teamsters/ organized labor, and the EVSC/USI/UE/Ivy Tech education community to work together as one for the students and the parks.
3. Although small, this Parks Department initiative would send a strong message that we are serious about Earn & Learn and want to expand it should any business be open to relocating to Evansville.
4. This program will improve both our educational system and parks system at the same time.
Of course, opponents to this plan will argue that we shouldn't spend any tax dollars on our parks or an Earn & Learn program. First of all, anyone who believes that the parks do not need more investment isn't looking at the same parks that I am. Allowing our parks to rot to save a buck IS NOT an option. Also, we just spent $149 million on an EVSC bond. It's time we started supporting those students who want to work for their college degree especially given the fact that this program is pocket change compared to the bond.
Luckily, we don't have to spend that much more to implement this Earn & Learn program. If you look at the city budget, you will notice many departments have a teamsters scholarship attached to it...
Who do these scholarships go to?
The scholarships are awarded to sons and daughters of Local 215 members whose employer contributes to the fund.
It is my opinion that this program needs to be reformed immediately. Instead of giving these funds to students who aren't even on the city payroll themselves, why don't we give these funds to those students who are out there busting their butt so that we can have an improved parks system?
If those sons and daughters of Teamster employees want to retain their scholarships, they would be more than welcome to come out and give some service to our parks. If not, they should forfeit the money.
With this additional funding, we would be able to give 15 students over $4,000 for college and then tack on additional funding for the other 35 students, or we could give each student over $1,000 for college. All of this would be in addition to the proposed funding for their basic salary.
With this program, I am confident that we can bring the unions, the chamber, the city, and the educational community together to find sponsors and to find additional funding so that we can expand this program over time.
I propose re-visiting our Park Ranger program. Public safety is the No. 1 role of government and we should allow our highly trained Police Department officers to patrol our streets while also having a specialized Park Ranger or similar program to protect the City’s investment in our extensive parks system.
Absolutely. The best parks in the U.S are those with Park Rangers. With a quality Park Ranger program, we wouldn't just be providing additional safety, we would be providing more jobs, a higher quality park system, and a change of perception about where our parks belong on the priorities list. Adding Park Rangers back to the parks system is a must if we are going to integrate the parks into our daily life and commute.
I would encourage our neighborhood associations to "Adopt A Park" and work in conjunction with our Parks Department to help make improvements in parks located in or near their neighborhood boundaries.
Once more, this is both essential and affordable to implement. If we are ever going to expand our parks system with our greenway like Atlanta is doing with their Beltline Project, we MUST get the community involved. Otherwise, we simply will not have the funding to implement a full connector of parks that will turn Evansville into a walkable and livable community.
We also need to reach out to the business community. Last year, I talked to the Otters about bringing back the festival that opened up Bosse Field back in 1915. They said they liked the idea but I have not heard back unfortunately. If we are ever going to get our citizens involved in our parks, the business community has to be a part of the plan.
If implemented, both business and community can prosper with Mr. Davis' plan.
Social Networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, not to mention mass email services, make marketing our Parks & Recreation Department extremely cost effective. Linking the Parks Department to sites like these in the electronic world will allow us to market our programs with our local businesses, schools and universities more effectively. These initiatives will help improve our participation levels as well.
The City’s Parks & Recreation Department does not currently have a roster of every park in the city on its web site. We need to list and map every park so the public can have a better sense of pride and ownership in these parks, no matter how large or small they are.
I am thrilled beyond thrilled at the idea of making our parks more marketable. Lack of marketing is the main problem our parks face. If we do not make our parks personal, how can we expect to integrate them into our daily life? The answer is we cannot. While our parks, trails, and recreational facilities have great assets that will naturally attract some visitors, the truth of the matter is that you have to reach out to the community yourself if you truly expect your parks system to be a success. Otherwise, they will not feel like they have anything invested in the parks themselves and will not participate. We have to make our parks system personal!
Lastly, one thing that I did not see in Mr. Davis' plan is a list of park priorities. This is the most important thing to me. I want to make sure parks such as Garvin and Kleymeyer get their due first before parks such as the 4-H Center, Burdette, and Wesselman which are in much, much better shape because they have received the most attention over the years.
Garvin Park was the crown jewel of our parks system back in the day. It's about time that notion came back. We have a historic ballpark, a district with the opportunity to replicate the early 1900s and reconnect to downtown, and a park (Kleymeyer) that has the capacity to be the home of the future softball fields project. Fix Garvin and Kleymeyer, then move onto the other parks!
Overall, I felt like Mr. Davis did an EXCELLENT job with this plan (which is yet another reason why I am endorsing him). I'm glad that he took it upon himself to come out and demand that we change our attitude towards our parks system. For too many years, our parks have been left to sit in ruin. It's about time that changed. If we are ever going to convert to a walkable/livable community, if we are ever going to join the green movement, and if we are ever going to make our parks system personal, we MUST begin the lengthy but necessary process of rebuilding them.
Thank you Rick Davis!