Don't overturn parks merger

Here's today's main editorial from the Daily News, continuing our in-depth coverage of  policies regarding Fairmount Park.

PARKS: SIZE MATTERS, BUT SO DO OTHER THINGS

STATE REPRESENTATIVE Mark Cohen says he's planning to sue the city, challenging its right to dissolve the Fairmount Park Commission, as it did following a November ballot intiative. He claims the original commission, appointed by the board of judges, is a state agency.

Cohen thinks the old Fairmount Park Commission was better equipped to keep the city from selling off parkland to developers, and suggests that the new commission appointed to oversee parks and recreation won't be strong enough to fight the city as it lines up buyers for Tacony or Pennypack.

The specter of city government signing over the deeds to precious parkland was a frequent tool in the long and often loud battle over who should be steward of Fairmount Park: an "independent" commission or a city department. That debate resulted in a referendum in which voters overwhelmingly voted to dissolve the commission and merge the parks and recreation department.

Since we argued for the merger, we think Cohen's lawsuit is both ill-advised and irresponsible.

For one, it dimisses democracy. It's bad enough that the parks were in independent hands with no accountability or transparency. But Cohen is challenging the outcome of a process involving much public conversation and debate, after decades when the public was left out of park decisions. The merger was voted on, in an election.

Worse, it suggests that the original commission was the only viable custodian of parkland. The truth is, the credentials of the newly appointed commission on parks and rec are far more park-and-public-land-centric than the original commission. Besides, Cohen seems to forget that it was the original commission that cut the deal with Fox Chase Cancer Center to take over a part of Burholme Park. And for parkland to go to the Microsoft School.

Cohen also seems to have missed a judge's rulling last year that suggests it's virtually impossible for the city to sell parkland.

Mainly though, Cohen should know that the quality of a park system is not measured in acres alone; it must also be measured by how well those acres are cared for. As long as Fairmount Park was independent, the city would continue to starve it financially. The end result was a tarnished, tattered, and often dangerous park. The new system is no magic wand, either. But we believe it has a better chance of giving us a park system we can be proud of - for its beauty and its size. *

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