Considering how little Philadelphia spends compared with other big cities, it's a wonder that much of Fairmount Park and other recreation facilities look as good they do.
Park advocates attribute that to the "high-performing department" run by Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis, who's the first to acknowledge that his challenge in these years of flat funding has been to do more with less.
While the city has benefited from high-profile projects that were aided, in part, by private funds — including the recent transformation of Sister Cities Park on Logan Square, the addition of Café Cret along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and more — Philadelphia still trails most major cities in park spending. And it shows in the lack of upkeep on display at many aging facilities.
That's why park advocates rightly are clamoring for Mayor Nutter and City Council to invest more in park maintenance. Whether that happens this week as Council and the mayor finally hammer out a city budget remains unclear, but it's encouraging that Council members have been talking up the idea. Upwards of $2 million additional for maintenance has been mentioned, which would represent an almost historic bump for such funding.
Nutter, for his part, concedes the need for increased parks funding, even as other pressing budget demands prompted his decision to maintain, but not hike, spending levels.
Just before the 2008 recession, it was Nutter's forward-looking idea to begin adding money to the agency that grew out of the merger of the then-separate parks and recreation departments.
Now, with the recession over, and despite related and other fiscal challenges, the mayor's leadership is again needed if the city hopes to polish a park system that could be a gem.