Fort Worth can't afford to fall behind in park development

Posted Saturday, Apr. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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sanders April 14 was a gorgeous Sunday in North Texas, and thousands of people took advantage of the sunny day by heading for Fort Worth's parks.

I drove around several parks that day, all the while thankful for those visionaries who more than 100 years ago understood the importance of open space to the quality of life in any city.

Trinity Park was packed with people picnicking, biking, walking and having parties. By the way, that Fort Worth park ranks 50th among the nation's most visited, with 1.5 million visitors a year, according to the "2012 City Park Facts" compiled by the Trust for Public Land.

The Fort Worth Botanic Garden was also bustling with folks, as were Log Cabin Village and the Fort Worth Zoo, where the overflow parking lot was full that afternoon. The zoo's attendance that Sunday was 8,171, and it was 9,476 the day before, communications director Alexis Wilson said.

Across town at Gateway Park there also were hikers and joggers, but they were outnumbered by the soccer players using the park's well-groomed fields.

Fort Worth, the 16th-largest city in the U.S., has 259 parks totaling more than 11,600 acres. That sounds like a lot, but this fast-growing city that brags about its amenities has fallen woefully behind in addressing its park and recreation needs.

In acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, according to the Trust for Public Land, Fort Worth has 5.3 acres compared with Austin, with 15; Houston, 12.4; Dallas, 10.7; Plano, 9.3; and Arlington, 7.6.

The data lists Fort Worth 48th in total spending on parks and recreation per resident. While that is one place ahead of Dallas, it is behind Plano and Arlington. Fort Worth ranks 39th in the country in the number of park playgrounds per 10,000 residents.

In addition to those already mentioned, the city has some jewels among its park spaces -- like the Fort Worth Nature Center and Wildlife Refuge, which the "2012 City Park Facts" lists as the 25th-largest park in the country with 3,662 acres.

The city has been making some headway in parkland acquisition and construction, last year closing Z Boaz Golf Course on the west side for conversion to a multipurpose park. And in 2011, Fort Worth spent $7 million for 245.77 undeveloped acres west of Blue Mound Road and south of U.S. 287 for creation of Northwest Community Park.

But that's not enough to keep up with the rapid growth.

City staff and council members are already in talks about a $276 million bond program that likely will be submitted to the city's voters next year. Because of street and related infrastructure needs, 72 percent of that bond money (about $196 million) probably will be set aside for transportation. So far, only $14.5 million would be allocated for parks and recreation, although several council members have indicated they think that figure is too low.

I realize there are always competing needs for any bond package, and I understand trade-offs that the politicians have to make to satisfy various constituencies. But we must stop shortchanging our parks.

Again, consider those who had the vision back in 1873 to begin setting aside land for outdoor public spaces. Remember the words of George Edward Kessler, a prominent city planner who devised a plan for the city's parks in 1909 while on a train to Fort Worth.

He wrote, "In the competition of cities for new and desirable population, no other element of advertisement is worth so much as an ample and attractive park system, making a pleasant city in which to live comfortably. You will find, as others have, that this point alone will return to you all your possible investment in comfort and good appearance."

Perhaps this will give council members something to think about as they develop the package of projects for the bond election.

Maybe it will help focus their "vision."

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.


Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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