Park Policy

Through its ParkPolicy Program, the Parks Alliance monitors, responds to, and educates the public on legislation and public policy related to parks and recreation to ensure that they are informed and that their interests are represented.

Current Issues

During the 2015 primary election cycle, the Parks Alliance proposed the following policy agenda items for Philadelphia's next mayor:

1.     Protect Philadelphia’s public parkland by upholding and championing the Open Lands Protection Ordinance signed into law in July 2011.

What is the Open Lands Protection Ordinance?

The Ordinance is a Philadelphia law that establishes conditions that must be satisfied before outdoor park or recreation land in Philadelphia may be converted or transferred.

What does the Ordinance do?

The Ordinance prohibits transfer or conversion of land under the jurisdiction of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, where the transfer or conversion requires authorization by ordinance of City Council under the Home Rule Charter, unless certain conditions are met.

Why is the Ordinance Important?

Prior to enactment of the Ordinance, there were no clear standards or guidelines governing the disposition of outdoor park or recreation land.  The lack of standards left such land vulnerable to politically motivated disposition, created uncertainty for project planners proposing transfers or conversions for entirely laudable purposes, and exposed the city to potential liability for noncompliance with state laws governing the disposition of land donated or dedicated for public purposes. 

All three of these problems converged when Philadelphia and Fox Chase Cancer Center sought to discontinue using part of Burholme Park as parkland and lease it to Fox Chase for the expansion of its cancer treatment and research facilities.  The high profile legal battle that ensued highlighted an urgent need for clear standards governing the disposition of outdoor park or recreation land.

When did the Ordinance become Effective?

In January 2011, after a vigorous public process, the Commission on Parks and Recreation approved an Ordinance that was then introduced in City Council for review, additional public comment, minor amendment and final passage.  It was signed into law in April 2011 and became effective on July 1, 2011.

In July 2013, on the two-year anniversary of the law, the Philadelphia Parks Alliance released a Guide to the Ordinance with the goal of raising awareness, explaining its requirements in simple terms and providing insight into how the Parks Alliance interprets it.


2.      Make significant annual increases to the operating budget for Parks and Recreation by investing in recreation and park programming for the citizens of Philadelphia.

Why is an increase needed?

After decades of chronic underfunding, in Fiscal Year 2010, $4.9 Million was cut from the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Programs Division, eliminating over 60% of program staff positions and leaving Philadelphia’s children and families without even basic, no frills programming they could rely on.  In FY 2014 the programming budget was increased by $1 Million, but there are too many recreation centers and parks in Philadelphia that have little or no programming because of long term underfunding.

Robust programming infuses recreation centers and parks with positive activity and crowds out negative, unsafe behaviors.  Well maintained, well programmed parks and recreation amenities activate our communities and our city, attracting positive behavior, investment in neighborhood revitalization and healthy, happy and engaged children and adults.

Children Deserve Equal Access

We need to ensure that every child and every family in Philadelphia has access to excellent programs-- no matter what neighborhood they live in. There are too many rec centers and parks in Philadelphia that have no programming and no hope of programming at the current level of funding.  All of our children should have the opportunity to participate in high level specialized programs that expand their horizons and inspire them to live healthy, successful and fulfilling lives.  Every facility should offer a range of programming that exposes children to athletics, performing and visual arts, environmental science, cultural experiences, healthy habits and more.


¹The Mayor and City Council approved a $56 million operating budget for Parks & Recreation for FY 2009; however the budget was cut in response to the economic downturn.
²The FY 2015 expenditure is estimated; actual expenditure will not be available until 2016.
Sources: City of Philadelphia Five-Year Strategic Plan FY 2009-2013 PICA Approved, City of Philadelphia Operating Budget Council Approved for FY 2009-2015, Mayor’s Operating Budget in Brief FY 2016

Families in Poverty Depend on Parks & Recreation

37% of Philadelphia children under 18 live in poverty.[1] Many of their families cannot afford to join a gym, take a family vacation or to send their children to summer camp. They count on the City of Philadelphia to adequately fund Parks and Recreation programs and maintenance for all facilities and parks.

Unsupervised Children Are At Risk

Children who are unsupervised are at a higher risk of substance abuse, gang involvement, teen pregnancy and dropping out.[2] As a result of underfunding, Philadelphia’s families cannot count on reliable, responsible programming at their recreation centers and parks. Philadelphia needs system-wide high level programming that provides safe opportunities for our children to thrive.

Parks & Recreation Improve Health

A 2011 Philadelphia Department of Public Health report found that Philadelphia had the highest incidence of obese adolescents and the second highest incidence of overweight adolescents among the ten most populous US cities. It also found that Philadelphia had the highest prevalence of hypertension (34.5%) and the second highest prevalence of diabetes (10.7%).[3] The Center for Disease Control has called for more parks and playgrounds as one solution to address the nation’s obesity epidemic.  Other studies have shown that people who have access to parks and programming exercise more and are both physically and mentally healthier.

Active Parks = Safe, Vibrant Parks  

A 2012 study of park use in Philadelphia and three other US cities found that park and recreation programming was the most important predictor of park use.[4] Robust programming infuses parks and recreation centers with positive activity and crowds out negative, unsafe behaviors.  Well maintained, well programmed parks and recreation amenities activate our communities and our city, attracting positive behavior, investment in neighborhood revitalization, and healthy, happy, and engaged children and adults. 


3.     Increase the capital budget for Parks and Recreation by 10% each year of your term.

Decades of Underfunding

Philadelphia’s parks and recreation facilities have suffered decades of neglect and underfunding. In 2008, Park Officials estimated that Fairmount Park alone had capital needs of at least $85 Million.  In 2015 the capital needs of the merged Department of Parks and Recreation - with its 404 ball fields, 460 basketball courts, over 10,000 land acres, 242 historic structures, 220 miles of recreational trails, 254 playgrounds, 70 outdoor pools and 156 recreation facilities - are clearly significantly greater.


¹Trust for Public Land 2014 City Park Facts
²Calculated using a conservative estimate of 20 hours per year at the hourly rate of $22.55 established by Independent Sector.

What’s the problem?

While much has been done in recent years because of a high performing Department of Parks and Recreation and discrete investment in individual park and recreation amenities, capital investment is a never-ending need that must be ongoing. 

Unfortunately, Philadelphia’s parks and recreation facilities suffer variously from decrepit ball fields, leaking roofs, broken down recreation center lighting and plumbing, unsound benches, non-functional and antiquated safety lighting, dilapidated restroom facilities, outdated heating systems, unsafe play equipment, poorly maintained paths and trails, pools in need of significant improvement and degradation and loss of historic structures.  

What’s the cost?

Sky rocketing deferred maintenance, costly law suits against the city, unstable communities, lost opportunities for children and youth, inadequate resources for citizens, businesses and visitors,  blighted neighborhoods and associated negative behavior and hopelessness.

Invest now to save later.

Underfunding the basic capital needs of parks and recreation is a short term and short sighted solution.  Proactive systemic ongoing investment in the maintenance of park and recreation assets would prevent tens of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance.

Why capital investment is needed?

13.5 % of the City of Philadelphia is made up of parks and recreation.  Investment in this major asset is critical to the economic, social, environmental, and political issues affecting our city as a whole.

[1] National Kids Count 2012
[2] 2009 Afterschool Alliance Report America After 3pm
[3] Overview of Chronic Disease, Healthy Eating and Active Living Indicators for Philadelphia Adults and Children, Philadelphia Department of Public Health
[4] Cohen DA, et al., Use of neighborhood parks: does socio-economic status matter? A four-city study, Public Health (2013),

Past Issues

The Area of FDR Park Proposed for the "Velodrome"

The Area of FDR Park Proposed for the "Velodrome"

New Proposal for FDR Park
Recently Project 250, a development group, submitted an Alternatives Analysis proposing to build a Multi-Sport, Entertainment & Youth Development Center (“Velodrome”) in FDR Park.  While the Parks Alliance appreciates the benefits that the construction of the Velodrome could bring to the city and the efforts that Project 250 has made to create a sustainable project and to enhance FDR Park and the community, we cannot support the development of the proposed 5,844 spectator capacity sports, concert and entertainment arena in FDR Park. Learn more.

Spearheading the Call for Legislation to Protect Parkland: The Parks Alliance led the call for legislation mandating the Commission on Parks and Recreation (Commission) to - for the first time ever - create standards for the protection and use of parkland, and worked with key stakeholders, government officials, citizens and experts for the creation of a land protection ordinance that reflects best thinking and practices.  This included more than $20,000 in pro-bono legal work donated to the Alliance for this project. In January 2011, after a public process, the Commission approved an ordinance that was then introduced in City Council for review, additional public comment, minor amendment and final passage. It was signed into law by Mayor Nutter in April 2011. Read Philadelphia's Open Lands Protection Ordinance.

The Parks Alliance recently released a guide to Philadelphia’s new Open Lands Protection Ordinance with the goal of raising awareness of the Ordinance, explaining its requirements in simple terms and providing insight into how the Parks Alliance interprets it. The Alliance continues to monitor early implementation of the Ordinance and related policy decisions. Below is a link to the guide. Paper copies are available at our office at 5070 Parkside Avenue.


Read The Parks Alliance's Guide to the Open Lands Protection Ordinance

Mayor Nutter and Council President Clarke move forward on new vision for LOVE Park
The Mayor and Council President will work together in partnership with the Fairmount Park Conservancy to create a new revitalized LOVE Park. Their vision for the park will include a public process, space for concessions, enhancements to greenspace, and best practices of sustainability, environmental and open space design. After internal discussion informed by Parks Alliance supporter feedback, the Parks Alliance delivered letters to City Council detailing the legal and policy implications of the initial concept plans for LOVE park and discussed our position with Council President Clarke. The new vision addresses many of our initial concerns. Learn more about the LOVE Park Revitalization.

Together we defeated the Parks for Cash Bill!
Thanks to your efforts we've defeated House Bill 2224, the Parks for Cash Bill! The PA Senate went into recess on October 17th without voting on House Bill 2224, so the bill is dead. If legislators want to pursue this issue, then they will have to introduce a new bill in 2013. Learn More about Parks for Cash!

Waterway setbacks preserved!
On November 29th, Philadelphia City Council unanimously approved a bill preserving 50ft setbacks for Philadelphia's waterways. To learn more about the impact of waterway buffers, read PennFuture's Stream and River Buffers: Fact vs. Fiction.

New Commission on Parks and Recreation
More than 80 citizens applied to serve on the 2013-2017 Commission on Parks & Recreationin. On May 21-22 2012, the City Council Committee on Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs held public hearings for applicants. City Council recommended 25 nominees to the Mayor who selected the final members on September 19th, 2012. The Commission application process will reopen in 2016 to recruit commissioners for 2017-2021.  Learn More about the Commission on Parks and Recreation!

First test of Parkland Protection Ordinance is a Success!
In October 2012 Temple University submitted a proposal to the Commission on Parks and Recreation to build a new boathouse in Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River between the East Park Canoe House and the Strawberry Mansion Bridge.  In a letter dated April 30, 2013 to Commission Chair Nancy Goldenberg, Temple University withdrew its proposal to build a new boathouse. As requested by the Commission, Temple will consider renovating the East Park Canoe House for its rowing teams.  Exploration of this option will be part of its Visualize Temple planning process. The Parks Alliance looks forward to further discussion about Temple's possible renovation of the East Park Canoe House and is pleased that Temple and the Commission have been working together toward a solution that will serve both the University and the citizens of Philadelphia. Learn more about Temple Boathouse Proposal!

Audubon/Outward Bound Proposal to Build Conservation and Leadership Center in East Fairmount Park
On Wednesday February 27, 2013 the Commission on Parks and Recreation heard public testimony on Audubon/Outward Bound's proposal to build a Leadership and Conservation Center in East Fairmount Park.This is the second major test of the new Open Lands Protection Ordinance, passed by City Council and signed into law by the Mayor in April 2011.  Learn more about Audubon/Outward Bound Proposal!