Thank you for giving us all the opportunity to speak on behalf of the FY21 budget for the Parks and Recreation Department.
I am Liz Vizza, Executive Director of the Friends of the Public Garden. This year we are celebrating 50 years of partnership with the City to care, renew and advocate for the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall. In January, we recognized this half century of shared expertise by signing a formal Partnership Agreement (MOA) with the City, which will strengthen our working relationship on behalf of Boston’s iconic downtown parks.
These three parks are the neighborhood parks for over 55,000 people in five neighborhoods – but they are much more than neighborhood parks, they are used intensively by the entire city and beyond, with over 7 million people visiting them every year.
The Friends invests over $1.5 million of private dollars annually directly into the parks. However, it is critical that private support not be seen as a rationale to not adequately fund our partner, the Parks Department.
I will say that in my lifetime, the vital role that our parks play in the physical, social, and mental health of our community and every member of it has never before been so clear. Parks are not amenities, they are necessities. People who are forced to work from home, who are managing the challenges of caring for children out of school, or who are facing the loneliness of isolation and financial fear after losing a job – are, in the depths of this pandemic, all appreciating the importance of public greenspaces as havens in a hard time. Every other element of civic infrastructure and community connection has closed down, but our parks are open, free, and available to all.
I am also speaking as a member of the Steering Committee of Boston Park Advocates.
While capital projects for our city’s parks are always well received, without maintenance support those investments cannot be sustained. Every year you have heard this from the parks advocacy community. Therefore, we are very pleased that the Mayor has recommended a budget for Parks with significantly increased resources for operations. It is great to see the addition of 4 staff positions to allow for a second maintenance shift, operating out of Franklin Park. Given the importance of our urban natural systems, it is also heartening to see an additional staff position to support the work of the Urban Wilds program, which now rests on the shoulders of only one person in the Department. And, we urge you to support the critically important proposed $1 million increase for tree planting which will allow the city to increase annual tree planting from 1000 to 2000 street trees, as well as funding for another member of the tree crew. As we know, trees play a vital role in the beauty and environmental health of our city and its residents.
We applaud the inclusion of funding for renovations to the block of Commonwealth Avenue Mall known as Kenmore Mall, in the heart of Kenmore Square. This park space serves a growing neighborhood including many seniors as well as students, and is in great need of improvements. Over the past two years the Friends funded a master plan, and the funding proposed to come from the City will be critical in moving this project forward to construction. This project is a wonderful example of the Friends partnership with the City. Working together, we can make these improvements a reality.
The Friends has also been working closely with the Parks Department and consultants Weston & Sampson on the master plan to re-imagine Boston Common, through a robust public process that has included input from over 6000 community members, interaction with people from around the city through a series of mini Commons pop ups in many neighborhoods, and two public working sessions. We are pleased to see $1.5 million in the FY21 budget to continue this process and move forward Early Action projects that come out of the plan.
The Mayor’s budget for the Parks and Recreation Department reflects the critical needs of our parks and every resident of Boston who seeks them for respite and recreation. We urge the City Council to look favorably on this proposed budget.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify.