By Albio Sires
For decades, parks have been recognized as significant contributors to the quality of urban neighborhoods. With four of every five Americans living in an urban or metropolitan area, it's time we realize the necessary attention these spaces deserve.
Union City mayor and state Sen. Brian Stack stated, "Parks and open space continue to be priorities in my administration. It is rewarding to build or refurbish a park that will be used by thousands of residents and put smiles on the faces of our children."
The real question is: with all of the apparent benefits parks offer, why are we simply standing by and watching these spaces deteriorate? It is time for a call to action. I believe our community parks and recreational facilities deserve our attention and long term investment.
The benefit of parks extends to every corner of our communities. Parks, beaches and other recreational facilities contribute $730 billion a year to the U.S. economy, support nearly 6.5 million jobs, and contribute to higher property values. Access to quality parks and recreational spaces also improves public health for children and adults. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity rates have more than tripled over the past 25 years among young people ages 12 to 19.
Finally, parks work to address growing environmental concerns. The U.S. Forest Service calculates that, over a 50-year lifetime, one tree generates $31,250 worth of oxygen, provides $62,000 worth of air pollution control, recycles $37,500 worth of water, and controls $31,250 worth of soil erosion.
Today, as our parks and recreational areas consistently lack the funding they require, park and recreation infrastructure is suffering nationwide from a lack of green space and inadequate access to necessary resources.
"I grew up near Kellogg Park in the City Of Elizabeth and to this day, it is one of my favorite locations." Mayor J. Christian Bollwage said. "Municipalities depend upon the availability of funding opportunities to create new destinations, upgrade existing sites and deliver the quality of life services residents expect and deserve."
I have introduced HR 2424, the Community Parks Revitalization Act, which provides an opportunity for the federal government to combat our crumbling park infrastructure and promote better public health. CPRA would require projects to use environmentally beneficial components, such as "sustainable landscape features," which include low-impact development design techniques pioneered by landscape architects.
The bill would include language that would allow for communities to access innovative financing options. Communities would be able to leverage federal dollars with matching local, private capital, to build and rehabilitate critical park infrastructure.
As a former mayor, I believe parks are one of the greatest investments we can make in any community. As a child, I remember playing basketball at Washington Park in West New York. Its existence gave me the resources to pursue basketball at Memorial High School, where I earned a four-year basketball scholarship to St. Peter's College.
Washington Park served as a stepping stone to my future, and I believe all children deserve the same opportunity.
Park infrastructure and development is an important connection between local and federal policymakers. North Bergen mayor and state Sen. Nicolas Sacco pointed out, "Providing public parks and open space is one of the most important functions of local government, especially in urban areas like Hudson County. We need to give our children recreational opportunities and places to play and we also must provide everyone with open space for relaxation and enjoyment."
In order to strengthen our communities, policymakers at all levels must renew their commitment to protecting and revitalizing our parks and recreational facilities. It is apparent that the time is now to invest in spaces that serve as the building blocks for our nation's communities and ensure they are strengthened to serve future generations.