PA Mayors Urge Congress to Pass Park Funding Act

By Emily Scott, Public News Service
for The Post

HARRISBURG PA – Nineteen Pennsylvania mayors have called on the state’s congressional delegation to support a proposed $500 million investment in public parks nationwide. It’s intended to help increase access to public spaces where racial and class inequities exist, and is being promoted by a national non-profit that once helped secure space for a western Montgomery County landmark.

A petition signed by the mayors urges approval of the federal Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act. It was introduced in the U.S. House in March, and the Senate in June. The legislation would reserve half its funding for low-income populations that historically have lacked easy access to neighborhood parks.

The push for urban park funding is being stepped up by the non-profit Trust for Public Land as the coronavirus pandemic and its Delta variant begin to make a resurgence. The trust considers outdoor spaces important for public health, and points to a state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources plan that says nine in 10 Pennsylvanians participated in outdoor activities during the pandemic.

The trust during 1983 played a role in helping to protect 43 acres that became part of Valley Forge National Historic Park (at top).

“It’s a very intuitive argument to make,” Owen Franklin, the trust’s Pennsylvania director, contended. “To say to leaders of our cities and towns across the Commonwealth that investments in parks and open space are needed from Congress … to ensure that the benefits that we’ve all prioritized over the past year and a half, more than ever before, can endure and provide for generations.”

Steve Stroman, public policy advocate for the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society, suggests COVID-19 proved parks could have important psychological impacts, too. “If you live in a city, and you’re on the 14th floor of an apartment building, you’re home with your kids … those urban parks have been tremendous places, for both your kids and for parents as well,” Stroman said.

The petition was directed in part to Rep. Madeline Dean, whose 4th House District includes the majority of Montgomery and part of eastern Berks counties; and Rep. Chrissy Houlahan in the 6th District, including all of Chester and another portion of Berks counties. No local mayors were signers.

Nickole Nesby, mayor of financially distressed Duquesne PA in Allegheny County, claims investing in parks could benefit her city. “We are hoping that once this legislation is actually funded, that monies could be used to improve the quality of life,” she explained. “For not only our children, our next generation, but also for our seniors.”

Photo by Tim Emerich via Public Domain Pictures, used under a Creative Commons license