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DN Editorial: The difference a park vision makes

IN THE PAST two days, we have reported on how, years of neglect of Philadelphia's parks have been reversed over the past decade.

IN THE PAST two days, we have reported on how, years of neglect of Philadelphia's parks have been reversed over the past decade.

Which brings us to what looks like a template for a future in which green space is a treasure available to every Philadelphian.

Ten years ago, when this newspaper investigated the parks for an series called "Acres of Neglect," we couldn't imagine a future that looked much different. The people running the parks did not seem interested in doing things differently.

Today's parks leadership has a bold vision, strong ambition, a plan to achieve its goals and - most important - strong political support.

If anyone personifies the change, it is the city's first commissioner of Parks and Recreation, Michael DiBerardinis, whose professional experience includes stints as Philadelphia's recreation commissioner and Pennsylvania's director of the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources, but whose decades as a community activist drives the department's philosophy.

If any one project exemplifies that philosophy, it is Green 2015, a plan to reclaim parts of the asphalt jungle by greening school playgrounds and recreation-center lots. The goal: providing every Philadelphian a park within a 10-minute walk.

Supporting this vision is the 15-member advisory Commission on Parks and Recreation established by the city charter change that enabled the merger of the Fairmount Park Commission and the Department of Recreation. And it would be hard to overstate the value of Mayor Nutter's making the parks one of his top priorities.

Cobbs Creek Park offers a prime example. As Dan Geringer reports on Page 5, Cobbs Creek Park was once a dangerous eyesore and an unsafe dumping ground. It has been renewed and now is a unique asset, connecting several recreation venues with a reclaimed seven-mile watershed.

Cobbs Creek is only one example of impressive improvements: Several new and renewed parks have opened or are set to open soon.

Many of these projects are not solely planned or funded by the city Department of Parks and Recreation. The city's Water Department, for example, spent millions to clean up Cobbs Creek and, in many other projects, government funding has been supplemented by private money from foundations and other sponsors.

This acknowledges the changes that have transformed the way we look at parks and recreation - as a boon to our economy and quality of life.

In addition, the new land-protection ordinance written by the new Parks and Rec Commission chaired by Nancy Goldenberg - and unanimously passed by City Council in April - will go a long way to dispel the (sometimes justified) suspicion that political power trumped neighborhood concerns. That was evidenced in the acrimonious battle over Council's support for selling off a part of Burholme Park to provide space for Fox Chase Cancer Center to expand, a move the courts blocked. The new law establishes a process that is both transparent and consistent, with one set of criteria for everyone.

Despite the many positive changes, the city's parks are nowhere near total transformation. They still haven't taken a new entrepreneurial approach to realizing possible revenue enhancements.

But it's been clear for a long time that doing business with the city is too cumbersome.

And when you're moving fast, you run the risk of neglecting the promised transparency. The new department has not been free of conflicts with some neighborhoods fueled in part by a lack of communication.

But what we do have is a good start: a commitment to ensure that every Philadelphian has access to green space- and feels welcomed to use it. *