IT WASN'T that long ago that Darrell Clarke and Blondell Reynolds Brown were champions, taking on the long and difficult task of abolishing the status quo in the form of the Fairmount Park Commission. The 2007 merger of the parks and recreation departments into a single, more manageable entity has brought great improvement to both. The battle wasn't easy, but both Council members became heroes of open space and public parks.
That's why we're shocked at recent actions on both their parts that seem counter to everything they fought for, primarily the primacy of public space.
Blondell Reynolds Brown has successfully championed a bill in Council that would permit advertising on public-school properties. Citing the need to find "innovative" funding for a cash-strapped district, Brown's proposal would prohibit tobacco and alcohol advertising, but presumably anything else is fair game - including condoms, sugary soft drinks and the $185 Air Jordan sneakers that more than one teen has been shot over, most recently in October.
Most disturbing is Brown's view of public-school buildings. In a press release, she says, "The School District of Philadelphia offers one of the largest portfolios of public advertising space of any district in the nation, which will be a compelling draw for corporations seeking to promote their products."
There is a mighty distinction between public property (owned by taxpayers) and "advertising space," just as there is a mighty distinction between citizen and consumer. Public property is owned for the use and/or enjoyment of the public, not for the profits of private business. That kids would be designated targets of her plan only makes this idea worse. Brown should know better.
But so should Darrell Clarke. This week, he trumpeted plans for a renovation of LOVE Park that would include seven restaurants and a concert stage. His office went so far as to commission drawings to illustrate his vision.
The problem is, this space is not his to envision . . . not without the aid of the Commission on Parks and Recreation, the Parks and Rec Department, and the citizens of the city.
And not without a court battle, either, since the space is subject to land-use ordinance for park preservation that was approved in 2011 by - you guessed it: City Council. Turning LOVE Park into a restaurant destination dramatically alters not just the landscape of the iconic park, but its very nature as a public space. Jay Walljasper, tracing the importance of public space in protests and uprising around the world on Huffington Post, says that "the exercise of democracy depends upon having a literal commons where people can gather as citizens - a square, Main Street, park or other public space that is open to all. . . . With no place to voice our views as citizens, do we become more passive about what happens to our country and our future? I don't know the answer, but I imagine Hosni Mubarak wishes he had built a shopping mall in Tahrir Square."