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Editorial | Fairmount Park

Weeding out crime

Heading into yesterday's election, one thing was clear: No matter which Democrat claimed the nomination for mayor, he should make a priority of the rebirth of the city's Fairmount Park system.

That's not just because the nominee should be the kind of person who believes you have to stop and smell the flowers.

The health of Philadelphia's 9,200-acre park system is critical to preserving the city's neighborhoods, attracting and retaining businesses, and, yes, even helping to stem the tide of murder.

Well-maintained parks can civilize mean city streets. As free-lance writer Patricia Vance noted in a recent Inquirer commentary, residents in Germantown found that reclaiming a pocket park two decades ago helped rid its surroundings of drug dealing and other crimes. (Read her account at That's a story repeated in other neighborhoods, and other cities.

From that perspective, maintaining good parks is an agenda that the city's judges should support along with the next mayor. In fact, the judges can do something about that agenda now.

Appointments to the Fairmount Park Commission are imminent, with the Common Pleas Court judges set to make the selections, as required by law. Trouble is, the judges usually act under directives from the city's political leaders. And guess what? The political pedigree of the 10 commission members too often counts more than any particular expertise in park affairs.

Despite public outcry, the whole selection process continues to take place mostly behind closed doors. That means even capable park commissioners - and there have been a good number of them, people dedicated to polishing this often-tarnished jewel of a park system - get caught up in a broken system.

Under President Judge C. Darnell Jones 2d, city judges still could strike a blow for quality appointments by naming commissioners with the needed skills. Candidates with knowledge of park and watershed management, recreation and tourism, marketing, economic development and community revitalization, and forging public-private partnerships should be given the edge.

Even a stellar park commission, though, will need new tools to groom the parks better. For that, city officials need to turn to the voters once again.

Parks advocates are working with City Council to craft a City Charter change for the November ballot that would professionalize the way park commissioners are chosen. Just as important are proposals to earmark more funding for the parks, which are shortchanged by more than half of what's needed to make fixes.

Credit parks advocates for raising awareness with recent citizens' inspections showing dilapidated park facilities, safety and short-dumping problems, and an overall broken-windows syndrome: Where there's grime, there's crime. It's time to clean up the way Fairmount Park is governed and funded.