Wallis: Austin parks rank among the nation’s best, but we can do better

As the National Parks Service winds down its centennial celebration, closer to home, Austin Parks Foundation is gearing up for our 25th anniversary of providing critical funding and support to our local parks.

Austin Parks was founded in 1992 by engaged residents to inspire neighbors to get their hands dirty and make their community parks better. They did the work the city didn’t have funds or resources to do. Today we continue this legacy on a greater scale, deploying thousands of volunteers in parks each year. Additionally, through the generosity of our donors, we contribute significantly to park-related projects large and small all across Austin. Great work has been accomplished but as we approach our 25th anniversary, our parks face challenging times ahead.

Austin is home to more than 300 parks, preserves and open spaces, each as diverse as the people who make up our amazing city. And though we should be incredibly proud of how Austin preserves green space, we need to acknowledge that our Parks and Recreation Department is woefully underfunded to the tune of nearly $100 million, every single year.

While Austin appears at the top of almost every “best of” list, ParkScore, the Trust for Public Land’s index, ranked Austin 47th out of the 100 most populous U.S. cities for how well we meet our residents’ needs for parks. When compared to other cities, we shine in the amount of dedicated parkland we have – almost 30,000 acres. But when it comes to ensuring that all Austinites have access to parks and recreation, and that we are investing and maintaining our parkland, we fall incredibly short. Austin spends $92 per capita every year toward maintaining and enhancing our parks. That’s less than half the $197 average the top 10 ranked cities on ParkScore spend per resident.

So while Austin isn’t at the bottom of the list, and we have many things to be proud of when it comes to our parks, we think we can do better than No. 47.

We know parks and open space are what make Austin, well, Austin. And while parks make our city beautiful, they are also critical to improving our overall social, economic and physical well-being. The City Parks Alliance recently released a study showing that parks improve individual and community health by getting people outside and active, thus reducing a host of health problems. Parks improve the environment by improving water quality, air quality and creating wildlife habitats. Parks increase property values and improve the local tax base by attracting residents and businesses. And parks create community, providing safe gathering places for people of all ages and economic status.

At the Austin Parks Foundation, we believe our public parkland should be preserved and maintained. We believe all Austinites, regardless of where they live, have the right to safe, accessible parks. We believe access to free recreation will make our city healthy and vibrant for years to come. We believe that citizens should be able to actively come together to improve their parks, and therefore their neighborhoods.

The next 25 years are so important to creating the Austin we want to see. If you believe that together we can build a better Austin, we need you to join us.

We need you to get outside and enjoy the parks. Explore your neighborhood park or a new park in a different part of town. Not sure where to go? Visit our parks database to see all that Austin has to offer.

We need you to get involved. Volunteer with your local adopt-a-park group or with us at any of our volunteer days.

We need you to invest in our parks. As our city grows and there are competing priorities for your tax dollars, we ask you to donate to the Austin Parks Foundation, and we will ensure your dollars help improve our parks.

We feel a critical responsibility to invest in and maintain our parks for future generations and a heartfelt desire to do much more over the next 25 years. We hope you will agree; our parks deserve better than No. 47.

Wallis is ‎executive director of the Austin Parks Foundation.

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