Sunday, January 6, 2008

Parks for People the Prime Directive

The Rogers Parks Commission is working closely with the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce to create Vision 2025, a master plan that anticipates investing $20 million in bond funds for public parks. They are also looking at "green space" requirements for subdivisions as a reasonable way to deal with the impact of residential developments and to respond to citizens who ranked neighborhood parks No. 5 and additional green space No. 8 in a list of more than 40 community development issues. They don't mean just the irregular scrub lots, hillsides, drainage ditches, and gullies that can't be sold for building lots, either.

Rogers Mayor Steve Womack is not enthusiastic, warning that such requirements would drive up overall project costs for developers, so the city must "be very careful that we don’t create such a requirement on developers that they decide not to develop." Womack has never been much on public parks. Rogers has spent a total of $5.5 million on its parks in the entire city history, which is even less than Springdale spent on its most recent park alone. In a 15-year period, Springdale outspent Rogers on parks by $12 million to $1 million. That's Springdale!

Unlike Womack, many citizens are well aware of the integral role that public parks, open space and trails can play in advancing a community’s economic vitality and understand the benefits of and need for adequate public funding for park acquisition and operations as an essential community service. Even the Rogers Chamber gets it.

Will Rogers, President of the Trust for Public Land, noted that “communities are learning that conserved open space contributes to the quality of life and community character that supports economic well-being. Too many community leaders feel they must choose between economic growth and open space protection. But no such choice is necessary. Open space protection is good for a community's health, stability, beauty, and quality of life. It is also good for the bottom line.”

Rogers currently has 13 parks occupying just over 400 acres of land. By comparison, Fayetteville manages 42 parks covering more than 3,300 acres, is developing approximately 17 miles of trails, and takes seriously the Ten Year Master Plan approved in 2002. Since 1981, the City has benefited from a Park Land Dedication Ordinance to further ensure the establishment and preservation of community parks, despite opposition from a reluctant Chamber that shares Womack's view that any such requirements are bad for developers and the business climate.

Mayor Womack could learn something from Fayetteville's experience. We can only hope that the Fayetteville Chamber of Cowbirds might someday get beyond short-term self-interest in making a quick buck and share the progressive vision of the Rogers Chamber leaders.

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