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Parks and rec should take a back seat to other top priorities

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 26, 2009 7:21 AM

Parks and recreation areas are important. But are they as important as a stronger police force, better fire prevention, and flood-mitigation projects? Not even close.

The Iowa City City Council recently endorsed a master plan to increase and improve the parks and recreation programs and facilities in the Iowa City area. The $51.5 million plan is expansive and wide ranging; councilors have even called the plan “visionary” and “inspirational.”

This may be the case, but the proposed plan carries with it some problems that must be addressed. The vast majority of residents are content with our current parks system; there’s simply no reason to implement such a costly plan, especially while other items on the budget deserve more attention.

Craig Gustaveson, the chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, spoke at a recent City Council meeting about this project.

“We’ve been talking about it almost since I came on board, and the idea behind the master plan was to give us an overall view of what we needed in our community, short-term and long-term, and I … I kind of equate it to a road map.”

The proposed plan includes — among other ventures — steps to expand the trail system, add a recreation facility on the West Side of town, and add a municipal golf course.

During that council meeting, Mayor Regenia Bailey said to implement such a massive plan, the project will require diversity of revenue streams. There lies the problem with this plan. The city desperately needs more law-enforcement funding, water quality and maintenance, and better flood structures for the future support of our city. Any plan the council approves must take a back seat to the civil priorities that strengthen our community.

In planning the parks project, city officials and an outside consulting firm surveyed Iowa City residents. They found that there is room for improvement, but the majority of the 676 residents surveyed are content with our current parks system. Ninety-two percent of respondent households found the physical condition of the parks excellent (66 percent) or good (26 percent). Of those who participate in programs (30 percent), 90 percent of the respondents rated the overall quality of programs as either excellent or good.

Walking and biking trails were considered a priority by the respondents and a service that was used by a majority of our citizens. Plans have been considered by the council to implement certain programs that could be accomplished without much effect on the community as far as increased taxes or other fees. Improving the trail system would be step forward in promoting the long-term development of this endeavor, and as Parks and Recreation Commission member Aaron Krohmer pointed out, “We are competing with Madison (Wis.), Boulder (Colo.), and Lawrence (Kan.) in our minds in terms of parks. Their trail systems are completed. Ours are not.”

Creating economic development through ventures in ancillary features of Iowa City could be prosperous, but as our budget becomes more fluid in its needs, other more important civil services must take priority.

As this plan is only in the beginning stages of direction, its current shortfalls can be managed through careful planning of the resources at the city’s disposal. The City Council and Parks and Recreation Commission should continue to work in collaboration to ensure that the citizens of Iowa City are the main benefactors of this plan. For the immediate future, all efforts must be made to use the funds that the city has for services that support our safety and protection.

Creating and developing new outlets for recreation and healthy living should never be on the back burner in our city’s plans. But in a plan as massive as this, patience is our ally. This plan does not call for a massive overhaul in the coming years, but it will require certain funds to be used and overwhelming support from our community. Creating a better trail system is one short-term plan that can be accomplished, but much more development after that must wait until we satisfy our “needs” in Iowa City, not our “wants.”


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