A recent nationwide rating ranks Buffalo’s parks at 52nd among those of 100 major cities. While the city did well overall in the rankings for various assessments, one area it cited as needing improvement is not what most Buffalo residents might expect.
The recently released 2016 ParkScore Index from The Trust for Public Land gave the City of Buffalo high marks for access. Eighty-five percent of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, but most of North Buffalo was cited as being “high” or “very high” in need of park space.
For those who would think, “How can such a large area just north of Delaware Park be ranked as the worst off?,” the Trust for Public Land’s Senior Vice President and Director of City Park Development, Adrian Benepe, explained that most of the neighborhood is not actually within the 10-minute walk parameter. Additionally, ParkScore sees the railroad tracks that parallel Linden Avenue as an impediment to access.
“Railroad tracks, highways, freeways, rivers – when we see an obstruction between a neighborhood and its parks nearby, we don’t imagine that people can simply fly over that obstruction,” said Benepe.
City of Buffalo Parks and Recreation Commissioner Andrew Rabb disagrees with ParkScore’s assessment. He said there is a lot of space not being factored in.
“That’s what’s not shown is places, people, often in North Buffalo, recreate in their yards,” said Rabb. “Or, again, I don’t think that the school yards are counted in that red area. Because I do think there are some school yards there that are open for community use and neighborhood use.”
Public School 81 has a playground, but it isn’t left open after school hours. North Park Middle School has open green lawns that could fit the bill, but nearby private schools Nichols and Elmwood Franklin’s sports and recreation areas are all off-limits to the public.
Benepe recommended the placement of small parks as a remedy to the lack of 10-minute access in North Buffalo and other spots around the city. For now, Rabb said the city is always discussing open space and what should be done with it, but is currently focusing on improving existing parks. He pointed to Martin Luther King Park on the East Side as an example.
“The basin, the shelters, the basketball courts. Coordinating with the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, the neighborhood, I think that that park over the last five years really has been transformed,” said Rabb.
Rabb also highlighted the redevelopment of Broderick Park at the foot of West Ferry Street, and said more projects are in the works for LaSalle Park, the shoreline trail, and Cazenovia Park.
Another area ParkScore said the city showed room for improvement is in public investment. Benepe said Buffalo is spending just $52 of public money per resident on parks, down from $56 per resident last year. Rabb asserted that the city is actually investing more on parks than it has in the past.
“We actually, with this year’s proposed budget, will be increasing parks operational funds in the mayor’s proposed budget by several hundred thousand dollars with increases to seasonal staff, tree trimming, some more money for the Olmstead Parks Conservancy,” said Rabb.
According to Rabb, Mayor Brown included over $50 million in capital investments for parks, city-wide. He said a decrease in the spending per resident over the past two years has to do with how that capital funding was spent.