Public Parks in Peril

Posted Spring 2010

Public Parks in Peril: Cities Selling Land to Help Balance Budgets

By Stacey Graham
The Philadelphia Lawyer

As municipal budget deficits swell, elected officials contemplate liquidating public parkland as a means to balance their budgets. After all, parks are tax exempt and, in general, are maintained by taxpayer dollars, thus contributing on some level to budget shortfalls. Many state and local government officials genuinely believe that giving up parkland is in taxpayers’ best interest.

In today’s tough economy, conveying parkland to private developers rather than enacting broad tax hikes appears to be the lesser of two evils for balancing the budget. Shortterm gains may be realized from such transfer of parkland and long-term tax revenue may be generated due to a change in land use. Certainly the idea grows in popularity if politicians can convince taxpayers that any alternative use of parkland is only temporary – a lease rather than a sale – or that the park will be lost only as a tradeoff to preserve or create jobs.