The San Francisco Examiner’s March 23 article noting the decline in our city’s youth population is certainly troubling. Despite well-intended policy initiatives to improve the quality of life for San Francisco families, it hasn’t been enough to keep thousands from leaving The City in the last decade. What else can we do? It’s time to invest more in our parks.
In a 2007 survey, residents of 8 in 10 households rated a quality park system as either very important or extremely important to their quality of life. Access to parks and recreation opportunities has been strongly linked to reductions in crime and to reduced juvenile delinquency. Parks have a value to communities that transcends the amount of dollars invested or the revenues gained from fees.
Parks provide a sense of public pride and cohesion to every community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years. Children today spend less time outdoors than any generation in human history, devoting just four to seven minutes a day on average in unstructured outdoor play while spending an average of seven and a half hours every day in front of electronic media. Recreation and parks are critical to revitalizing our city by building a healthy, livable community.
Even in stark budget climates, we must continue to invest in our children by giving them clean, safe, fun places to play, exercise and touch nature. Yet, parks funding constitutes less than one-fourth of 1 percent of state and local government budgets, and the cuts keep coming.
Here in San Francisco we have been asked to cut $43 million from our budget in the last seven years even though we get a mere 2 percent of The City’s general fund to steward approximately 12 percent of The City’s real estate. It is time for us to make recreation and park funding a priority. The future of San Francisco just might depend on it.
Phil Ginsburg is general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.