By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
The commissioner says the real story is that the city has no idea what property it really has.
Ruder says it is the planning department that prepares the EAR, not the parks department. "The criteria doesn't seem to include space that the public can use," he says. "No doubt it is time to review it."
The state Department of Community Affairs officials say there is little that they themselves can do. "If it was found to be sufficient and there was no challenge at the time, we can't retroactively go back and make an issue out of it," says Paul DiGuiseppe.
Currently, if all goes according to plan, the city's next EAR will reach the state's DCA in 2004.
Not surprisingly when city commissioners were contacted, all enthusiastically endorsed the need for parks. "We are not directing our resources to parks," says Commissioner Joe Sanchez, echoing his colleagues. (Indeed parks director Ruder says he is happy when he has enough personnel to mow the grass.) Only Commissioner Willy Gort, whose Allapatah district covers some of the more egregious examples on the inventory, has some reservations. "People's leisure has changed, and there is more of a focus on home entertainment," says Gort, who believes smaller neighborhood parks are better than large open spaces. "It is too hot in the summer, and people don't want to venture out."
Last bonus question: Is it unreasonable to expect elected officials to guide the city? Steve Seibert, secretary of the DCA, does not seem to think so. In a letter he wrote to a parks activist about the 1995 EAR report, he stated: "Ultimately it is up to the citizens and locally elected officials to ensure these lands are protected and wisely used. I encourage you to bring your concerns to the attention of the city council."
Our citizen picnickers are not optimistic. "There is no question things are getting worse," says Dan Paul. "The public's parkland and open spaces are being slowly eroded and taken away without their realizing, and by the time it finally dawns on them it will be too late. There will be concrete everywhere."
Miguel Germain blames the problem on a lack of vision from the city's political leaders. "They never try to imagine for the future what they want the city to be," he says. Germain's fear is that by the time they do, they will have to go to city taxpayers for money to buy back the parkland they once had in abundance before selling it off.