November 29, 2020

Parks and Deterioration

Andrea Sisney is a senior journalism major and Editor-in-Chief for The Journal

Imagine yourself in the middle of Lone Elk Park on a cool autumn day. Elk and deer roam the hills foraging for an afternoon snack. Fishermen pass a quiet day floating around the lake, hoping for a catch worthy the history books. Children laugh as they chase each other around a grassy green park, climbing trees and watching butterflies dance through the sky.
Am I being a bit ridiculous in this fairytale description?
Maybe. But consider the alternative St. Louis may soon be facing if County Executive Charlie A. Dooley gets his way, closing 23 parks in the area — children playing on the concrete in front of development construction sites; fishermen traveling hours for one afternoon of relaxation; deer confined to minimal patches of vegetation between highways and strip malls. Elk and bison sold off to the highest bidder.
True, this scenario wouldn’t be the end of the world. But many St. Louisans are concerned about Dooley’s plan to cut 20 parks, three swimming pools and 133 jobs, which he says is necessary due to a “fiscal crisis.”
Parks such as Lone Elk, Castle Point, Greensfelder and Ebsworth, which features a home by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, are on the chopping block for sake of the county’s budget. We all understand that the economy is in the dumps, but this parks proposal does come as a bit of a shock — closing these parks would reportedly save $10 million for the county budget, but Dooley said Sept. 6 the county’s current financial standings didn’t warrant a 2.8-cent property tax increase. Dooley also had no trouble handing favorable tax breaks to new developments near the Meramec River. So why is there now this need to slash millions?
Ignoring the economic confusion, Dooley’s proposal is still concerning on many levels. For one, parks are an integral part of St. Louis culture. One of our many claims to fame centers on Forest Park and the 1904 World’s Fair. While Forest Park is not on the list of parks waiting for the axe, how many people around the world idealize St. Louis as a town set around a beautiful big green space, full of strolling lovers and boisterous dogs and tons of free attractions? It’s part of our heritage.
But parks are great for more than our image. Parks provide cities with cleaner oxygen, purifying the air through towering trees. Parks provide citizens with recreational and fitness opportunities — how many St. Louisans go to the park for an afternoon of hiking, biking, walking, jogging, yoga, tai chi, basketball, tennis, even rowing? Parks provide children and teenagers a relatively safe, clean space to play and explore. Not only that, but clean, enjoyable parks increase property values of homes and businesses nearby, which directly benefit local school districts and increases the overall value of a community.
If Dooley is so concerned with revenue, perhaps he should take that into consideration. In a “green-washed” environmentally-conscious age where buying local and recycling are not only hip but socially applauded, do we really need to cut green space? Say goodbye to potential “yuppie” homebuyers, green businesses and recent college grads — and the money they could bring.
Why Dooley has chosen to take a personal vendetta against parks is a mystery. Perhaps his mother never pushed him on the swings as a child. Maybe he was victim to a vicious falling acorn attack or a tragic bicycle crash. Whatever the case, it is a poor political move. In the week since his park extermination proposal, St. Louisans have flooded Facebook with their protests, sent in their opinions to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and started a petition on http://change.org. Our parks give St. Louis character, something special from the average big city. Let’s keep it that way.

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