Op-Ed

Our Miami-Dade parks need help

TNS

Miami-Dade County Parks is one of the most unique park systems in the United States. Flanked by two national parks (Everglades, Biscayne), Miami-Dade County seems to have an abundance of open space. Our growing community is known for its beauty and water access, one of the primary reasons to live in Miami.

Miami-Dade County Parks manages 270 parks and 13,564 acres, but we need to improve the walkability and connectivity of our community. Miami-Dade County has a 28 percent walkability rate — the ability to step out of your front door and walk a quarter-mile to a park. San Francisco has a 98 percent rate. Dallas has a 54 percent rate. The ability to walk to a park, enjoy its amenities and use a park as the backbone of a healthy lifestyle is essential to our future.

As Miami-Dade County continues to grow, we should be asking ourselves how parks are going to grow to meet public demand.

I have recently joined the board of the Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade, the non-profit that supports Miami-Dade County Parks. This nascent organization raises funds to enhance our county parks. My family and I have enjoyed the amenities offered by these parks for years. I also led the construction of the tennis center at Crandon in 1988 and I know first-hand how challenging building public facilities can be.

The parks budget was cut for eight straight years — a casualty of recession and shrinking property taxes. In 2016, the budget was restored with a 10 percent increase. But there is nearly $80 million in unmet needs, which explains why many of our facilities need our help.

The public tells us they want beautiful, safe parks, but where is the funding? Has the voice of the public fallen on deaf ears for the last 8 years? If so, we need to change that and make our voices heard. Or are there just so many competing interests for the public dollar that Parks are last in line?

We know that parks provide economic, health and environmental value to our community. It's time for us to create a structure for parks that can meet the increasing demand for public space, trails, and facilities.

Why work out in a gym when you can enjoy a bike ride at Amelia Earhart Park, meet friends at a neighborhood park, a tennis match with friends center court at Crandon (yes — you too can play for only $13 per person), golf at Country Club of Miami, a peaceful walk at Costello Hammock, a boat ride at Pelican Harbor, a relaxing day on the beach at Haulover, a picnic at Tropical Park, historical enrichment at Deering Estate, a day with family at the Zoo, a tour of native flora and fauna at Fruit & Spice Park, a day of family fun at Matheson Hammock or an afternoon at Greynolds?

All of these things are available at Miami-Dade County Parks and available to residents and visitors alike.

The remarkable diversity of our community knows the value of beautiful spaces to play, walk and recreate. Parks are available to everyone — a necessary social, economic and health equalizer in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Let’s get the conversation started. The Parks Department is hosting the Great Park Summit on April 15 at Miami-Dade College Wolfson campus. This is an opportunity to gather and discuss the future of our community and its parks.

Join us for this discussion and be a part of the future. Learn more at www.greatparksummit.com.

William R. “Rick” Derrer is a board member of the Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade.

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