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New ordinance increases transparency in the city's process of transferring public park land

When Microsoft's $63 million School of the Future opened in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park in September 2006, expectations among area parents--some of whom nearly battled in order to secure a spot for their children--couldn't have possibly been higher. But by the time that first class of students was preparing to graduate, attitudes surrounding the school--which didn't require textbooks, and where many of the core subjects required for university admission weren't offered--had shifted considerably.

Today, many of the school's educational kinks have been duly worked out. But if such a project was proposed within the city today--that is, if a public development project was proposed to take place within Philadelphia's public park land--the eventual outcome would almost certainly be different. That's because on April 15, Mayor Michael Nutter signed an ordinance to amend the approval process that takes place when the city's public park land is transferred to some sort of non-park use, as was the case with the Microsoft high school.

"It's an effort that's really been spearheaded by the Parks and Recreation Commission," explains Patrick Morgan, who works underneath Commissioner Mike DiBerardinis. "What it does," he says, "is it establishes a process that's predictable and transparent for all the parties: for City Council, for citizens, and for the (Parks and Recreation) Commission."

And while there aren't currently any plans in place to change usage of city parkland, this new ordinance, which is set to take effect with the change of the fiscal year (July 1), will set in motion that new process of transparency.

"Right now, all (city) parkland is being used for its intended purpose," says Morgan. "But if someone proposes changing the use for whatever reason, then this process kicks in."

Source: Patrick Morgan, Department of Parks and Recreation
Writer: Dan Eldridge

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