Parks Should Be Free For All People
Why Abele’s pay-to-park-plan for county parks should be opposed.
Frederick Law Olmsted, one of Milwaukee County Parks’ great architects, believed strongly that parks should be open to all. While designing New York’s famous Central Park, Olmsted said the park “was intended to furnish healthy recreation for the poor and the rich, the young and the old, the vicious and the virtuous…this social mixing was not just an accident, but a benefit…you may often see vast numbers of persons brought closely together.”
New York’s Central Park and Milwaukee’s Lake Park share a similar economic reality: they are both located near some of the greatest concentration of wealth in their respective cities. Olmsted was ahead of his time with his public park designs when he ensured that everyone had equal access to these treasures. We need look no further than his design for the magical Lake Park, which foresaw a future need to secure a front seat to beautiful Lake Michigan for all Milwaukee residents.
Mr. Olmsted would be infuriated to learn that Milwaukee County Executives like Chris Abele, and before him Scott Walker, both proposed pay-to-park schemes in our public parks, concentrated at lakefront parks. While both Walker and Abele see paid parking in public parks as a revenue opportunity, we see this gimmick as a financial obstacle for all people to enjoy our public parks. Whether these fees impact a mother taking her child to a playground, an older adult attending a senior center, or a golfer trying to focus on improving their swing instead of remembering to plug a meter, the proposal is wrong for Milwaukee County.
Families from across Milwaukee County and beyond seek relief from every day stresses of city life in our parks, especially during our short but hot summers, as architects like Olmsted planned for. It’s easy to lose track of time when you are at a family cookout or swimming at the beach, and the penalty for this enjoyment would be a parking ticket costing you many times the hourly rate for parking. Do we really soak the taxpayers like this, and feed the traumatic cycle of parking tickets, license revocation, and other unintended consequences?
The County Board blocked the Walker pay-to-park plan years ago. We’re currently working to stop the pay-to-park plan County Executive Abele included in the budget. First we required more information about the proposal so the public could better understand Abele’s proposal, then increased transparency by requiring public reports and a real public hearing, where everyone’s voice can be heard. So what’s next?
We have heard from supporters of the idea that rejection of this mistaken plan will result in a loss of questionable revenue for our parks. But the county has not collected a dime from this scheme, and we haven’t seen hard numbers proving the revenue is there. In our opinion, you cannot put a price tag on the benefit our community receives from free, open and accessible public parks.
Let’s work together to secure dedicated funding for our parks. We are proud to author a moratorium on paid parking in our parks so that no County Executive – current or future – can ever use our precious emerald necklace as a revenue-generating paid parking endeavor. We want to protect and preserve our parks for everyone to enjoy for free.