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A prescription for public health: Seattle Parks measure

Guest Opinion: Research suggests Seattle was on the right track when it laid out a network of parks. Now we need to expand public access.
Seattle's Seward Park

Seattle's Seward Park Flickr user joeydz

When voters decide whether to support Seattle parks this August, more will be at stake than green space alone.

Over the past decade, a growing body of research has found what the Olmsted Brothers knew intuitively as they designed Seattle’s system of public parks more than 100 years ago: Parks are good for public health.

Let’s briefly review the key research findings:

  • Parks are appealing venues for physical activity, and people with access to parks are more physically active. That’s important at a time when obesity and sedentary lifestyles are epidemic, and contribute to a host of chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, hypertension, arthritis, stroke, depression, and sleep disorders, which account for more than 20% of total US health care costs.
  • Parks and green space are a strategy for building mental health and well-being. They are associated with reduced stress and depressive symptoms, and with improved attention, self-discipline, social ties, and quality of life.
  • As places where people congregate, mix, and mingle, parks help build “social capital” — the bonds of trust and reciprocity that link us to other people.  Social capital, in turn, is one of the strongest predictors of health and well-being.
  • Parks offer many indirect health benefits, such as cooling the city during heat waves, managing storm water and improving air quality.

Many of the health benefits of parks depend on people actually going to the parks. And park use rises when parks are well maintained, safe and accessible, and when the parks include attractive facilities and high-quality programs.

In short, access to safe, clean and well-maintained parks is good for your health.

Yet for years we’ve neglected our park system. Daily maintenance has been reduced at virtually every park and community center and we now face a $267 million maintenance backlog — and it’s growing.

It’s time to invest in our parks again, so they are open, beautifully maintained and accessible to all. When the current parks levy expires this year, we should establish a Seattle Park District. That’s the goal of Proposition 1, which will be on the Seattle ballot on August 5.

If approved, Proposition 1 will provide stable, dedicated funding for our parks, ballfields and community centers and assure access for all. It will address a wide variety of parks system needs, including: major maintenance, such as replacing leaky roofs, outdated boilers and sub-par electrical wiring; ongoing maintenance, including restroom cleaning, trash pickup and lawn mowing; restoration of staffing, hours and programs at community centers for kids and seniors; acquistion of new parks and open space to meet increased demand; and funding to protect habitat and open space. These are sound investments in health, well-being, community and quality of life. 

All this critical work will cost the owner of a $400,000 home about $4 a month more than the expiring parks levy.

In public health, it’s axiomatic that everybody should have access to vaccinations, preventive screening, health care when sick, wholesome food and clean air and water. In just the same way, everybody should have access parks and green space. Proposition 1 will provide the resources to help ensure that our parks serve every neighborhood and community across Seattle.  

An ounce of green prevention could result in many pounds of cure. On August 5, please join me in voting Yes for Parks on Proposition 1.

Dr. Howard Frumkin is dean of the University of Washington School of Public Health. The opinions expressed here are his own.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 5:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Nice pitch by Dr. Frumkin, how about some details on what the actual costs and taxing authority that will be granted in the formation of the Parks District?

Here is a note form the June 4th article on the potential district in the Seattle TIMES "The parks district could impose new taxes up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, but the City Council has recommended that the initial tax be 33 cents per $1,000 or $145 per year for a $440,000 value."

So when the good Dr. "mentions" it will only be $4.00 a month MORE THAN THE EXPIRING LEVY you can see what the actual costs might be for the typical homeowner. Note the boil the frog slowly pricing strategy of starting at 33 cents per thousand, but the ability to impose taxes up to 75 cents per thousand.

Don't forget the other powers associated with essentially creating another government entity that will have the power of eminent domain, policing and bonding authority against anticipated income streams. Be careful what you vote for, these entities and their taxing authorities are cummulative and most taxpayers don't have separate pots of money lying around to pay additional taxes. One last note, isn't it Dr. Frumkin's Public Health Department that is facing a 30 Million dollar budget shortfall?

Cameron

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 6:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes, parks are good.

Yes, parks need to be adequately funded.

No, it doesn't need to be done by creating a new taxing authority in order to do an end run around the citizens whose money is being spent.

talisker

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 6:48 a.m. Inappropriate

I agree with everything the writer says about the goods parks bring to our lives. I don't agree that we need another taxing entity. If these benefits are so critical, the city council needs to appropriate funds accordingly. We don't need another taxing entity, and as Cameron points out, this is a very clear example of the boil the frog slowly strategy. We've had enough of this already. I'll be voting no.

mspat

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 7:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Wow. Thank you, Howie.

Yes, parks are good. And this is truly the best way to adequately fund our beloved park system. Permanent, dedicated funding is good for health, good for community, and good government.

I will be voting yes for for parks!

caphill

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 7:30 a.m. Inappropriate

No one is arguing the value of parks for our health.

The argument centers around the value of healthy, good government. Healthy democracy ensures accountability and citizen participation and oversight. Sadly, what is missing in the MPD initiative is binding operating rules and accountability, guaranteed citizen participation and enforceable oversight.

Healthy government also requires transparency and honesty... A Yes vote is for a permanent tax of up to $0.75 / $1000 of assessed value.... That's what you vote on.... You aren't voting on a $0.33 tax... you are voting on up to $0.75. You aren't voting on any projects either. And incidentally, ballparks aren't even in the list of potential projects.

All you are voting on is the creation of an independent taxing district.

Vote NO if you value accountability in government. Vote NO if you value enforceable oversight. Vote NO if you value your democratic rights to vote on periodic levies that specify an exact amount of the tax and that define the actual projects that will be funded.

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 7:52 a.m. Inappropriate

I hear these arguments that "Parks are great and need more funding but..."

If you truly believe in the first part of that thought (and if you have any doubts just taken in the scene his weekend at Lincoln Park, Seward Park, Greenlake, or Golden Gardens) then permanent, dedicated funding for these precious, shared assets is just what the doctor ordered, so to speak.

If we vote YES on Prop 1 it will be a huge win for all of us in every neighborhood for decades to come.

ptb

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 7:07 p.m. Inappropriate

We already have "permanent funding." It's called a city government. The levy is a back door general tax increase floated by the usual "progressives" who never tell the truth about what they do.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Great article. The truth is, the only way to insure parks are fully funded is to vote yes on Prop 1. The good doctor recognizes the benefits, now it's up to us to make certain they are available for all. The opponents of Prop 1 do not have an answer to the question of how are we going to pay for accessible, clean, safe parks and community centers. A 15 member citizen panel that studied the issue for nine months came up with the solution. Now it's up to us to make sure it happens.

twain

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 7:09 p.m. Inappropriate

The answer is to fund them through our city government, which is how we've always done it. Your scheme is not about parks at all. It's about removing parks from the city's responsibilities while raising taxes. The ONLY purpose of "progressives" for the past 20 years has been to raise taxes through whatever deceit they can float.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you Dr. Frumkin. There are many reasons to support our parks and you do a good job of outlining one: health.

The proposal on the ballot provides unprecedented accountability (Councilmembers elected by district next year, two citizens oversight committees) and invests the majority of funds (58%) in fixing the parks and community centers we already have.

Today, the Laurelhurst Community Center is open 69 hours per week and South Park 25 hours per week, for the simple reason that the neighbors in Laurelhurst pay to keep their community center open more hours. Is this just or equitable? I think not (no disrespect to Laurelhurst intended).

We are better than a system where "pay to play" is becoming the norm and low-income Seattleites can't afford to play in public sports leagues or participate in activities at community centers.

I'll be voting YES for Parks on Prop 1.

hbkahn

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 10:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Parks are wonderful, but taxing districts that do not have voter oversight are not healthy.

Vote no on Prop 1, it goes too far.

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, Dr. Frumkin, for this thought piece. You are right, we need to maintain our parks so both the parks and we are part of a healthy community. As the fastest growing city in the US, we need our parks, community centers, and open spaces to be accessible and safe for everyone in Seattle. The Seattle Park District is designed to address those needs.

I appreciate that we in Seattle like to vote on initiatives and many voters don't want to change the way we have funded parks. Levies have been good but not good enough. Our parks have simply been underfunded, and sadly are the first to get cut when the economic downturns happen.

We need to be responsible stewards of our parks going forward and that requires a change. We have the chance right now to make a responsible decision to create a dedicated parks-only funding mechanism. Voters can say YES to provide a predictable funding source for our parks and community centers.

Proposition 1 will provide a dedicated, fully accountable source of funding for parks that cannot -- under state law -- be raided for any other purpose even in bad economic times. I am voting YES for healthy Parks and a healthy city. Please join me!

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 7:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Ms. Bagshaw, you couldn't tell the truth about a budget item if your life depended on it. You and your fellow Council parasites are why we voted to redistrict. No one will say it to your face, of course, this being Seattle. But we're fed up.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 12:55 p.m. Inappropriate

What Prop 1 supporters can't or won't explain (and that includes Sally Bagshaw, whose comment provides absolutely nothing beyond campaign-level cheerleading) is why the City Council won't adequately fund parks if they are so critical? After all, it's the same taxpayers who would be paying for Parks whether it's in the budget , a new levy or imposed by a new Parks District. The answer of course is that Council is once again choosing more government and higher taxes over rational budgeting, that good heavens, might require tough choices!

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 12:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Will Sally Bagshaw be supporting a lowering of city taxes to reflect the formation of the new district if passed?

Cameron

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 8:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Will Sally Bagshaw support lowering anyone's taxes, ever?

simorgh

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 1:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Parks are essential for everyone and health is certainly an excellent reason to support stable, long term funding for Seattle Parks. Dr. Howie Frumkin, an renown expert in the field of public health, has made a great argument for supporting Proposition 1 in August. It is time we invest in Seattle Parks again and ensure ALL children, adults and seniors all have equal access to healthy public spaces. I will be voting YES for Proposition 1 - Parks are an essential part of our community.

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 3:48 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm just waiting for a headline proclaiming 'Seattle Metropolitan Parks District Will Give us World Peace'

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 3:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Fortunately the League of Women Voters disagrees with CM Bagshaw's wholehearted endorsement of this measure she pushed to fruition with a ginned-up process.

http://crosscut.com/media/static_file/2014/06/20/League_of_Women_Voters_Metropolitan_Parks_District_statement_1.pdf

From another Crosscut page: "The League’s statement says the measure would “fundamentally change” relationships of the city council, mayor and the parks department to parks operations by creating the new district. It also says local voters would have no power on their own to dissolve the parks district if they were unhappy with it. It also cites concerns that controls under an interlocal agreement with the city and the independent parks district might not be legally enforceable and says there is no mechanism to force an outside financial or performance audit."

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 3:52 p.m. Inappropriate

When I can see just how our last levy was actually used for maintenance in the proportion we voted on and not new acquisition and new construction, I might even listen to the arguments for a permanent funding source. Writing a blank check to non-performers and those who will use it for acquisition, the water front beautification scheme, the zoo and the aquarium instead of for running neighborhood parks and community centers, is just throwing good money after bad.

Posted Fri, Jun 20, 7:46 p.m. Inappropriate

I will vote "No" on this. Local and state government is rolling in money. All you have to do is look at their spending. A tunnel that will cost four to five times (at mininum) what a repaired viaduct would've cost. A $400 million bike path plan. A half-billion approval for a basketball arena. A billion for a new waterfront. King County Metro's recent announcement that it has found enough money to keep most of the bus service that it warned it would cut.

It goes on and on. There is no shortage of money here, period. They have all the money they want. No one in local or state government, nor their sycophants, contractors, and assorted hangers-on, ever tell the truth about money. The only way to handle levy requests is to vote against them.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

The League of Women Voters recommends a NO vote on the Metropolitan Parks District in August. I couldn't agree more. http://www.slideshare.net/katemartinseattle/lwv-metropolitan-parks-district-statement

-Kate Martin

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 10:04 a.m. Inappropriate

"Over the past decade, a growing body of research has found what the Olmsted Brothers knew intuitively .." The Olmsteds may have had stellar intuition but there is no link and no reference to any research at all. Odd, isn't it? if parks lead to good health then occupants of the far suburbs should expect longer life spans and rural areas should fair even better. Not true, so far as I know. Mr. Frumkin may be assuming that parks induce exercise… well maybe, but so do gyms, sidewalks and athletic fields. Peace of mind? that may be a positive, at least during daylight hours, but the headline, the center of Mr. Frumkin's article is mush I think he should have chosen another lead.

kieth

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 11:31 a.m. Inappropriate

It is reprehensible that a news blog that considers itself, and wants us to consider it, a respectable source of news publishes an article by a shill (yes, the good Dr. is a shill) for a ballot measure. Then other shills make comments that are transparently in support, from commenters who haven't appeared before (and probably won't again).

Seattle has been adding new smaller parks all over the City, because the last parks levy provided money. However, it didn't provide money for maintenance. This measure will supposedly provide that. But there's no way to be certain. If anyone thinks that Seattle is in dire straits of not having enough green space, they should visit other large cities (or small cities). A park that needs constant maintenance is a poorly-planned park, and I doubt if those who visit Volunteer Park or Magnuson or Discovery Park care if the grass isn't mowed to perfection.

sarah90

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 7:35 p.m. Inappropriate

If you think that park maintenance is a matter of "the grass mowed to perfection," then you must be one of those Seattle "progressives" who doesn't have a single clue about a single thing.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Jun 21, 10:08 p.m. Inappropriate

When was the last time Seattle Parks was audited? And "trust us" from this city council in place for the Vote by District election didn't go their way... I don't think the MPD is going to go their way.

Catherine

Posted Mon, Jun 23, 1:58 p.m. Inappropriate

While pretty much a lefty, I'm voting NO on this one. No one is doubting that parks and open space, particularly in and urban environment, offer physical and mental health benefits and contribute the city's well-being. But that just is not enough to then back any proposal put forth by parks advocates.

The measure needs to be looked at from its costs and benefits, assurance that what will be put forth will be accomplished, that it doesn't put an undue burden on middle and lower tax brackets in a very expensive city, and that Seattle Parks Department has done everything they can to make their programs and bureaucracy as efficient as possible. Lastly - there is a trust factor in another government entity.

I'm not feeling the love on this one.

Treker

Posted Tue, Jun 24, 5:51 a.m. Inappropriate

So because we cannot trust the city government we elect to properly oversee the use of the Parks Levy, we should set up an unaccountable or very indirectly accountable Parks District. Why don't we apply this to all functions of city government and do away with the City Council altogether?

WSDW

Posted Tue, Jun 24, 7:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Nice dodge. I believe folks are worried about the outer bounds of this new taxing structure. The MPD can raise taxes without any input by the voters AND the voters cannot dissolve the MPD once it is created, only the MPD can dissolve itself. So yes, I do see more accountability in the levy system - folks can see what are the general plans for where the funds are going, evaluate what has occurred during the time since the last levy vote, and decide if the Parks Dept. has actually done what they said they would.

What would really help is if the Parks would complete an audit on how they spent the last round of levy funds for a public self-evaluation. Regarding dissolving the City Council - that's a silly comment and if that is the only metaphor available for voting for the MPD, then yes, it is on shaky ground. I'd also say folks were looking for more accountability when they voted for having Council representatives elected by district, don't ya think?

Treker

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 8:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Everyone loves parks. We agree on that. But that means investing in them too. Tim Eyman has done real damage to Seattle with his poorly considered initiatives. That's the reason we have relied on sources other than the general fund. Each year our city budget shrinks. Ironically, the people who say they oppose funding for parks probably consider themselves to be progressives. In reality, they use Tea Party arguments that government is bad and needs to be starved for resources. Seattle is better than that, especially when it comes to our beloved parks.

hbkahn

Posted Fri, Jun 27, 9:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Ha ha ha! Tim Eyman ruined the parks! Do you "progressives" ever once realize how pathetic you are?!

NotFan

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