Briefly Noted

November 1, 2012, Department, by NRPA

A disabled fitness enthusiast tries out the accessible equipment in St. Petersburg, Florida.As the first step in a long-term initiative to overhaul Chicago’s broadband infrastructure and bring free, ultra-high-speed broadband internet access to all of Chicago’s public spaces, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in late September that downtown Millennium Park has begun offering free wi-fi as part of a partnership with SilverIP, an ultra-high-speed internet service provider. The initiative, dubbed the Chicago Broadband Challenge, also plans to provide gigabit-class fiber internet to areas of the city with a heavy emphasis on industry, higher education, and entrepreneurial startups.

In Philadelphia’s Point Breeze neighborhood, city officials are threatening legal action against a café owner who spent $20,000 of his own money cleaning up a trash-filled city-owned lot adjacent to his business and turning it into a park for the public. Ori Feibush estimates he removed 40 tons of trash and brush from the lot before adding picnic tables, trees, fencing, and more, but the property owner, Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, contends he had no right to trespass and transform the site without their permission. To reduce their liability against accidents or incidents on the site, PRA will likely require Feibush to vacate the lot so it can be closed off to the public.

In late September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed several bills to keep California’s state parks open and ensure greater spending oversight in the wake of a scandal in which $54 million in park funds were hidden in two special funds for more than a decade, even as dozens of parks were threatened with closure. Two bills, AB1478 and AB1589, establish a two-year moratorium on park closures, provide about $30 million in funding, and give the state’s 278 parks new fundraising tools. The state’s Department of Parks and Recreation director resigned and a senior parks official was terminated this summer following the scandal. To help prevent similar problems from happening in the future, the new laws also give a state commission more authority to oversee the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Detroit’s Belle Isle Park is one of the city’s jewels, but because the cash-strapped city cannot afford to operate the park, Mayor Dave Bing and Governor Rick Snyder have proposed that it be leased and turned over to the state parks system. However, city council members have expressed resistance to the proposal, voicing concerns over ambiguities in the proposed lease (which could span anywhere from 30 to 90 years) and the source of funding for much-needed repairs and maintenance. Leasing the park to the state would save Detroit more than $6 million annually. Discussions are ongoing.

The Journalof Park and Recreation Administration recently published “The Relationship of Household Proximity to Park Use,” which examines the incidence of members of a household using a local park depending on how far away it is from the home. Data were collected from an effective sample of 458 city respondents in Texas, and the study confirmed that respondents living within .75 miles of a park were significantly more likely to use parks than those residing beyond that distance. The subjective measure yielded the highest probability of use and showed that respondents who perceived they had the ability to access a park on foot or by bicycle were nine percent more likely to use parks.

In Cook County, Illinois, a judge has ruled the arrests of 92 Occupy Chicago demonstrators unconstitutional and also declared that the city’s overnight park curfew violates the First Amendment. On two consecutive weekends in October 2011, protestors violated the city park’s 11 p.m. curfew, which spurred more than 300 arrests. The group says this indicates selective enforcement of the law, as no arrests were made at the 2008 election night rally for Barack Obama that drew 500,000 people to the park. Noting the park’s long history of political rallies going back to Abraham Lincoln, Associate Judge Thomas M. Donnelly quoted early city leaders who resolved in 1835 that the land that would become Grant Park “should be reserved for all time to come for a public square, accessible at all times to the people.” City lawyers plan to appeal and do not think the judge’s ruling affects the 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in Grant Park or other city parks.

Funds left over from this year’s NATO summit in Chicago will drive a $7 million city investment in improving parks, building boathouses along the Chicago River, and other recreational projects, Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced. Because costs associated with hosting the conference in May came in under budget, there are private and federal funds—dubbed NATO legacy funds—at the city’s disposal. About 60 percent of those privately raised resources, or $6 million, will go toward the recreational projects. The remaining $1 million will come from Chicago Park District capital funds, officials said. The revenue has been tentatively slated to renovate five city parks, construct and outfit four boathouses, build a 2.65-mile park and trail on an old elevated railroad spur, and expand the Shakespeare in the Parks program.

The City of St. Petersburg, Florida, recently announced the opening of the new, one-of-a-kind Fitness Zone installation that will provide outdoor exercise opportunities to local residents, including wheelchair users. Manufactured by Greenfields Outdoor Fitness and sponsored by MetLife Foundation, Pinellas County Health Department, and the City of St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation Department, the Fitness Zone includes 14 pieces of single- and multi-user equipment that allow a wheelchair user to utilize the equipment while seated in their wheelchair. Other equipment components are accessible by transfer from the wheelchair to the component’s seat. This new station, installed under supervision by the Trust for Public Land, connects directly to the Pinellas Fitness Trail, a 34-mile-long green space connecting downtown St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs.