Public Policy Forum Blog

PPF Pearls: Rating the parks' amenities

Yesterday's newstory regarding the poor conditions of the restrooms in some Milwaukee County parks could have been written six years ago. Throughout the summer of 2002, the Forum sent trained assessors into the county parks to rate them on amenities, recreation, and green space. The ratings were based on a four-point scale, roughly equivalent to letter grades.

While the Parks Department gave 11 individual restrooms an F grade, our assessors found nine parks in which the overall restroom score was below 2.0 (or below a D grade). The lowest scoring parks restrooms, at 1.5, were Holler and Cudahy parks.

While some of our poor park restroom ratings were surprising, such as a 1.8 score for the otherwise well-maintained Brown Deer Park, we found that the overall ratings for all the features in a park were highly correlated with certain neighborhood features.

The highest scoring parks overall were significantly more likely to be located in neighborhoods with higher percentages of white residents, with higher home values, and with higher median incomes. This relationship may or may not be causal. And, if causal, is not necessarily due to the neighborhood residents' treatment of the park. Spending decisions and priorities of the Parks Department may be influenced by the type of neighborhood in which a park is located.

However, this week's newstory seems to indicate that the Parks Department is using data regarding relative conditions among parks to make spending decisions. Nevertheless, a tight county budget will mean not all needs can be met in all parks. Our 2002 report examined several alternative scenarios for generating more revenue to fund park maintenance and improvements. For example, had a $0.83 per $1,000 property tax rate been dedicated to the parks in 2002, it would have generated over $40 million in tax revenue in 2008, based on the growth in property values since then.

Without a solution to declining tax levy support for parks maintenance, or a re-evaluation of just how many parks we can realistically support, Milwaukee County residents can expect only more poor ratings for our parks' amenities.
Anneliese Dickman