Tuesday, March 19, 2002

RADEL: Find yourself

Save a little green for the green

By Cliff Radel, cradel@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The last thing Willie F. Carden Jr. wants to do is padlock a park.

        As Cincinnati's parks director, he prefers keeping the city's green spaces open for business.

        Budget cuts at City Hall, a place where there's always a shortage of green, along with common sense, are forcing him to consider the unthinkable and close a park in 2003.

        But only as a last resort.

        “We should not be so dependent on the city's tax base,” the director admitted during a recent conversation at his Eden Park headquarters.

        He told me he has plans, big plans, to reduce that dependence. He intends to preserve the parks and make them even better by forging partnerships with corporations, Hamilton County's park system and everyday people.

        He insists he'll do whatever it takes to stay true to his mission of keeping the city's parks “clean, safe, reliable and green.”

        As well as open.


For the children

               The parks director runs a huge operation. It's also clean, green and lean.

        His jurisdiction covers 10 percent of the city's land. With 121 full-time employees, he spreads a $10 million annual budget over five regional parks, such as Mount Airy, 70 neighborhood parks, 34 natural areas and 80,000 street-shading trees.

        “I have no more fat to cut from my budget,” he said.

        “We have to begin to reduce services. It's going to be tough to close down a park. But we might have to do that next year.”

        He's heard rumblings from City Hall that the parks' nature education programs should go first. He plans to go before city council soon to put an end to such notions.

        Cincinnati's parks present 1,501 programs and serve 48,500 students annually.

        “You can't kill those programs,” he said. “Those are our kids, our future.

        “I may be way out in left field here. But I believe in pouring a solid foundation for tomorrow.”

        I like Willie. He thinks ahead. He wants to make sure someone will take care of Cincinnati's parks and call them, as he does, “our parks” in the future.

        “People won't protect and support what they don't value,” he said.

        “The only way you value something is through education. You can teach people the value of our parks, trees, flowers. And you must start at an early age.”

        That means taking park programs into the schools and taking students into the parks.

        That means spending money, and finding new ways to raise it.


Joining forces

               Willie F. Carden Jr. knows how to raise funds creatively.

        Before becoming parks director, he worked on a plan to use private donations to cover the cost of restoring the Tyler Davidson Fountain as well as providing for future maintenance. Those funds will preserve the city's centerpiece for generations to come.

        Willie believes the city's parks can be maintained for today and tomorrow through partnerships.

        He's looking for corporate endowments in the millions as well as contributions from small businesses to plant flower beds.

        He hopes to get a piece of the pie from Hamilton County's well-funded park system.

        “Discussions are going on,” he said, “about sharing portions of the upcoming Hamilton County tax levy.” Remember, city votes help pass county levies.

        He's also hoping for help from individuals. People use the city's parks for hiking, for fun, for free.

        You can lose yourself in these parks and find yourself, too.

        If they mean something to you, call City Hall. Let the mayor and city council know about the roles played by these oases. Tell them to spare the parks from the budget-cutters' ax.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379;e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.


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