All eight at-large city council candidates gathered in the Franklin Park Golf Clubhouse on Oct. 15 for a content rich forum on parks and open space with the Boston Park Advocates. During the same night as the Red Sox ACLS playoff and first mayoral televised debate, more than 75 voters from all neighborhoods attended to show how much parks matter to Boston.
Boston Park Advocates is a network of more than 130 community, park, youth, arts, housing, sports, bicycle, community garden, schoolyard and civic engagement groups who collaborate to show elected officials that parks are more than just trees, they are about the people who use them.
Peter Kadzis, former editor of the Boston Phoenix and neighbor of Franklin Park, moderated and kicked off the event with a reflection of the history of Boston and the critical role parks have played in shaping it. Park users from all over the city followed him by standing up and sharing needs they have for their parks with candidates.
Marilyn Flowers from Roxbury shared her need for better maintenance on walking paths in parks due an injury she suffered after falling in a pothole while exercising. Patty Quinn from Back Bay was concerned about overuse of the Boston Common. Harry Smith from Jamaica Plain asked for more money in the parks budget to sufficiently maintain baseball fields for Little League.
The liveliness continued into the forum with candidates sharing a combination of innovative and realistic ideas, mixing in some humor and personal stories.
There was much agreement among the candidates. Everyone said they would vote “yes” on a smoking ban in public parks and, when given a list of policy improvements, candidates unanimously chose adding recycling initiatives to parks as a top priority.
As a mom, softball coach and teacher, Annissa Essaibi George stated education is her number one issue, but acknowledged parks are integral to the success of her family and public schools. If elected, she would advocate for better playing fields and facilities to help bridge the gap between suburban and city schools.
Jeff Ross, the only community gardener among the candidates, has worked to listen to community members to learn what’s needed and, as a result, has talked a lot about parks and open space on the campaign trail.
Former at-large city councilor Michael Flaherty was very honest with the realities of the job and shared ideas he felt could be achieved in office, such as prioritizing funding to parks and sufficiently maintaining all parks.
Jack Kelly had one of the best lines of the night, stating he would ban fax machines from City Hall, in reference to the antiquated permitting process for parks. He also spoke about the need to end homelessness in Boston in order to fix the problem of increased homeless use of parks.
Both Martin Keogh and Stephen Murphy emphasized public safety and need for park rangers. A longtime veteran, councilor Murphy has strongly advocated for funding of ranger horses and promised to continue making parks a priority if re-elected.
Ayanna Pressley put health and fitness in parks as a top priority. She suggested health center prescriptions for use of public parks for exercise, as well as increased capital improvements on walking/jogging paths to increase usage.
Fixing the permitting process has been one of Michelle Wu’s top issues throughout the campaign and she continued to address the need during the forum. She proposed a more transparent way of getting all the permits needed for a park event, including health, food, etc, as well as charging an equitable fee for events to help with maintenance costs.
The last question of the night asked the candidates where parks fall on their list of priorities. It was a general consensus that improved and maintained parks are necessary to the success of every major issue, such as education, public safety, and public health. In the words of Pressley: Parks unify Boston.