To be kind, you could say Tulsa’s park system grew organically.
As the city expanded, it built parks, although not evenly across the community and often without a plan about how to take care of those properties and make them evolve with the surrounding community.
So now we have parts of the city with underused parks, parts of the city without convenient access to parks and, during times of economic stress, problems keeping the grass mowed and roofs tarred at all the parks.
Tulsa operates 135 parks covering approximately 8,200 acres. Its fiscal year 2020 operating budget is $20.3 million, which includes pass-through funding for the Tulsa Zoo. In addition, the city contracts with a private company to operate four golf courses.
Too often in city history the Parks Department motto has seemed to be “momentum,” which means we always do what we have done before, except in times of crisis, when we do less.
Tulsa voters took a step in the direction of righting those problems when they approved the Improve Our Tulsa extension last year. That included $30 million designated for park improvements, rehabilitation and maintenance.
City Parks and Recreation Director Anna America described the next step this week: A privately funded $135,000 master plan update for the Parks Department.
The George Kaiser Family Foundation has agreed to pay for the plan. They’re the masterminds behind Gathering Place, a pretty good example of what park facilities can accomplish — and the importance of having a plan.
Once again, Tulsa owes public thanks to the Kaiser foundation for paying for what needs to be done.
We hope the updated master plan and the new tax money will give the Parks Department a chance to think differently about how it serves the people of Tulsa.
The $30 million isn’t enough to accomplish everything the parks need. Far from it. Therefore, it’s important that the city use the money wisely on the projects that can do the most good.
We believe parks can make a difference in a community’s trajectory, but not without purposeful thought and planning.