City searching for answers on green spaces

If you’re not using something, you don’t really need it.

Except when you do.

It can be easy to view something as expendable if it’s not getting much use, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a purpose or potential.

The City of Warren has begun looking to lighten its property load. Empty lots, spaces reserved for initiatives that never came to fruition and even city green space is being considered for the chopping block.

When it comes to those green spaces, however, not everyone thinks pushing sites onto the tax rolls is the best solution.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Commission is looking at alternatives to save green space in a financially feasible manner

“The initial feeling was the city shouldn’t divest itself of any green space,” City Parks and Recreation Director Mary Ann Nau said. “That’s what makes the city attractive.”

However, in tough economic times, aesthetics and accounting can collide.

“Every year the City Council has asked if there are parks that could potentially be divested,” Mayor Mark Phillips said in December. “Annually, that’s an issue that we’ve looked at. Keep in mind, I’m not advocating selling Betts Park or anything. I think we would be wise to consider letting some of the unused ones go.”

Currently, the city has more than 20 ‘parks’. Not all of these are what most would consider actual parks though. Many are small green spaces or areas unsuitable for development. ‘Park,’ in this case, basically means a green space the city maintains.

As for traditional parks, only six of the spaces are considered “active,” meaning they host regular, scheduled activity or have maintained facilities such as playgrounds.

“Inactive” doesn’t mean unused however. For example, General Joseph Warren Park and Washington Park both are used regularly. Additionally, even idle green space can have a purpose.

According to information provided in the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) website, green spaces increase community attractiveness to potential residents and businesses, improve health and quality of life and can even serve as a natural component to stormwater management.

Nau said the city is looking at creative ideas for green space usage and funding in lieu of divestiture.

“Our parks are actually economic generators. We need to look at ways to incentivize, in some way, partnerships that would help to fund recreation activities,” Nau said. “Warren’s in the center of a lot of communities here, but all of the funding for these spaces comes from the city taxpayers.”

One idea Nau said was, “floated through e-mail by a recreation commission member,” suggests utilizing city green space to implement a community garden program.

“We don’t have anything within the city,” Nau pointed out. “The nearest one is out at Hatch Run.”

During the Parks and Recreation Commission’s March 5 meeting, members discussed possible candidates for a program including the upper area of Crescent Park, Celeron and Clemmons parks and green space at the end of Fourth Avenue.

“The likely spot might be the end of Fourth, if you can’t get the neighbors interested (in buying the space),” Nau said. “We also have a bunch of these linear areas… strips along the river.”

Nau also submitted feedback to develop an Urban Recreation Initiative through a partnership of the DCNR and the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society, of which she is a member.

According to initiative material, “Our purpose is to help make our cities and large boroughs healthier, more livable and economically competitive through support, revitalization and development of parks, green space and recreation opportunities.”

Nau said the city is pursuing funding through the DCNR to generate a comprehensive recreational open and green space plan to guide future green space policy.