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Op-ed: Renew conservation fund, Congress, for all of us

By Ralph Becker

First Published Jun 27 2014 03:47 pm • Last Updated Jun 27 2014 03:47 pm

There’s not a lot that politicians in Washington seem to agree on these days. From health care to foreign policy to immigration reform, just finding consensus in the nation’s capital is an uphill battle, let alone charting a course to take action. But for the mayors working locally to serve the American cities that make the United States the dynamic country that it is, here’s a cause we can all agree on: the creation and preservation of parks and green spaces.

This month, mayors from across the country unanimously called for the renewal of a program that has allowed urban and metropolitan parks to flourish for 50 years.

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I was proud to co-sponsor the Land and Water Conservation Fund and Urban Parks resolution, which was passed on June 23 by the U.S. Conference of Mayors at its annual conference. The resolution brought mayors from around the country together in recognition of the unique role parks play in the communities we serve. Well-maintained parks contribute to a greater sense of safety, lower levels of crime, healthier citizens and job creation.

And with the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) — the program we are calling on Congress to renew — they’re a smart investment for cities and the taxpayers who live in them.

The fund, which is set to expire soon unless action is taken, has strong support across party lines and is one of the nation’s most important tools for creating and protecting green space in America’s urban areas. Since its creation in 1965, it has supported more than 42,000 projects that are found in 98 percent of the nation’s counties. These projects include state and local parks, playgrounds, urban wildlife refuges, greenways, trails and other open spaces. The fund helped create some of our city’s most beloved places to gather outside and recharge, relax, enjoy a family picnic, get some exercise or simply revel in some green space like Jordan River Parkway Trail. All told, Salt Lake City has received more than $1.7 million from LWCF to build and support green spaces.

Even better, LWCF is funded with royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling — not hard-earned taxpayer money — and it provides matching funds for parks and conservation projects across the country. Federal dollars from a LWCF grant are used to match at least one local dollar, though most of its grants leverage much more than just one dollar.

Unfortunately, LWCF is set to expire in September 2015, and unless Congress acts, it will disappear, dramatically and negatively impacting the future of urban parks. That is why our resolution is calling on Congress to reauthorize and fully fund the LWCF. The president and his Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell have already publicly supported the idea. And now, we, U.S. mayors, have officially thrown our weight behind the idea. We hope our efforts encourage members of Congress who are still on the fence to join the growing chorus for support.

Parks aren’t a luxury; they’re an essential component of making our cities competitive in a rapidly changing global market. Urban areas are the engines generating our nation’s wealth and keeping the American brand competitive. It is no coincidence that the most economically sound cities are the ones with ample parks and open spaces. The economic boost of parks also creates new jobs; for every $1 million invested in parks and recreation infrastructure, 20 jobs are created.

The nation’s mayors joined together because we support a common-sense solution for creating parks, preserving open spaces and keeping our communities healthy. It’s time our representatives in Washington followed our lead before it’s too late.

Ralph Becker is the mayor of Salt Lake City and a member of Mayors for Parks, a bipartisan coalition of mayors.


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