One way to add open green space to your city (and do it really cheaply)

Wed, 2016-06-15 06:00 -- Doug Peeples

Urban squares, streets lined with green space and unused commercial or industrial property converted into parks are all great ideas for cities that want to give their citizens a more livable, relaxing outdoor environment. But for some cities, it's not in the cards — or in the budget. The city of Fresno is in the latter category: short on public green space, particularly in parts of the city with very few if any parks.

After negotiating with the city, two local school districts agreed to open school grounds to the public on weekends for outdoor recreational activities. The weekend program got underway earlier this month. Admittedly, it may not be a "complete" solution. But it's a solid (and inexpensive) first step toward making the city more livable. And Fresno's approach may fit well with other cities short on cash and available space. — Doug Peeples

Late last year, the city of Fresno and two school districts, Fresno Unified and Central Unified, agreed on a program that would add open green space to the city — much to the relief of community parks and open space advocates and residents.

The Weekend Community Open Space Program, launched earlier this month, gives Fresno residents free access to several schools throughout the city for recreational activities on weekends.  A total of 16 schools are participating in the program. Four sites opened initially and the rest should be open by the end of June.

The weekend program adds about 400 acres of green community parks and green space advocates and residents had long said were sorely needed. And operating expenses are relatively low. Funding for the $1.2 million 12-month operating budget will come from the city's fiscal carryover budget from 2015. Mayor Ashley Swearengin said it would have cost the city $160 million if it had acquired and developed 400 acres of open green space.

Swearengin was quoted by Vida en el Valle as saying "This is an incredible contribution by Fresno Unified and Central Unified. We know there is a risk in making their facilities available on weekends. We are so grateful for their willingness to step out and trust this partnership and be part of a solution to open space in our community." The mayor also credited the local parks and open space advocacy groups for their leadership and support with the project.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.