Candidates talk ways to improve parks

More City funds for parks and streamlining the permitting process were two issues the majority of the Boston mayoral candidates agreed upon during a forum on parks and open spaces Aug. 16.

About 300 people attended the forum, sponsored by the Boston Park Advocates, at the Franklin Park Clubhouse in Dorchester.

Mayoral candidates Felix Arroyo, John Barros, Charles Clemmons, John Connolly, Rob Consalvo, Mike Ross, Bill Walczak and Marty Walsh all participated in the forum. Candidates Charles Yancey and Dan Conley also attended, but Yancey showed up 45 minutes late, while Conley arrived in time for closing remarks.

Candidate Charlotte Golar Richie sent a representative to speak for her, as she was in New York for her father’s funeral. Candidate David James Wyatt was not present at the forum.

The candidates spoke effusively about their love of parks and said they would commit more City funds and resources to them.

“If we love our parks, we have to pay for our parks,” said Ross, who noted that about 1 percent of City’s budget goes towards parks and said that more needs to be spent.

Walczak, who describe himself as a “parkie,” said he would be a passionate park advocate for more resources in the budget. He said there are whole sections of Boston that don’t have sufficient park space and that everyone should have open space to use.

Barros talked about creating a comprehensive plan for the parks that starts with “City dollars.” He said everyone needs to be connected with parks and that means “more activities and more arts.” Barros also said, “We need more dog parks in our city.”

Connolly spoke about having “great programming” at parks. He said that in order for that to happen, the City needs to streamline the permitting process.

“It is a maze,” Connolly said.

He talked about creating an interactive map with all the City’s and state’s parks on it and being able to click to reserve space at them.

Arroyo echoed Connolly’s sentiments, saying the permitting process was “very confusing” and that it should not be that way. Arroyo, who is a Little League coach, joked that even being a city councilor hasn’t helped him obtain a permit. Earlier in the forum, he said that Jefferson Field near Heath Street was one of his favorite parks because that is where his team won its first championship.

Walsh talked about combining the City’s and state’s parks into one system to “break down the barriers.” He said jurisdictional issues “drive me crazy.” Walsh also discussed increasing park rangers and bringing back the mounted horse unit, which was disbanded several years ago because of budget woes.

In a response to maintaining trees in the city, Walsh said he would look into creating regulations on people cutting trees on private land and would address the gas leaks that are killing trees.

Sticking on that issue, Consalvo used it as an opportunity to plug his plan for rubber sidewalks. He said those type of sidewalks are permeable, allowing water to reach trees’ roots. Consalvo said asphalt sidewalks are sometimes cracked when trees’ roots break through in search of water. He also talked about bringing outdoor exercise equipment to the parks to promote healthy living.

Yancey said that students should be trained to take care of the trees. He also talked about encouraging communities to take ownership of open space and turning vacant lots to urban farms, but not without the soil first being tested for contaminants.

A straw poll asking who the best mayor for parks and open spaces would be was taken after the forum. One hundred attendees participated and Barros (21 percent), Walczak (20 percent) and Ross (16 percent) finished in the top three.

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