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A consistency of standards throughout the many small and the several very large parks

To Preserve and Protect Fairmount Park
March 1, 2022

The Fairmount Park Commission was the independent Board of Directors whose mission was “to preserve and protect” Fairmount Park, as it had done since 1868 by the authority of two acts passed by our State Legislature.

A deceptively worded Ballot Question in 2010 tricked the citizens to vote “Yes" to abolish the Park Commission, clearly against the city’s legal authority. No one knew they had been asked to vote for something illegal. Deliberate deception by several City Council members who wrote the question. Is that water over the dam or not?

The great advantage for all of us with the Park Commission was having a consistency of standards throughout the many small and the several very large parks. The professional Fairmount Park Director and park staff managed things excellently day to day, and sought advice from the Commission when decisions required a Board of Directors. The Commissioners weighed in on major issues for consistency and fairness when things intruded on the mission “to protect and preserve” the park.

Our Park is now open to the vicissitudes of ten different district council members with very different outlooks. Parks and Recreation Department mediates a bit; the Park Conservancy is very good at their mission, but limited in authority other than the art of gentle persuasion. No one has the independence nor the overall mission, nor the authority, to protect and preserve our Park as the Pennsylvania legislature had wisely dedicated to the Commissioners.

The Park Commission had a independence from the politics of city government; not a complete independence since we all live together, are all Philadelphia citizens and Park users, but an outlook that rose above the push and shove of individuals, of the Friends of groups and of the inconsistent interests and standards of district council members, no matter who they are over the years.

At the final Park Commission meeting, attended by a few District Council members, one of them was heard to say, “Now the Park is mine!” And so it has become with an inconsistent application of standards “to protect and to preserve,” and with ten council member’s view of his own district, isolated from the best consistent overview for our magnificent Park.

I am sure the Fairmount Park Commission will return to active service in the near future since it was not legally voted out; it is still a State Commission waiting for the call from Harrisburg and from our wiser greybeards in town to benefit Fairmount Park for the next 150 years for all of us.

- Gardner A. Cadwalader
Fairmount Park Commissioner (former) Philadelphia

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