Jul 5, 2018

To Whom Do The Allentown Parks Belong

Recently the Allentown Park Director told me that she is being pressured to plant wider riparian buffers by the Conservancy/Greenlands, and to cut them down by me.  But, who are we?  I represent the park sentiments of thousands of Allentonians.  I know this from social media such as facebook,  where hundreds of people every week tell me to keep fighting for the parks.  I know this from visiting the parks, where dozens of people tell me to keep fighting.  But more importantly,  who is the Wildlands Conservancy and Greenways of Lehigh Valley? They are regional groups with paid professional directors who seek and award grants.  Although their counsel might be useful for a small township or municipality without its own park department,  why should they dictate policy in Allentown?  Allentown has its own iconic park system, and even its own grant benefactor, The Trexler Trust.

In Allentown the storm sewer system is piped directly into the creeks, bypassing the riparian buffers, making them useless as buffers anyway.  All they accomplish is to block both access and view of the streams.  The Allentown Park Department allowed the Greenway Project to plant a buffer on the Little Lehigh in Fountain Park,  while at the same time allowing the swimming pool there to succumb to neglect and permanent closure.  It is time for Mayor O'Connell and Allentown to reclaim direction of the Allentown Park System.



Brent said...

As with most things, it boils down to money. The cost of maintaining Allentown's park system has increased over the years, while the fortunes of Allentown have declined. The park system reached its zenith in the 1950s and Allentown was at its peak economical in the early to mid 1960s.

Now three generations after the Bicentennial celebration of 1962 and it's last All-America City award in 1975, the fortunes of Allentown are drastically reversed. The city has a tough time buying new fire engines, ones that used to be made in the city by the departed Mack Trucks. The finances of Allentown in large part are dictated by grand money handed to it by entities outside the city, and the shortfalls in the municipal budge are large. Instead of being governed by Allentonians, the municipal government is now managed by professional managers, who come from somewhere else; see Allentown as the next step in their career, then move on when a better opportunity arises.

Cutting grass and insuring the weeping willows weep is an expense and no longer an asset as the tourism attraction of Allentown is no longer the retail stores of Hamilton Street; it is basically Dorney Park. So when an outside environmental group offers to help maintain the park system, the city listens and abrogates much of the management and also the costs to the environmentalists. This lessens the fiscal burden of maintaining the parks. Also, the Trexler Trust, whose basic mission is to help maintain the park system, well, they seem to be missing in action in deciding policy while the parks are returned to their natural state by the environmentalists.

Who owns the parks is the question you asked? Legally, of course, it's the City, who are supposed to act as the agent of the people for the stewardship of them. The reality is the owner of the parks are those with the finances.

Money talks, and the loudest voice is the Wildlands Conservatory.

michael molovinsky said...

Brent@6:29, it is not my want to dialogue in the comment section, however your comment demands reply. The biggest forces in the valley and challenges to the traditional park system are sacred cows and cronyism. Of course the Wildlands Conservatory embodies both. They are responsible for the outright depreciation of the park system in the last decade, including the demolition of both the Robin Hood and Fish Hatchery Dams. They misapply general scientific concepts to Allentown, which do NOT apply here. Both those dams did not hamper fish (the fish hatchery dam protected them) or raise water temperature. The riparian buffer does NOT help keep the water cleaner in Allentown's case. An out of town mayor and his out of town park directors, ignorant of Allentown's iconic park system particulars, allowed them to dominate. Ray O'Connell must do better.

ironpigpen said...

The former Chief Rubberstamp Apparatchik for the former Mayor but now convicted felon Pawlowski does not have to do anything, actually.

Moreover, no way Mr. O'Connell would be willing to risk destroying his far-reaching reputation as a 'nice guy' by potentially pissing off any power that be.

Only my opinions, of course.


Anonymous said...

MM -

The answer to the title of the post is that the parks belong to the people of Allentown, and I think that most residents would agree with your assessment of the buffers.

The problem is that Allentown has functioned under a quasi-dictatorship for over a decade, where one person imposed his will and those who had the power to stop him (City Council) chose to help him instead. That includes Interim Mayor O'Connell.

That said, I do think there is now an opportunity for grass-roots activism to, well, get the grass cut in our parks.

For it to work, it will take:

1) Agreeing on the standard that we want. If we're going to maximize our voices, we need a clear message about what we want done. To me, it's mowing up to the creek at Cedar Parkway, Lehigh Parkway, and other parks unless the terrain makes mowing impossible (for instance, some of the steep slopes along the creek upstream and downstream from the Fish Hatchery). Other exceptions can be made, of course, but mowing to the creek needs to be the standard.

2) Attending City Council meetings REGULARLY and bringing the subject up during Courtesy of the Floor. New faces and constantly keeping the issue alive (in a respectful manner)makes a difference. If you have a minute to engage a council person before the meeting starts or after it ends do that also and ask for their help. It personalizes the issue and helps build a relationship with them.

3) E-mailing and calling the Mayor, council members, and the Parks Department to let them know how you feel (e-mails/phone numbers for council are on the city website at allentownpa.gov; but phone numbers only for the Mayor and Parks Department). If you have the time to set up an appointment and actually meet with any of them, do so and discuss the issue with them in person (again, in a respectful manner).

4) Write Letters to the Editor of the Morning Call. They can put off printing MM's letters and editorials because they likely feel there's little or no consequence. They might feel a bit more pressure if they're putting off printing a larger number of letters from current (or potential) subscribers.

5) Making others (friends, family, park users) aware of the issue and having them help in the above efforts. We need to multiply our numbers quickly, and get as many people and groups on board as soon as possible to support our efforts.

Many if not all those things have been done by MM in the past, but it's a lot of work for one and it's easy to marginalize one person. It's much more difficult to ignore many. This shouldn't be one person's crusade, and we all need to do more.

The Conservancy has people on staff that are getting paid to meet with our leaders in City Hall while we're working to pay our City taxes. All so that the Conservancy's will can be imposed on us. That needs to stop.

Jamie Kelton said...

I don't see Mayor O'Connell doing anything. He reminds me of a Democratic Calvin Cooledge. He's been in office for three months now and I don't know what he does during the day. He's retired himself to the mayor's office.

The Trexler Trust, it seems, has moved on to supporting arts programs in the City, they just did a what, $5 million gift to the Art Museum? That $5 million should have gone to the parks system. Perhaps let Mayor O'Connell know that there is a difference between a park and a playground. But then they didn't do anything when Ed was buying all the playground gear for Jordan Park. I don't know what they do really, except meet and sip coffee and look at the balance sheet of how well the investments the Trust has made are doing. Helping to maintain the parks doesn't seem to be on their radar screens.

The commenters above is correct. Who has the money has the loudest voice. Having some lobbyists in City Hall and cash to give the city to push their agenda is the biggest voice in policy-making. Who do you think on City Council really cares about the parks anyway? Is there anyone of city council that has any record of opposing the Wildlands Conservancy ?

Anonymous said...

I've been and Allentown homeowner and park user for over 30 years. I've been a member of Friends of the Parks on and off. I'm encouraged when I see the views of the creek being revealed in some areas, but I am discouraged to see that there seems to be no police presence in the park. There seems to be no consequences for the park rules. There is a 20 mph speed limit on a road shared with walkers, runners, parents with kids in strollers, and cyclists and I can assure you that nearly no drivers are doing 20 or under. There are signs posted in both English and Spanish about park rules for cooking, wading, and swimming, and yet I regularly see all these things happening usually in areas that are the closest to car access, but I never see an officer warning anyone that their behavior is illegal. Adults bring children with inflatables and assume that they are safe in the water. I regularly see open cases of beer, with glass bottles. I regularly see garbage piled next to the trash receptacles that were designed to NOT accommodate garbage bags, since picnicking is forbidden. I regularly deal with other park user's unleashed dogs, often pit bull mixes. Many dog owner's seem to be oblivious to the rules of the park and there is no consequences for violating the rules of the park, or just bad behavior. In addition to this on any weekday I also see park employees in their cars at the Runner's House parking lot any time after 3:00, waiting, talking, smoking, until 3:30, when their shift is over and they are free to leave. I can't believe that there can't be some kind of punch-list of necessary duties that can be done during these time gaps between more involved duties, as in the private sector. (Could you imagine seeing Wegman's employees doing the same thing in their parking lot?) Years of bad management, bad behavior and no consequences. I think the Trexler Trust gains their information from a talented grant writer. The visuals tell a different story.

Rich Fegley said...

Pawlowski was "working" with all of these groups. They are all corrupted.

Why were all of the trees across the street from the Water Works on MLK cut down? The hillside was practically clear-cut. When I asked why these trees were cut at City Council, Pawlowski said PPL demanded they be cut and the Parks Director at the time chuckled and said (as if someone told him to say), "We are going to wait and see what grows back and develop a plan from there."

Pawlowski worked with Wildlands to allow many trees to be cut on the large properties next to my home on the hill above Constitution Drive. Everything he touched is corrupt.