This article is the follow-up article to "Cannada-Wynn Abandons Children in Morris Court." That article highlighted that City Council member Jewel CANNADA-WYNN had conspired off-the-record and off-the-books with the Area Housing Commission and the office of the City Administrator to close Morris Court Park and return it to the Area Housing Commission.
We know this because Cannada-Wynn submitted to the City Council a letter written by Dr. SINGH, head of the Area Housing Commission, dated September 16, 2016, in which Dr. Singh stated that he had called Mr. Keith WILKINS, the deputy city administrator, the previous day and had had at least one prior undated meeting with Cannada-Wynn on the subject of returning Morris Court Park to the Housing Commission.
And we know that Cannada-Wynn was hiding her agenda to close Morris Court Park from the residents because in November 2016 while she telling the City Council her intention to close and return the park, she was also telling the Westside Redevelopment Board that she was working with residents to "deal with" their "concerns" regarding the park.
In fact, when residents found out that Cannada-Wynn, their City Council representative, planned to close the park permanently, after it had been closed for months, Rick's Blog reported that the residents were "not happy" and County Commissioner Lumon MAY wanted to hold a town hall meeting to prevent its permanent closure.
We do not know how many meetings, phone calls, and emails were exchanged between Cannada-Wynn and the Housing Commission, nor do we know when the exchanges first took place, and nor do we know who conceived of the idea of closing Morris Court Park in the summer of 2016 with the objective of initiating the transfer of the park back to the Housing Commission. However, CJ's Street Report has submitted a public records request to try and determine when the ball started rolling and by whom.
What we do know is that by March 2016 the City of Pensacola's Parks & Recreation Department (and presumably its Board) had contracted with the University of West Florida's Sport Management and Public Administration programs to produce an assessment of "how to improve space and resource utilization." The public was invited to attend three public meetings in order to "brainstorm ideas and provide input for park improvements." Under pressure from council member Sherri Myers a fourth meeting was added for her district's residents. And, the UWF professors also sought to have an online sample of city residents to respond to a questionaire on park usage and their thoughts on the quality and problems of the park system.
And we know that when Mayor Ashton HAYWARD and Cannada-Wynn put the transfer of Morris Court Park to the Area Housing Commission on the city council's agenda item 17-00228 they specifically referenced the UWF study as justification, claiming that the study found that "the City’s parks system is overbuilt to an unsustainable level. Based on that finding, the UWF report recommended that the City strategically reduce the number of parks and amenities it maintains and improve service by consolidating resources into regional parks."
The UWF assessment was released on December 1, 2016, more than two months before the mayor's office, Cannada-Wynn, and the Housing Commission had already determined in September 2016 that Morris Court Park should be permanently closed and the park re-deeded back to the Housing Commission. In other words, the mayor and Cannada-Wynn used the fig leaf of the assessment to justify a pre-determined political decision made without public scrutiny and public comment.
The clear implication in the agenda item was that the actions of the mayor, Cannada-Wynn, and the Housing Commission were consistent with and supported by the UWF assessment. In fact, nothing in the UWF assessment can be used to justify closing permanently Morris Court Park.
The UWF assessment (page 6) states clearly that "results and recommendations of the assessment should be used to inform decisions but are not intended to be the sole consideration in future planning." Moreover, the UWF assessment noted that the "conclusions and recommendations contained in this report are based solely upon the data available." In other words, other data and different kinds of information could challenge and modify assessment's conclusions, or be pertinent to different decisions being made by the City Council.
The purpose of this CJ's Street Report article is to critique the UWF assessment on the basis that it pretends that UWF and the City of Pensacola can produce and use technical information that is above and untainted by politics, race, and class. In fact, race and class permeate the study--just not in ways the UWF professors fully appreciated.
KEY FINDINGS OF THE UWF STUDY
I have posted two copies of the UWF study. The first copy is not highlighted. The second copy is highlighted for use in this article.
The major finding of the UWF is that the city's park inventory is too large to be sustained. But, then the professors go beyond that technical finding to argue that the city has no obligation to meet the needs of the residents.
According to the UWF assessment (page 8), "Our primary overarching conclusion is that the parks system is overbuilt to an unsustainable level, given its current resources.... The city should not be expected to maintain and operate the current number of parks at the level expected by the citizenry."
I think it is common place in America to assert that government at all levels exists with the consent of the governed--and not the other way around. If the citizenry expect their city to maintain its level of parks and open spaces, is it not the responsibility of elected leaders to find a way to make that happen?
The UWF assessment (page 8) also noted that the City of Pensacola had two options for coping with its large inventory of parks. According to the assessment's authors, "The recommended approach is to strategically reduce the quantity of parks services. The second approach would be to increase recurring financial and human resources to the parks department."
The first approach, if taken seriously by Mayor Hayward, the Pensacola City Council, and the Parks & Recreation Board, would be to act in accordance with existing city ordinances regarding selling city property, holding widely publicized town hall meetings on specific closure recommendations, and undertaking a technical study or studies that examined the tradeoffs between different public policy options.
In short, a "strategic reduction" would involve real costs, potential benefits, and real losses and gains for residents of the city. The assessment itself noted (page 7) that homes "fronting or abutting a passive park space experience a 20% increase in value," while homes within three blocks of a park gain 10% in value. A 20% gain or loss in property value certainly requires that city residents be fully aware of and involved in the decision making.
The second approach noted by the UWF assessment would require the city council and the mayor to find spending within the budget or additional resources to sustain the park system.
The unstated political assumption of the UWF assessment is that being miserly on parks is a good thing.
The UWF assessment found that the City of Pensacola, using the National Recreation and Park Association's (NRPA) Recreation, Park, and Open Space Standards and Guidelines (page 19) for its benchmark comparison of Pensacola to other very roughly comparable cities is overbuilt.
For example, it found (page 10) that Pensacola has "more than double the standard number of basketball courts;" it has "over three times the standard number of diamond [baseball] fields;" and, it has "over three times the standard number of playgrounds."
Now, that is certainly one interpretation of the data--if you are a scrooge and miser. On the other hand, if you were a city booster (and put your money where your mouth is), you might claim that Pensacola is super child-friendly and outdoor-enthusiast friendly with lots of safe, clean neighborhood, community, historic, regional, and athletic parks (see pages 15-16). But, that interpretation would require a mayor who actually had pride in the city rather than just turning up at civic events with a smiley face.
The UWF assessment also noted (page 9), in bolstering its claim on over-development and unsustainability, that the city had too many benches (one for every 135 residents), too many trashcans at parks (one for every 123 residents), too many swings (one for every 35 children under the age of twelve), and too much playground equipment (one for every 45 children under the age of twelve). In other words, there was potentially too much comfort, too much cleanliness, and too much happiness for the residents.
Given that neighborhood and community parks are too close to their homes for children to enjoy, with too many swings and playground equipment, and too many benches for the weary to relax on, UWF recommended "eliminating the use of resources to support the unsustainable expectations of many neighborhood parks" while creating regional parks. Of course, it is not the expectations of the parks under threat, but the expectations of actual residents. You know, those parks that you must drive to or try to catch a bus to instead of doing the planet-friendly walky-thingy.
And how did Pensacola get into this catastrophe of building up its amenities for residents to enjoy? Politics.
Yes, the UWF professors complained (page 8) that the "results of the needs assessment are indicative of a long history of responding to political or social pressures rather than making strategic informed decisions."
How dare the elected officials of Pensacola over the decades respond to "political or social pressures" rather than obeying the findings of disinterested, technical experts with objective national standards. What a travesty! What were they thinking?
CLASS, RACE, AND POLITICS IN THE UWF STUDY
To be fair to the UWF professors they recognized that the online survey of respondents was biased (page 11). They noted that "respondents were primarily Caucasian mothers with a median household income of $80,000." Nevertheless, what these upper class white women wanted was included in the study's recommendations--such as a skating rink park and a minimum of six new soccer fields.
While the UWF professors noted that Pensacola's park system was unsustainable and neighborhood parks should be closed--with significant losses in property values to homeowners--they simultaneously recommended (page 10) that the "city should develop a minimum of six rectangular/soccer fields to meet the [NRPA] standard" [emphasis added].
Now, if there is one thing that needs to be noted about American soccer for youth--it is almost entirely white. Or, put it this way. The resources America expends on soccer for youth benefits almost exclusively white children from fairly wealthy or well-off families.
For example, the U.S. Youth Soccer National Tournament Database in their media kit does not even bother to report the breakdown of children by race or ethnicity--just gender.
In June 2016, Les Carpenter interviewed Doug Andreassen, chairman of U.S. Soccer's diversity task force, for the Guardian. Andreassen told Carpenter, "'The system is not working for the underserved community,' he says. 'It’s working for the white kids.'" Carpenter noted that "Money has only hardened the divide between rich and poor, leaving the game to thrive in wealthy communities, where the cost of organized soccer has become outrageous, pricing out those in lower income neighborhoods." In addition to league fees, there is the cost of transportation to matches, lodging for matches, and health insurance costs.
One week later, Mike Woitalla, writing at the Soccer America website, noted that while American youth soccer had a diversity problem (discussing Carpenter's article) that there had been some improvements in providing resources to low-income children to combat the "pay-to-play" system. But, even he agreed that "there is much work to be done to make youth soccer more inclusive."
Sandra Herrera, writing at the Backline Soccer website noted that the pay-to-play system of youth soccer disadvantaged poor and non-white players, and if the child was particularly skilled, even middle class families might not be able to afford $4,500 in travel costs for elite-level tournaments at a reasonably priced elite academy--though costs could soar to up to $12,000.
So, when the UWF professors, listening to white women who came from households with a median household income of $80,000, recommended (page 10) that the City of Pensacola "should develop a minimum of six rectangular/soccer to meet the [NRPA] standard," that standard is based upon a sport that is skewed towards affluent white parents and children. That NRPA standard is not a technical standard removed from class, race, and political influences and considerations. It is just the opposite. Urban soccer fields represent the public policy preferences of affluent white parents that disadvantage non-white, immigrant, or poorer families.
Thus, it is rather ironic that the UWF professors were aghast that the neighborhood and community parks system that had been built over the decades had reflected "political or social pressures" of the residents rather than apolitical, technical experts using "objective" technical standards completely divorced from race and class considerations.
CLASS AND RACE IN PENSACOLA
But, to see the race and class bias in the UWF "Parks Needs Assessment," above and beyond its unrepresentative online sample of respondents, it is necessary to compare its findings with that of another UWF study, the July 2014 "Community Needs Assessment."
The UWF "Parks Needs Assessment" states there are 93 entities under consideration excluding the "Osceola Golf Course, community centers, or city pools" (page 8). The UWF provides a list (pages 50-51) of facilities used by the online respondents. Zip codes are not provided. In reality, the Parks & Recreation website lists 87 parks with the filter on for just parks. Helpfully, it also provides a zip code for each park.
On page 25 of the "Parks Needs Assessment" the Zip Codes used in the study were 32501, 32502, 32503, 32504, 32505, 32507, and 32514. The latter two Zip Codes contain only 1 park (32514), thus reducing the total number of parks under consideration here to 86. The latter two zip codes include some Pensacola households, but the households are really mostly located in the county, if you look on a Zip Code map. Even Zip Code 32505 is dicey in terms of parks and households--with only two parks. Excluding 32505 reduces the number of parks to 84.
The online survey of all seven zip codes yielded a sample size of N=551. However, if one excludes the three latter zip codes, the sample size is N= 473.
The reason I exclude zip codes 32505, 32507 and 32514 is to make the two UWF studies comparable and use the core of the city. Those three zip codes are largely located in Escambia County and thus skew the population and median income figures for the city.
A comparison of the distribution of online respondents ("Parks") and households ("Community") reveals that some zip codes are apparently some zip codes are over-sampled (32501 and 32504). Thus, for example, Zip Code 32501 with 14% of the city's households was 26% of the online survey sample.
Zip Number Percent Number Percent
Code Online Online Households Households
32501 121 26 2311 (a) 14
32502 20 4 771 5
32503 141 30 7312 45
32504 191 40 5691 35
Subtotals 473 100% 16085 99%
Note: (a) Table 1E, Household and Family Sizes By Zip Code, "Community Needs Assessment," page 9.
According to the "Parks Needs Assessment," the median income of the online respondents was $80,000, meaning that half of the respondents reported a median household income below $80,000 and half of the respondents reported a median household income above $80,000 (pages 11 and 25). But, 57.5% of the sample reported an income between $50,000 and $249,999 (page 25) with an additional 5.7% reporting an income in excess of $250,000. And, the study reported that median household income in Pensacola in 2014 was $46,424 (page 20). Thus, the online sample is heavily skewed towards wealthier families.
We can also see that the distribution of parks (from the Parks & Recreation website) also reflects a bias, if you will, towards Zip Codes that are majority white households and the relatively better off (Table 2).
Zip Number Percent Percent Percent Median
Code Parks Parks White Non-White HH Income
32501 17 20 42 (a) 58 31,851 (b)
32502 15 18 57 43 40,163
32503 31 37 66 34 52,609
32504 21 25 79 21 56,488
Subtotals 84 100 NA NA 46,424 (c)
(a) Table 1C, Race and Ethnicity by Zip Code, "Community Needs Assessment," page 7.
(b) Table 1F, Family Income by Zip Code, Median Family Household Income, Community Needs Assessment, page 11.
(c) Table 3, U.S. Census: Pensacola demographic composition, Household Income (2014), "Parks Needs Assessment," page 20.
Table 2 shows that the non-white majority Zip Code (32501) with 14% of the households (from Table 1) has 20% of the parks, while the majority white Zip Codes (32502, 32503, and 32504) with 60% of the households have 85% of the parks.
The majority non-white Zip Code has a median household income at least $15,000 below the median income for the city as a whole, while the majority white Zip Codes (32503 and 32504) have median household incomes at least $8,000 to $10,000 above the city's median income. Only the majority white Zip Code of 32502 has a median household income ($40,163) below the city's median household income ($46,424).
Thus, one can legitimately ask, when the UWF professors recommended in their "Parks Needs Assessment" that the City of Pensacola undertake a strategic assessment making "strategic, fiscally responsible, data-driven decisions" (page 8), did they not realize the distribution of parks in the city already favored richer, whiter households and Zip Codes?
More importantly, if the City of Pensacola were to shutter neighborhood and community parks to save scarce resources, while simultaneously building "a minimum of six rectangular/soccer fields to meet the [NRPA] standard" (page 10), would not scarce park resources probably skew even more in favor of the wealthier, whiter households and Zip Codes?
Would not the same be true if the City of Pensacola closed neighborhood and community parks and consolidated those scarce park resources in regional parks? Would not those regional parks be located in whiter and richer Zip Codes?
The fact that the first park on the chopping block, Morris Court Park, is located in Zip Code 32501, suggests that the mayor intends to close parks in poorer, majority non-white households.
The UWF "Parks Needs Assessment" pretends that race and class have no bearing on these "objective," "strategic, fiscally responsible, data-driven decisions," but, in fact, race and class are already embedded in their data, if they had chosen to look and carry the analysis a bit more forward; and, race and class must factor into those City Council decisions so that the distribution of park resources is more equitable.
For Cannada-Wynn, the mayor, and the Area Housing Commission to go behind the Morris Community Park's "stakeholders" and park users, especially the young children, and try to permanently shut this park down without a "strategic review" and public comment is unconscionable.
For Cannada-Wynn, the mayor, and the Area Housing Commission to pretend there is one scintilla of evidence in the UWF "Parks Needs Assessment" that justifies closing Morris Court Park is insulting and a gross misuse of the UWF assessment.
The UWF "Parks Needs Assesssment," biased as it is on race and class and political issues, nevertheless, in the hands of a less unscrupulous and cheapskate mayor actually points to a significant city achievement.
Yes, compared to very roughly comparable cities and national standards the City of Pensacola has more neighborhood and community parks, and more basketball courts, and more baseball diamonds, but doesn't that speak to a higher quality of life for Pensacola residents? If the City Council were to cut the mayor's prolific legal spending--is that not above national standards(?)--the city might have enough money to pay for maintenance and upgrades for children and outdoor enthusiasts.
In my years of government service, I found that consultant's studies usually find what they are asked to find. Apparently, the UWF professors were asked to establish a baseline assessment from which the mayor could start cutting parks for poorer, less-white households and Zip Codes. But, the same study can justify spending more money on neighborhood and community parks in order to maintain and enhance an enviable quality of life for Pensacola residents.
More importantly, the UWF assessment's recommendation that the City of Pensacola should close neighborhood and community parks while simultaneously recommending that the city build and maintain a "minimum" of six soccer fields demonstrates that you can pretend to divorce race and class and politics from strategic decisions. But, it is only a pretense.
Historically, the decisions to locate parks is the result of "political or social pressures." However flawed and biased those decisions historically were against non-whites and the poor, that is called democracy. And now we should make decisions about the quality of life and property values based on more democracy, not less; and, we should stop pretending that strategic, fiscal, and data-driven decisions have nothing to do with class, race, politics, and democracy.