Regional Institute Releases Policy Brief on Parks Funding in Erie County

By Rachel M. Teaman

Release Date: September 19, 2007 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Regional Institute's latest Policy Brief, "Governing the Green," examines Erie County's complex parks history and its current struggles to provide adequate support for assets that are at once local and regional.

In its 10th Policy Brief since the series launched in August 2006, the institute reviews innovative parks governance and funding models implemented across the U.S.

"Parks are diverse in size and purpose, and are among the most complex assets to govern," said Regional Institute Director Kathryn A. Foster.

"This has become especially apparent as municipal resources decline and regional use of local assets increases," she added. "The transfer to Erie County of maintenance duties at Buffalo's diverse parks in 2004 was an example of how complex the governance of these resources can be."

County parks funding is in jeopardy, as well. Between 2004 and 2007, Erie County slashed its operating budget for county parks by more than half, from $7.4 million to $3.6 million. Municipal per-capita spending on parks and recreation varies across Erie County, with the most support provided in inner- and outer-ring suburbs and less support in urban and outlying rural areas.

Park development in the county saw several booms throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, including in the early 1900s to provide relief to growing urban populations, and in the 1950s and 1960s to serve the growing suburban populations. Since 1980, strained resources and the transfer of city responsibilities to the county level have defined the region's park network, as has renewed interest in waterfronts as recreational assets.

In "Governing the Green," the institute highlights successful parks support models in other regions. These include a "regional assets" sales tax in Pennsylvania's Allegheny County that funds parks, trails, libraries and arts and culture, and New York City's Partnerships for Parks, a program of the city parks department and the City Parks Foundation that builds community support for parks through the formation of neighborhood parks groups.

"Parks today are more than neighborhood amenities," said Peter A. Lombardi, institute policy analyst and author of the Policy Brief series. "They play a critical role in economic development, enhancing quality of life to attract workers and retain residents and businesses, improving property values and serving as focal points for urban and suburban revitalization."

Regions pursuing sustainable approaches to parks funding will increasingly have a competitive edge, he added.

The institute's Policy Brief series, which informs regional issues with timely, reliable data and analysis, is available online at

A major research and public policy center of the University at Buffalo, the Regional Institute plays a vital role in addressing key policy and governance issues for regions, with focused analysis of the Buffalo Niagara region. A unit of the UB Law School, the institute leverages the resources of the university and binational community to pursue a wide range of scholarship, projects and initiatives that frame issues, inform decisions and guide change.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's more than 27,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.