Olmsted Issue Revisited: A Culture of Arrogance or Ignorance?

IMG_0649In recent weeks The Buffalo News has printed a series of articles, editorials and readers opinions regarding the future of The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy’s role as manager of the city’s six Frederick Law Olmsted designed parks (Cazenovia, Delaware, Front, MLK, Riverside and South).

Public outcries, denouncements and protests have also emerged on local blogs, social networks such as Facebook, Twitter as well as among the chatter in urban coffee klatches. Most opinions express that a city management over Olmsted parks will render the parks as horticultural killing fields.

The Buffalo News Columnist Donn Esmonde wrote,

“Brown (Mayor) is clearly salivating over a potential motherlode of patronage jobs–particularly in post primary season, with his backers looking to be rewarded with places on the payroll.”

A Facebook post likened city management to a “return to Tammany Hall days.”

A Buffalo News reader opinion stated, “I read with horror a report that Mayor Brown wants to renegotiate (read terminate) the Olmsted’s Conservancy’s maintenance of city parks and parkways.”

A Kenmore reader wrote, “It is with much hope that Mayor Brown and other city officials drop the idea of taking over city parks in any capacity…the entire area has never looked as well in every aspect…I can only imagine the inefficiencies and cost issues associated with the City of Buffalo getting involved.”

Thomas Herrera-Mishler, CEO and President of The Conservancy has also engaged in the antipathetic fray by pioneering an online petition to garner public support titled Olmsted Parks Forever.

There are several important elements that seem to be purposely omitted from the public discussion regarding the Olmsted issue: 1) the culpability of Erie County in the triadic arrangement, 2) the issue of a residency requirement and 3) the establishment of a comprehensive diversity program within The Conservancy.

In 2004 Erie County entered into contractual union with The Conservancy permitting the organization the autonomy to manage the six Olmsted parks. The contract between Erie County and The Conservancy will expire at the end of the year as reported by Buffalo News staff reporter Tom Buckham.

What were the terms of the agreement? What were the costs associated with Olmsted parks maintenance? What prompted the split between Erie County and The Conservancy? Which group initiated the dissolution? Have the negotiations begun? Inquiring minds SHOULD want to know. The Buffalo News reporters ought to ask such questions, obtain more facts and curb the fragmental submissions by some of its principal writers.

On 10/1/2009 Buffalo News Staff Reporter Brian Meyer wrote Mayor Brown acknowledges the progress of the Olmsted parks under The Conservancy’s stewardship and would also like to reach an agreement with The Conservancy that would address the residency and diversity issues while allowing the group to continue managing the Olmsted parks.

Does the public’s indignation about the potentiality of city management stem from pre-election scandal and post reelection resentment?

Probably.

However, what is the reason behind the disregard of columnists and readers opinions to discuss the issue of the residency requirement, living wage and the importance of a comprehensive diversity program? Is this due to arrogance or ignorance?

The beautification of the Olmsted parks is seemingly all that matters. Are negotiations about these issues between the city and The Conservancy irrelevant? Is pre-election scandal and post reelection resentment also the cause for the lack of reporting and discourse on the subject? Everyone is discharging about parks maintenance as if the other issues are unimportant.

If diversifying the workplace does not include diversifying outreach for membership drives, fundraising activities, organizational programs, volunteerism campaigns, management, administration and labor staff as matters of concern for The Conservancy, is there a problem within the culture of the organization and other not-for-profits?

Probably.

Is post reelection resentment significant? Probably.

Is there a problem within the culture of our community?

Definitely.


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2 Comments

  1. Thank you!

  2. The Olmsted Conservancy boasts 40% diversity on its staff. Did you know that 40% of the workforce at the Conservancy is from a minority background? We employ folks from all corners of the globe. Even our Development Manager is a Hispanic woman! and the CEO (me) was born and raised in Latin America. Now THAT is diversity….What other cultural nonprofit organization comes close to that level of diversity? We recently merged with the Inner City Youth Club for Golfing, a wonderful organization that serves 100 minority children each year, mentored by adult, mostly black men. We serve almost 400 Workfare receipients each year, leading them to jobs in the green industries. Many of them have become integral to our staff, and one is now in Japan getting further training in Japanese Gardening. We care deeply about people, serving as a common meeting ground for EVERYONE. Look at who uses the parks. Like our staff, they reflect the great diversity of our city and region. We pay our zone gardeners hourly wages between $9 and $15/hour. The PIVOT workers who are generally our entry level folks who have stepped up from the WorkFare program are paid a state mandated $8/hour. Can we do better on issues of Diversity and Wages? YES and with the help of the City and the Mayor I believe we can improve on our already significant record of achievement. We have MATCHED every dollar local government has given us since 2004, raising $8 million in private donations toward the maintenance of the parks. Many of the folks making those donations do not live in the city of Buffalo, rather they are citizens of Greater Buffalo and believe that a great city must have a strong core and that the parks are key to that strategy. We are dedicated to building a beautiful, greener city where our kids will want to live long after we are gone.


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