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Parks, Cultural Centers And Libraries ‘Need More Love’ In City Budget, Activists Say


by Alejandra Martinez 22 Sep 2020 5:34 PM

On a hot September afternoon, Susana Margarita Cruz hands out water bottles, fruit and protein bars to a group of about 15 Dallas residents she’s leading on a hike through The Great Trinity Forest located in South Dallas.

“OMG have an orange…Y’all grab a Kind bar. You know I’m Mexicana and I can’t get away without feeding people,” Cruz shouts from her car. 

Cruz, who grew up in Oak Cliff, recently started a project called Chicana in Nature, to encourage people, especially those from underserved communities, to embrace the outdoors.

“It’s so important for them to use these spaces because some of them don’t have backyards or front yards where they can really enjoy green space in,” Cruz said. 

Dallas resident Susana Margarita Cruz guides a group of people on a hike at the Oak Cliff Nature Preserve Trail. (Photo: Courtesy of Ashlee Freese)

Possible Budget Cuts To Parks, Cultural Centers and Libraries

City leaders will vote on a budget that includes a $5 million cut to Dallas parks. 

“It’s been a different budget year,” said John Lawrence, Assistant Director of Administration at the Dallas Department of Parks and Recreation. “We’ve done the best we can. We made strategic cuts that are restorable. You are not going to see dramatic impact.” 

Lawrence said the budget cuts are not pandemic-related, but that anytime that you have cuts it’s worrisome. Park cuts means getting rid of some positions, which Lawrence said were already vacant, but allocated for. The cuts also mean the Fruitdale Recreation Center and the Fair Oaks Tennis Center will be closed. He says all cuts can be fully restored in the coming years. 

Other community services are also receiving cuts, such as the Office of Arts and Culture, which could lose $1 million of its roughly $20 million budget.   

“I am very concerned about the year afterwards right? The minute this budget is baked we have to get the flywheel going again,” Jennifer Scripps, the director of the Office of Arts and Culture said.

Scripps said she’s not too concerned about this year, but is more concerned about arts funding in the future. She fears more cuts could lead to layoffs and fewer grants for local artists. All city-owned culture centers are currently closed and will remain so until the end of the year. 

The Oak Cliff Cultural Center announced it would not be reopening for the rest of the year. (Photo: Keren Carrión/KERA)

Then there are libraries, whose budget are staying roughly the same, about $32 million. But they are losing a couple thousand dollars. 

Mary Wilonsky, executive director of the non-profit Friends of the Dallas Public Library said library cuts are pandemic-related. Most libraries are closed or have limited hours, and have tried to pivot to serving people online as best as they can. 

“The library always takes a hit when things get bad, I know the library became very good at working with almost nothing for many, many years,” Wilonsky said. 

A Look At How Budget Cuts Impact Communities

In the neighborhood of Oak Cliff, residents fear that budget cuts could mean their beloved cultural center will remain closed.

“The first place that I felt comfortable saying out loud that I’m a writer was there,” said Ofelia Faz-Garza, an artist and Oak Cliff resident. 

Ofelia Faz-Garza poses for a portrait next to a community library she built outside her home in Oak Cliff.

Ofelia Faz-Garza poses for a portrait next to a community library she built outside her home in Oak Cliff. (Photo: Keren Carrión/KERA)

Faz-Garza is feeling the loss after the Oak Cliff Cultural Center shut down because of the pandemic.  

“Spaces like that really is the place people are introduced to the art and more importantly, I think you realize that the arts belong to us,” Faz-Garza said.  

One of the challenges that the arts face is that it’s hard to put a number on the value they bring taxpayers. 

“They are essential but they are essential in ways that are hard to quantify into dollars or cents,” Timothy Bray, director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas said. “We don’t have an ability or a common metric to quantify the ability to be able to check out a book.”

Despite this, social justice groups like Our City Our Future are demanding the city redirect some police department funding to services like parks and cultural centers. 

“It creates stability. It creates a home. And the fact that we don’t put more money towards it proves that they don’t value these places for us,” said Eva Arreguin, a member of Our City Our Future. “These are huge monumental areas that need more love.”

Arreguin says the organization will continue making its voice heard even after the city votes on the budget. 

Got a tip? Email Alejandra Martinez at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @_martinez_ale.

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