By Adrian Benepe,
A recent issue of New York Magazine includes a long story comparing New York City and San Francisco, asking “Is San Francisco New York?” While the piece focused on high tech business and real estate, a more interesting comparison might have been between the cities’ park systems. Though a surface comparison seems unfair — New York’s park system is seven times larger — a closer look shows that San Francisco’s parks stand up very well to New York’s. In fact, San Francisco may be a national leader among cities for its innovative management and ambitious plans.
The leadership for San Francisco’s Recreation & Parks Department is provided by General Manager Phil Ginsburg, a youthful and athletic transplant from the East Coast who went west in 1990, a few months after the Loma Prieta earthquake rocked the area during the World Series. Ginsburg, now 47, has worked both energetically and creatively, first under Mayor Gavin Newsom and then Edwin Lee, Newsom’s successor. Ginsburg has led the city to having one of the nation’s top five park systems (according to The Trust for Public Land’s 2013 ParkScore). He has used creative management and innovative public-private partnerships to leverage large amounts of public money approved by voters to both build new parks and improve those which already exist.
Ginsburg seems to have been born to the job. He grew up Merion, Pa., a Main Line suburb of Philadelphia.
“After school or after dinner, you went to the parks,” he recalled recently. “Your parents didn’t know or didn’t care where you were.” His main sports were baseball and soccer, and he continued to play them when he went north to Dartmouth College, on the banks of the Connecticut River in New Hampshire. On the picturesque Dartmouth campus, almost in the shadows of a suite of White Mountains — Smarts, Cube, Holt’s Ledge and Moosilauke — Ginsburg discovered another great love: the outdoors and related recreational sports.
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