Wilder Study

Wilder Study of the Cincinnati Park Board (Full Document): History of the Park Board

PBW Executive Summary: Revisiting the Cincinnati Park Board: A History of Elite Control of Public Space and A Plea for Change

Park Board Bylaws: Board of Park Commissioners of the City of Cincinnati Park Polices (rev. 02/2016) as provided by Cincinnati Parks

Preserve Burnet Woods (PBW) was founded in the need for unity. Organizationally, we were the community voice against two construction proposals for private buildings in Burnet Woods Park, a public greenspace and high value nature habitat in an urban setting. Initially, the driving force behind PBW’s relationship with the Cincinnati Park Board was to curry favor with the Board and make a solid case why these two private buildings were not appropriate for the park – buildings that were neither in the 2007 Parks Master Plan or derived from transparent community engagement. As the PBW group has matured into a trusted local alliance, our relationship to the Park Board has alternated between being a beloved volunteer honeysuckle-removing megaforce or being dismissed as a “loud minority” despite the 7,000+ signatures we obtained on two petitions representing a much larger number of voices than back many Park Board approved projects. Upon internal examination of this inconsistent interaction, the Board of Preserve Burnet Woods began to ask questions such as:

  • Why was the Park Board created in 1906?
  • When major city charter reforms passed in the 1920s, why did the Park Board persist?
  • How has the composition of the Park Board changed over time? Is it demographically representative of our city?
  • How are Board members selected?
  • How active has the Park Board been in setting parks policy and goals?

That the Park Board is a mayor-appointed Board, and that the City of Cincinnati is nearing the close of heated mayoral race, makes this an especially auspicious time to conduct a thorough study of the Cincinnati Park Board – a five-member board which acts as the primary decision-making body for 5,000 acres of public greenspace critical to public health and the beauty of our city without much accountability. 

Early in 2021, we applied for a grant from the Stephen H. Wilder Foundation to pursue answers to these questions through independent scholarly research grounded in a historical timeline and context for the Park Board’s development. This Wilder Study is the result of that research. In the way that most good research studies do, it led to more questions and considerations amongst our team about governance of the Park Board. The PBW Executive Summary captures those questions and considerations, and we share that in the interest of encouraging our fellow citizens to do their own critical thinking on the structure and accountability of this public body.

Starting on October 5th, PBW began a community conversation across our social media platform to listen to your thoughts on this report. Each Tuesday for 4 weeks, we will be posing a question to prompt the conversation. We invite you to join in!

Week 1 (10/5): What would the Cincinnati Park System look like if the Park Board were under the direction of the City Manager?

Week 2 (10/12): What credentials should be required to be a Park Board Commissioner? Who should decide the priority of those credentials?

WVXU Story: https://www.wvxu.org/environment/2021-10-12/preserve-burnet-woods-cincinnati-park-board-member-changes

Week 3 (10/19): Does a mayor-appointed Board result in a balanced representation of city demographics?

Week 4 (10/26): What will the Cincinnati Park System look like if the current structure of administration, systemic underfunding, and unclear fiscal practices is unchanged?

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK! Click here to send us your thoughts.

Members of the PBW Habitat Heroes Team being recognized for their volunteer invasive removal work in Burnet Woods and development of invasive removal training programs for Cincinnati Parks.