In a city whose population is projected to grow by another million people by 2030, New York City’s green spaces are more important than ever before. But parks advocates and the City Council are saying that the Mayor’s just released executive budget doesn’t do enough to support and protect those spaces, and that disparities in the quality of open space between wealthy and poorer neighborhoods are not being adequately addressed.
“There just isn’t enough money -general operating support- to maintain all the [city’s] parks as they need to be maintained,” Alec Appelbaum, spokesman for New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy group, told NY Environment Report.
“Our parks budget lags behind most other cities in America, further increasing the gap between hundreds of struggling parks in low and moderate income communities and highly funded parks in wealthier areas,” added Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the City Council Parks Committee, in a statement today.
“We can only close the parks equity gap in low and moderate income neighborhoods through robust investment in our vital green spaces,” Levine continued. The Council Member said he was confident that the de Blasio administration and the Council could find a way to increase parks funding before the FY 2016 budget is finalized next month.
29,000 Acres of Open Space (for 8 million+ residents)
Fourteen percent of all the land in the five boroughs -29,000 acres- is under the care of New York City’s Parks Department. This includes more than 5,000 properties, ranging from iconic sites like Coney Island Beach and Central Park, to thousands of smaller sites used by local residents every day.
Parks Department sites include:
- Almost 1,000 playgrounds
- More than 600 community gardens
- 800 athletic fields and 48 recreational and athletic centers
- 550 tennis courts, 66 public pools and 13 golf courses
- 17 nature centers
- 14 miles of beaches
Less than 1 percent of the City budget goes toward parks and green spaces, despite their essential contribution to overall quality of life, observed Alec Appelbaum.
The Parks Department is also the caretaker of New York City’s vital urban forest, looking after 650,000 street trees, and two million more trees in the city’s parks.
“Gaps” in the Mayor’s Budget
Council Member Levine noted that there is some good news in this year’s Executive Budget, particularly $5 million for Parks Enforcement Patrol officers and $6 million for tree maintenance.
The Mayor has allocated $151 million for the second phase of the Community Parks Initiative, the Parks Department’s first major attempt to address disparities in the quality of public parks. The City allocated capital funds for 35 sites in phase 1 of the Initiative, and has now targeted additional sites, explained Alec Appelbaum.
The Initiative is “a multi-faceted investment in the smaller public parks that are located in New York City’s densely populated and growing neighborhoods where there are higher-than-average concentrations of poverty,” says the City.
This includes enhanced programming, maintenance, and “community partnership building” in order to encourage residents to take advantage of and participate in rebuilding their local parks.
But the Mayor’s budget does not renew $5 million in expense funding for the Community Parks Initiative, which was covered by the City Council last year. Most of that funding, $4.3 million, went toward maintaining Phase 1 sites. An additional $750,000 was used for parks-related community building work, explained Tyrone Stevens, an aide to Council Member Levine.
“The broader imperative of closing the parks equity gap in our city remains largely unaddressed,” Council Member Levine argued. In addition to leaving out “badly needed” funding for seasonal gardeners and maintenance workers, the Mayor’s budget “fails to fund” community gardens, playground associates and an extension of the beach and pool season, Levine said.
Bringing the Parks Funding Question to City Hall
On Wednesday, May 27, Council Member Levine, New Yorkers for Parks, and other parks and community gardens advocates will hold a rally on the steps of City Hall to call for more funding to “close the parks equity gap.”
Levine is proposing:
- Restoration of $8.7 million for seasonal gardeners and park maintenance workers, who advocates say are essential to “efficient” parks upkeep.
- $1 million increase for the GreenThumb program to support the city’s more than 600 community gardens.
- $750,000 for tree stump removal.
- Restoration of $750,000 for parks equity and community building work carried out by the public-private Partnerships for Parks program.
- $5.4 million to hire 200 additional playground associates.
- $500K to support a Master Planning process for the city’s mid-sized parks–especially those which are regional draws with high usership.
- $5 million for the GreenThumb program to address infrastructure needs (capital expense).
Photo credit: Seth Sherman via The Trust for Public Land