May 8 2015
A Call for More Support for the City’s Parks- especially in low-income communities
The New York City Parks Department maintains almost 1,000 public playgrounds.
Photo credit: Seth Sherman  via The Trust for Public Land
May 8, 2015
A Call for More Support for the City’s Parks- especially in low-income communities

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.

Barretto Point Park in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx. Photo credit: Michael Kamber for The New York Times

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.

nyc-parks-men-playing-chess

Playing chess in Washington Square Park. Photo credit: pumabydesign001.com

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.

Kettle Pond in Alley Pond Park, Queens. Photo credit: newyorknature.net

“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.

Photo credit: Jeanne Noonan for the NY Daily News

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).

The New York City Parks Department maintains almost 1,000 public playgrounds.
Photo credit: Seth Sherman  via The Trust for Public Land
  • Adrian Benepe

    More funding for parks is always a good idea, but we need to explode two myths: the notion that NYC spends leas than “most American cities” and that there is a huge disparity between parks in poor and middle income neighborhoods and “parks in wealthier communities.”

    First, according to the Trust for Public Land’s “City Park Facts 2015” there is more spent on parks in NYC than in the next 12 largest cities COMBINED. Even on a per capita basis, NYC spends more than all but 12 of the 75 largest cities, and only trails Chicago among cities with more than 1 million residents. It spends twice as much as LA (per capita), three times as much as Dallas, four times as much as Houston.
    That’s among the reasons why NYC is ranked among the top five cities on the nation in TPL’s ParkScore.
    As to the supposed “equity gap,” the vast majority of parks do not receive any private funds. They are supported exclusively with tax dollars. According to Parks Department inspections and New Yorkers for Parks report cards, parks across the system are generally in quite good shape, with no correlation in inspection failures between poor, middle class and wealthy neighborhoods. If City officials believe there is a disparity, they are free to allocate more funding or reallocate existing funding. Finally, the small handful of parks that receive significant private funding are open to all and serve a diverse audience.

    • Margarita Eremeyev

      I am sure those numbers are correct, but something is clearly breaking down in the system regardless. Parks outside of Manhattan and parks which are not tourist-attractions are strewn with litter (Bronx Park, John Mullaly Park, Van Cortlandt, just to name a few). Central Park may serve a diverse group of tourists and occasional visitors, but the group of kids which live within WALKING distance of it and go to play ball there on weeknights is anything but diverse – that group is mostly white, mostly wealthy. The parks which lie within minority-dominated neighborhoods suffer from a real lack of maintenance. Broken down playgrounds, trash everywhere – this is what many kids in the outer boroughs see in their parks every day. And this isn’t because people in the outer boroughs are so much messier than Manhattanites – the difference lies in the lack of staff dedicated to these boroughs. More funding is needed. But most importantly – a more efficient spending scheme is needed. For example, so much money is being wasted on ineffective (and hazardous!) spraying of weeds with RoundUp and other pesticides. Meanwhile, there is only a small group of pruners within the whole of the Parks Department. Why not create more lines in the budget for pruners and natural area laborers? It’d give people in our city more jobs AND create a safer and cleaner parks system. The amount of money spent by DPR will be the same – you’d just have to take the money that they’re putting in Monsanto’s pocket and pay it out to tax-paying city employees. As far as I can see, that would be much more economically efficient and sustainable than continuing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on carcinogenic (I apologize – “probably” carcinogenic) herbicides every year.

      In terms of budget numbers – I used the below example in an open letter to DPR in 2014:
      “Consider this: Seattle ‘s total acreage of parkland is 21% of NYC’s parkland area, yet its 2014 parks budget is 38% of NYC’s 2014 parks budget. Comparing this to the two cities’ total budgets, we have:
      -Seattle’s parkland is 11% of its total land area and in 2014 it spent about 3% of its budget on parkland plus continued to use the $145 million levy for various parks needs
      -NYC’s parkland is 19.5% of its land area (14% under DPR jurisdiction), yet in 2014 it spent less than 1% of its budget on parkland”

    • Suzanne Corber

      The per capita figures can be misleading. Were adjustments made for standard of living? NYC as the most expensive place in the country would tend to pay more per capita (per person) for materials, labor, employment, etc. As for city comparisons, I haven’t heard it said that NYC spends less than “most American cities” but rather that other cities allocate a larger percentage of their overall city budgets to their park systems. Cleveland and Minneapolis for example pay 7% of their budgets while NYC pays .5%, and that figure has been dropping since the 1960s from 3%. There’s the question of millions of dollars wasted on pesticides/herbicides when the city could develop a more progressive strategy that would create a healthier environment and green collar jobs with real futures. Finally, saying that well-funded parks are open to all – so if your park is under-served, go to a well-funded one, may need some rethinking if we want a fairer system.

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  • Suzanne Corber

    The per capita figures can be misleading. Were adjustments made for standard of living? NYC as the most expensive place in the country would tend to pay more per capita (per person) for materials, labor, employment, etc. As for city comparisons, I haven’t heard it said that NYC spends less than “most American cities” but rather that other cities allocate a larger percentage of their overall city budgets to their park systems. Cleveland and Minneapolis for example pay 7% of their budgets while NYC pays .5%, and that figure has been dropping from 3% in the 1960s. There’s the question of millions of dollars wasted on pesticides/herbicides when the city could develop a more progressive strategy that would create a healthier environment and green collar jobs with real futures. Finally, saying that well-funded parks are open to all – so if your park is under-served, go to a well-funded one, may need some rethinking if we want a fairer system.

  • Sarah Crean

    Council Member Mark Levine submitted the following in response to Mr. Benepe’s comments below:

    “The stats in Mr. Benape’s own report show that New York doesn’t make the top 10 in any category, and in measures like parks staff or playgrounds per capital we lag far behind. But one measure not included in the TPL report is particularly telling: portion of the total budget devoted to parks. Today that stands at just 0.5% in NYC, far below what we spent in decades past and below many other large cities today. As for the comparison between parks in wealthier and low-income neighborhoods, no one can seriously say that the conditions in St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx are equivalent to those in Central Park. The reality is that to close that gap we need more public funds going to our parks.”