NYC City Council Parks Chair Budget Priorities – Mark Levine


March 9, 2015



Good morning, and welcome to the Parks and Recreation Committee’s Hearing on the Fiscal 2016 Preliminary Budget and the Fiscal 2015 Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report for the Department of Parks and Recreation. My name is Mark Levine and I am the Chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee.

In line with the budget process mandated by the City Charter that ultimately will lead to the adoption of the Fiscal 2016 budget, today we will hear testimony from the Department of Parks and Recreation on its Expense and Capital Budgets for Fiscal 2016.

New York City’s parks system has improved dramatically in almost every way in recent years–with better upkeep, greater safety, and dazzling new renovations. And the most recent Mayor’s Management Report shows that the upward trend has continued over the past year.  The Parks Department accomplished this feat, despite a tight operating budget, thanks to the creativity and hard work of its staff, the efforts of thousands of volunteers, and the increasing generosity of private donors.

But improvements in our parks system have not been felt equally throughout the city.  That fact is inseparable from the decades-long decline in what we spend on our park system relative to the size of the City’s total budget.  Increased public spending is vital to the well being of our precious green spaces, especially in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods that lack access to the private dollars that have flowed into parks in wealthier areas of our city.

A few statistics illustrate some of the countless ways in which inadequate public funding impacts our parks and the millions of New Yorkers who rely on them:

  • Today there are a total of only 28 Parks Rangers for all of New York City–down dramatically from nearly 200 in years past. Rangers serve as ambassadors to the natural world, supporting environmental education, outdoor recreation, wildlife management and active conservation. But today their number is so paltry that most New Yorkers will simply never come into contact with them and might not ever be aware of their existence.
  • Our city’s sprawling network of natural areas, which totals more than 10,000 acres, is today supported by a total staff of only 75, far less than what we need to adequately maintain these natural resources, which play such an important part in our city’s environmental resilience.
  • The budget for supporting our city’s 600 vitally important community gardens is so small that we can only purchase a total of 150 tools annually–that’s just 1 new tool for every 4 gardens.
  • Despite the fact that better parks enforcement consistently ranks at the top of the priority list for residents in every one of our districts, our city’s 1,700 parks are patrolled by a total of only 240 PEP officers, 98 of whom are privately funded and thus serve only a select few parks.  The entire borough of the Bronx, with its 7,000 acres of park land, has only 26 PEP officers, and on any given shift there might be as few as 4 or 5 on duty there.
  • At a time when New Yorkers increasingly demand digital connectivity for professional and personal purposes, only 56 of our 1,700 parks have wifi access, and only 20 of those offer completely free access.

The Parks Department’s preliminary FY2016 budget does not address any of these pressing needs.  In fact, while there is a nominal increase in the department’s budget from $413 million in FY15 to $428 million for FY16, this actually represents a slight drop in the portion of the total city budget we are devoting to our parks, from 0.56% this year to 0.55% next year.

At a time when usage of our parks system is soaring–with over 3.3 million visitors annually to our 35 recreation centers alone–this proposed budget may actually amount to a decrease in funding per user.  And on the critical measure of headcount, the 6,936 full-time equivalent positions that would be funded under the proposed FY16 budget would actually represent a drop of 90 employees.

Nor does the department’s preliminary budget include baselining of any of the enhanced funding measures which the City Council put in place last year.  This included:

  • $5 million for Park Enforcement Officers
  • $8.7 million for park maintenance workers
  • $1 million for tree pruning
  • $750,000 for stump removal
  • and $750,000 for our Parks Equity Initiative, which helps support volunteer stewardship groups in parks in low- and moderate-income areas.

The lack of baselining of any of this funding is particularly puzzling because much of it was used to support the mayor’s excellent Community Parks Initiative.  I am hopeful that in its executive budget the administration will find the funds to sustain CPI and all of the other vital initiatives the Council supported last year.

But I hope that the mayor’s executive budget proposal will go further than just restoring last year’s funding.  Among the additional funds I hope we will see are:

  • $3.5M for GreenThumb, an amount which would fund 15 new staff positions, including increased staffing for the school garden program, the Land Restoration Program, and GreenThumb Outreach Coordinators. This would also provide funding to procure resources such as lumber, compost, and soil for gardens citywide.
  • I’d like to see $3M for 40 additional Urban Park Rangers to supplement this dwindling program, for the important reasons I described earlier.
  • I’d like to see additional funding to ensure beaches and pools are open past labor day through to the end of September, at least on weekends.
  • I’d like to see $3.5M in additional funding for the Natural Resources Group, which would allow it to deploy a full crew to each borough.
  • I’d like to see $500K added to the budget to support a Master Planning process for the city’s mid-sized parks–especially those which are regional draws with high usership.
  • I’d like to see $3M in additional funds for the Trees and Sidewalk program, which helps repair severe sidewalk damage caused by tree and root growth, and has experienced significant cuts in recent years, creating a huge backlog in repair orders.
  • I’d like to see $5M added for the hiring of an additional 200 playground associates to build the peak-season staffing level for all playgrounds.  These important staffers provide both programmatic playground support and maintenance of comfort stations, and currently we have far too few to serve all 680 playgrounds which have comfort stations.

Lest this all sound like an extravagant shopping list, I’ll point out that every one of these enhancements combined would only push the Parks Department budget from 0.55% to 0.57% of the City’s total budget.

There are increases in the Parks capital budget which I’d like to see as well, including items in relation to two expense items I have just mentioned:

  • $5M capital budget increase to GreenThumb to provide for infrastructure needs such as fencing, irrigation systems, other equipment for our city’s 600 community gardens.
  • and I’d also like to see a substantial allocation of capital money, perhaps $200 million, for the mid-sized or regional parks which serve so many New Yorkers but have urgent unmet large-scale investment needs.

I look forward to hearing the administration’s testimony on these many issues, and on the Parks budget as a whole.

We will now hear from Commissioner Silver of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Soccer field at Stanton Street in SDR Park due to get replacement turf




Nike, the company, has agreed to fix the Sara Roosevelt Park soccer turf field badly damaged over the years. Work is said to begin this Thursday and be done by the end of May. Wow. Great news!

okay I know this isn’t a picture of soccer but we did use the field for a big puppet show production once (it was terrific) and it was the only one I could find on short notice….

Puppets in SDR Park - 30



40,000 low-income middle school kids with no place to go this summer

From The Door, University Settlement House and Broome Street Academy:

 The Mayor has broken his promise to 40,000 low-income middle school kids, and we think that’s just plain wrong.

Until last week 40,000 low-income middle school kids were guaranteed a safe, enriching place to go this summer. Then the Mayor pulled the funding.

That’s right. Despite a promise made earlier this year, funding for middle-school summer camp was TOTALLY REMOVED from the Mayor’s budget. That’s unacceptable.

Summer camp can be saved, but only if we ACT NOW, as the City budget is being finalized, to demand summer camp funding is RESTORED.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Call 311 and leave a short message insisting that funding be restored for summer camp. This is the fastest way to take action given the short timeframe. You can use our suggested script, available on our website.
  • Text 311 at 311-692 with the following message: Mayor and speaker – save summer programs before it’s too late! Thousands of children won’t have safe & enriching programs and hundreds of staff will be out of work. We’re counting on you.
  • Sign this online petition. University Settlement alone will lose the opportunity to provide more than 600 children with a safe, nurturing summer camp experience. For low-income families, this is a crisis, not a luxury problem.
  • Share the following messages on social media:


   @NYCMayorsOffice @NYCCouncil 40,000 kids  are relying on free summer camp –
#savesummercamp by signing the petition

   40,000 kids are at risk of losing access to free summer camp, despite a promise from
the Mayor and City Council earlier this year for funding. With 6 weeks left before
school ends, we need to act now to #savesummercamp by signing the petition

We teach our kids that breaking a promise is just plain wrong. So we are shocked by the way this promise was broken by the Mayor’s office. The funds were there, the agreements with organizations like US signed, and we were in the middle of signing up families and hiring staff. Now these parents don’t know if their children will have a safe place to go this summer.

It’s wrong, short-sighted and, frankly, dangerous.

With school out in a few weeks, working parents need to know their kids have a safe place to spend their day that will also provide them with engaging, skills-building activities — like sports, arts, book clubs, field trips, and unique activities like chess, martial arts, photography and more.

Where will these kids go? What are we to tell parents who now have to find an alternative they can afford? Should they simply leave their kids at home alone?

Speak up with US now for the 40,000 New Yorkers – and the countless parents – who were relying on US for summer camp by taking one or more of the actions above.
We need the Mayor – and the City Council – to know that for our kids, it’s summer camp, not bummer camp

Thank you for supporting our family of organizations, and the families who count on us.


University Settlement 184 Eldridge Street, New York, NY 10002 |

The Door 555 Broome Street, New York, NY 10013 |

Broome Street Academy 555 Broome Street, New York, NY 10013 |

It’s MY Park Day in Sara Roosevelt Park – M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden, Elizabeth Hubbard Gardens

Beautiful day, beautiful people so many to thank and we won’t have all their names! But a few… Jin Xiu Chen and Jenifer Marcus all day providing activities for the children: making paper flowers and planting real ones! Bud Shalala for being on the grill all day, Penny Jones for tackling the hoses throughout the M’Finda Garden, Kate and Carol for sprucing up the front planters of the BRC Senior Center, Kirsti Bambridge (Partnership for Parks) for getting those amazing bird attracting plants, Terese Flores (Park Manager) for bringing them to us and for listening to the community, Andrew Knox for getting the sand for the sandbox, Bob for being Bob and organizing us, Lanzo for helping Bob, Debra Glass for leading us, The CSA for holding their first meeting of the season and Ted from Windflower farms – always generous with us, Roni – Sue for coming by with candy from Roni-Sue’s Chocolate Shoppe, Nini from the Evolve Health and Wellness for organizing the food, (both these small businesses are on Forsyth Street), too many more to name!!



Sara Roosevelt Park It’s My Park Day: M’Finda Kalunga and Elizabeth Hubbard Gardens

Its My Park Flyer Sp 2015.doc Its My Park Flyer Eng 2015.docJoin us in our It’s My Park Day for Sara Roosevelt Park: This Saturday from 1-4pm our anchor space for all projects will be the M’Finda Kalunga Garden

in Sara Roosevelt Park at Rivington Street gate between Forsyth and Chrystie Streets.

Games for children, food and work! What could be a better way to spend this lovely Saturday?

Pace High School Advisory in M’Finda Kalunga Garden

Planting and watering GreenThumb flowers and hanging up hummingbird feeder. Nice work everyone!

Welcome to Evolve Health + Wellness – AND Nepal Disaster Relief Effort

Evolve Health + Wellness  (the new business occupying the old produce warehouse on the corner of Rivington and Forsyth) 

Grand Opening Celebration

May 14th, from 6-9pm.

It’s a family gathering and meet and greet with all the practitioners of Evolve –  featuring snacks and drinks from some of our neighbors here.

They are also hosting a Benefit for the Nepal Earthquake victims at our clinic for the remaining Saturdays of the month. 

Providing community acupuncture treatments for donations, and all of the proceeds will be going toward direct relief in Nepal.


Pictures from: The 36th Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Festival

EB-5 – intended to be a job-generator for high-poverty and high-unemployment areas-EB-5 is helping fund some of the city’s swankiest projects


Interesting article in DNAinfo

“The program, which enables developers to tap low-interest funding, is intended to be a job-generator for high-poverty and high-unemployment areas.

In reality, EB-5 is helping fund some of the city’s swankiest projects from some of the top developers like Silverstein Properties’ towering, ultra-luxurious Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown rising at 30 Park Place, the Durst Organization’s Danish-desinged glassy pyramid-shaped high-end rental rising on West 57th Street and Kushner Real Estate Group’s NoMad tower at 281 Fifth Ave.

EB-5 has also been used for infrastructure and industrial projects like the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, Battery Park’s Pier A renovation, the redevelopment of Manhattan’s East River waterfront, and the expansion of Steiner Studios at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.”

May 31st Greek Jewish Festival on Broome (Allen and Eldridge)

Kehila Kedosha Janina synagogue located on Broome Street since 1927 presents: 


First Greek Jewish Festival

Broome Street (Allen and Eldridge)

May 31 from noon to 6 p.m.



from The Kehila Kedosha Janina website:

“Kehila Kedosha Janina was first organized in 1906 by Greek-speaking Romaniote Jews from the city of Ioannina in northwestern Greece. In the early twentieth century there were hundreds of other synagogues on the Lower East Side that mostly served Ashkenazi Yiddish-speaking Jews or Sephardic Spanish-speaking Jews. Needing a place of their own where they could preserve their unique traditions, customs, liturgy and language, property was purchased at 280 Broome Street, and the congregation opened its doors to worship at its current location in 1927. For the past 88 years KKJ has served the Romaniote community on the Lower East Side and, after the closing of nearby Sephardic synagogues, many of the remaining neighborhood Sephardim. In 1997, a Museum was created in the women’s gallery to tell the story of this distinct community to a world that knew so little about them. Today KKJ is proud to be one of only a handful of active synagogues that remain on the Lower East Side.” 

Kosher Mediterranean food

Live music

Outdoor market (with local vendors  Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery  the Pickle Guys

The Museum at Eldridge Street and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum will have activities for children.





From DNAinfo

For other street fairs and parades in the Lower East Side and East Village this month see DNA article for links:

St. George’s Ukrainian Festival, May 15-17. The annual fair hosted by St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church: traditional foods and dances, as well as music and artwork.

Dance Parade and Festival, May 16. Tens of thousands of dancers are expected to shimmy, shake and sashay from Union Square to Tompkins Square Park in the ninth annual Dance Parade and Festival. 

The Loisaida Festival, May 24. The three-day festival’s main event, an outdoor fair and parade on Avenue C that pays tribute to the neighborhood’s Latino history, will include live music, theatrical events and kid-friendly activities.

IDEAS CITY Festival, May 30. After two days of lectures, panel discussions and art events, the New Museum’s IDEAS CITY Festival will cap its event with a free outdoor street fair featuring more than 100 cultural and community groups. Highlights of the fair, which will take place in Sara D. Roosevelt Park and the surrounding area, include a hands-on bacteria-printing workshop and a “Mayan Ball Game Tournament,” which meshes an ancient Mesoamerican sport with street basketball.

Essex Street Market 75th Birthday Block Party, May 30. The historic market will cap its month-long 75th anniversary events and Lower East Side History Month with a block party on Essex Street.