LAST week the Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit group that manages Central Park, announced a $40 million fund-raising campaign to improve the park’s playgrounds, an initiative that will surely benefit thousands of children who play in the park.
The money shouldn’t be a problem: the conservancy has some of the wealthiest patrons in the city. But what about the countless city parks that don’t benefit from private fund-raising?
What about the kids who depend on St. Mary’s Park, in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, where the baseball bleachers don’t have seats and the cracked tennis court has no net? Or what about the thousands of people who depend on Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, in Queens, the former home of the World’s Fair, now marred by graffiti, broken drainage and pervasive litter?
In a city as dense and expensive as New York, parks are not a luxury or an amenity; they are our backyards, our oxygen. The marquee jewels in the system — like Central Park and Prospect Park — are extraordinarily well maintained. But the city provides only 15 percent of Central Park’s $45.8 million annual budget, and only about 65 percent of Prospect Park’s $12.3 million budget. Instead, they have large conservancies, which generate high-profile marketing campaigns, star-studded galas and some very big donors.
Of course, the private support these parks receive is laudable and meaningful. But when the billionaire hedge-fund manager John A. Paulson gives $100 million to further polish one of those jewels, it invites a question: where is the political will, and the money, for the millions of New Yorkers who depend on the 1,700 other parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities managed by the city?
The parks that find it hardest to attract support are in communities that need the open space most. About 15 percent of city parks are rated “not acceptable” by the city’s own management report.
When the advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks recently rated parks across the city, it was all too easy to predict which parks would be plagued by broken asphalt, damaged playgrounds and litter-strewn dirt — predominantly, those in neighborhoods without the private resources to maintain them.
How can we level the playing field and help ensure that every neighborhood gets the parks it so desperately needs?
One solution is to provide more financing for parks in the annual city and state budgets.
This can and should be done, but it should be supplemented by an ambitious new program: the creation of a Neighborhood Parks Alliance, which would form partnerships between a well-financed conservancy, a “contributing park” and “member parks” in need of more money and support.
A contributing park would commit 20 percent of its conservancy’s budget to member parks with which it is partnered. A park in need would become a member park by gathering signatures from local residents, establishing its own conservancy group and receiving a city commitment, from the Parks Department and local council members, to maintain current government financing levels.
In addition to money, the “contributing park” conservancies would provide continuing oversight, expertise and programmatic support.
Consider that the Central Park Conservancy has an annual budget for park expenses of nearly $40 million. Twenty percent of that — $8 million — would go a long way for a whole lot of smaller parks.
This is not a comprehensive solution to the problem of open-space equity. A Neighborhood Parks Alliance would not replace city financing, or the need for more of it. Nor would it create 1,700 Central Parks across every neighborhood in the city.
But it would mean that more parks could meet their community’s needs, thanks to groups that have resources and knowledge worth sharing.
Of course, there is no guarantee that the well-financed groups, or their supporters, would welcome the opportunity to support smaller parks. But the conservancies would still be the best way for donors to support their park of choice.
And perhaps, the knowledge that their expertise and dollars had a positive impact beyond their own backyards would inspire some to even greater generosity.
New playgrounds in Central Park are good. New playgrounds in Central Park and newly functioning parks in the South Bronx and beyond are even better.
A Neighborhood Parks Alliance is one simple way for more New Yorkers to have decent open space, so that more families, in more communities, can make a life in the city. Like good schools and safe streets, decent parks must not be reserved for those who can most afford them.
Daniel L. Squadron is a Democratic state senator who represents parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Steve Hindy, the Brooklyn Brewery baron and a fellow whose love of this city is manifest, serves as board member of the Prospect Park Alliance. He noticed the city was steadily edging away from its financial commitment.
“About 10 years ago, the city contributed about 60 percent of the park budget and we raised the rest,” Mr. Hindy recalled. “I suggested to our board that we draw a line and say ‘no more cuts.’ ”
Fast forward a decade. The city contributes perhaps 40 percent of the budget for this grandly diverse park. The Alliance scrapes up the rest from corporations and foundations and by insistently shaking a tin cup before city and state legislators.
“Someone should really blow the whistle for what’s happened to parks,” Mr. Hindy notes. “People should let their elected officials know that they have cut the throats of the parks for years.”
That brings me to my recent tour of Prospect Park’s Nethermead, in the company of my dog Monk. We found a sun-baked mud scar running along the path from the lake to the Nethermead. Another dirt track cut a scabrous scar across the meadow’s western flank.
This is the residue of the Great GoogaMooga, the food and music festival that recently took over the heart of this Olmsted gem. Last year it left much of the meadow unusable for the summer. Yet to leave my grumpy accounting at the doorstep of the Alliance president, Emily Lloyd, who signed off on the festival, would be unfair, or at least incomplete.
Two decades ago I wheeled my son’s stroller into the Nethermead and discovered that vandals had smashed every lamp. Tree roots suffered from erosion; graffiti was everywhere. The Prospect Park Alliance oversaw the revival of this park, on a shoestring.
New York’s parks offer a feudal landscape of the privileged and underprivileged. There is the squire’s fancy that is the Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Von Furstenberg/Barry Dillered ornament that is the High Line, and of course the grand duchy that is the Central Park Conservancy.
These largely private operations are not for plebes. The Central Park Conservancy manages $220 million in assets, and has four officials who make more money than the cityparks commissioner, Veronica M. White. At a High Line fund-raiser, a host held aloft a million-dollar check and asked for a match. Another $1 million check was written on the spot.
At the other end of this spectrum, the cracked path around the Shore Park-Verrazano Narrows offers an exercise in horizontal mountain biking. At Flushing Meadows-Corona Park children play in dry wading pools and lake paths are unnavigable without machetes.
Prospect Park occupies a middle ground. It has overseen a stunningly beautiful reconstruction of its lake side. It also rents out its Audubon Center on weekends to the wedding-bar mitzvah-birthday crowd.
Our lame duck mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, has started to turn off his charitable money shower. His foundation informed the Prospect Park Alliance that it intended to end its quarter-million dollar annual contribution. (Ms. Lloyd declined to discuss this.)
“Prospect Park is not even close to Central Park,” Mr. Hindy notes. “It’s golden apples and regular oranges.”
Those who defend privatization are candid. Ask about inequity and they talk of commodities; the emerald brilliance of Central Park draws tourists. The High Line is a brooch in the luxury transformation of Chelsea.
As for Flushing Meadows? When told that partisans hoped to transform a homely asphalt-ringed fountain into a grass-edged lake, John Alschuler Jr., co-chairman of theFriends of the High Line, offered an exasperated sigh. In his day job, he lobbies to place a U.F.O.-size professional soccer stadium in the midst of that Queens park.
Cities, he said, no longer pay for parks properly. Such exuberant hopes will not be realized in my life, he said, or that of my child. Find a corporate sponsor, he suggested.
So condescension passes as realism.
Holly Leicht of New Yorkers for Parks is a vigorous parks advocate, and would demand transparency and accountability from conservancies. But she would not upset the conservancy lords until the Parks Department is properly financed and revamped.
This feels backward. Former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton transformed a hidebound Police Department in months; why demand less of the Parks Department?
And why not toss down a challenge: John Paulson made a tremendous bundle betting that the housing market would tank disastrously and donated $100 million to Central Park, which lies in his backyard. Perhaps 50 percent of his money should go to the other parks. It’s that old notion of the public weal.
Ms. Lloyd, the president of the Prospect Park Alliance, tiptoes so carefully. “In this country, we don’t really fund public infrastructure and public spaces as we do in other countries,” she said. “It’s always a huge stretch.”
No doubt this is so. The question is whether in this densest of American cities, privatized parks serve the broadest public good.
New Yorkers for Parks has developed a 2013 Parks Platform, based on the input received at a April 11thTown Hall Forum The platform’s 10 points (listed below in bullet form and attached as a longer policy document) are a set of recommendations aimed at ensuring that our city’s scarce public open spaces are preserved, well-maintained, and enhanced in all New York City neighborhoods. They are beginning a citywide campaign to publicize the platform and ask candidates to embrace it. Over the summer, they will hold meetings in each borough to discuss advocacy of the platform, and in mid-August, will hold a citywide rally with hundreds of parks advocates, both individuals and organizations, providing evidence of how important parks are to the voting public.
Please show your ongoing support for NYC parks by signing on as an endorser of the 2013 Parks Platform. When signing, please name a park that you use and care about. The goal is to have representation from a park in every NYC neighborhood. Sign the petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/parks-platform-2013/.
Please also help to spread the word by sending this request to others you know and groups you are involved with. Feel free to contact them with requests for additional information at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-838-9410.
Let’s make sure the candidates know how much New York City voters value their parks!
PARKS PLATFORM 2013
We call upon the next Mayor and Administration to:
OVERHAUL HOW THE PARKS DEPARTMENT IS FUNDED.
1) The Parks Department should have its own discretionary capital budget.
2) The Parks Department’s maintenance budget should be increased, and funding for core functions should be baselined – meaning automatically renewed – in its annual expense budget.
3) The Parks Department provides an essential city service and should be staffed accordingly.
INCREASE THE TRANSPARENCY AND EFFICIENCY OF THE PARKS DEPARTMENT TO ENSURE EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF RESOURCES.
4) The Parks Department should know the cost to maintain every City park, as well as the amount of public and private funding that supports each.
5) The Parks Department should adopt the best practices of other capital projects agencies to improve its own process.
6) Organizations in public-private partnerships with the Parks Department should report annual revenues, expenses and other critical financial information in a simple, consistent manner to be shared on the Department’s website.
RESTRICT AND STRONGLY REGULATE THE PRIVATIZATION OF PARKLAND.
7) Parkland alienation should not occur unless no other land is available to serve an essential public need.
8) State and local laws regulating parkland alienation should be strengthened to require earlier and broader notificationof alienation actions, and to mandate acre-for-acre replacement of lost parkland.
INTEGRATE PARKS PLANNING INTO NEIGHBORHOOD, CITYWIDE AND RESILIENCY PLANNING.
9) Parks are part of a broad network of public spaces, and City agencies should collaborate to maximize neighborhood open space and citywide environmental benefits.
10) The City should be more proactive in involving neighborhood residents in their parks, both as volunteer stewards and in planning for the future.
“On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree…”
Thank you to all who helped us make IMPD this Spring wonderfully successful!
Sweeping, trash removal, planting, weeding, pruning, zumba-ing, drumming, bike-repairing, green map giving, petition signing, suggestions for park building-ing, eating (at MKGarden-ing), translating, oral history telling, tenant organizing, tree planting and neighboring…
We especially thank all the young people and their teachers who came to help out!!! Thanks also to Kirsty Bambridge and Indio Torres of Partnership for Parks and Parks for the prompt delivery of supplies for our 40 plus volunteers today.
Thanks to Zack of Times Up! for bike repair expertise, Olivier (and Green System map give aways!), Dylan House of Hester Street for the oral history collecting (Jim Pender and Bob are now history!) Gardeners (Diana, Bud, Kevin, Dick) and Farmer Ted and the CSA for feeding us!, University Settlement and the Chinatown Y for our Zumba teacher, our Drum circle (wonderful!) and tenants information. We had petition drives, etc etc.etc.!!
And of course Peter Gee and Jin Xiu and Kayan of AAFE and for being in the center of our lovely chaos!
We are so proud of our Park and all our volunteers.
Here are some photos taken by Kayan Chiu of Asian American’s for Equality (AAFE) of the Coalition’s activities during It’s My Park Day.
Extend your green network and learn sustainability skills at the Sara D Sustainability Series!
Two Lower East Side-based Nonprofits – Time’s Up! and Green Map System – have teamed up with M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden to present this series of free workshops and practical training for community sustainability.
Join us in this rare outdoor public space to learn about
Carbon-Free Mobility! Green Jobs! Waste Reduction! Much More!
The workshops will take place each Friday in August from 6:30-8:30pm at Sara Roosevelt Park’s M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden.
Learn green collar job skills, share your ideas with others,
and taking an active role in making our city more livable!
Note: Workshops will be postponed for heavy rain.
All ages welcome.
Free Workshop Schedule Fridays, 6:30-8:30PM:
8/10 – Bike Repair & Safety
8/17 – Green Jobs in our Community & Intro to Tools
8/24 – Composting, Bokashi & Mud Ball Making
8/31 – Bike Repair & Safety
M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden, in Sara D. Roosevelt Park
Rivington Street (between Chrystie and Forsyth Streets).
By subway, take the J to Bowery or the F to 2nd Avenue.
We were thrilled to hear about funding for SDR park from Council Member Margaret Chin’s office. It makes an enormous difference to have that kind of infusion in a park that serves so many residents and visitors in the densely packed Lower East Side. Especially since it is earmarked for the Stanton Street Park’s building.
We are gathering resources, help and commitments to help turn this storage space into a viable space for much needed teen/tween programming for the local community. All parties seem to be eager to work out any difficulties in making it happen!
This area serves four high schools, Housing sponsored by the NY Society for the Deaf, the Rafael Hernandez NYCHA building, Section 8 housing on 10 Stanton Street, Avalon Bay, the soccer field on Stanton and a rehabilitation facility on Chrystie Street.
We thank our Council Member for keeping this area in her sights.