Fairness in parks spending: Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Council

“..The focus on park equity, which fits in with Mayor de Blasio’s theme of inequality, follows years of huge capital expenditures on parks under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, with almost $1 billion going to a small number of parks, like Brooklyn Bridge Park, Governors Island and the High Line…”








Click to view article

Read MoreFairness in parks spending: Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Council
  • Post category:News

Recent events in M’Finda Kalunga Garden

The Garden is in full swing. We had two classes from University Settlement’s Head Start programs today.

Jenifer Marcus (retired kindergarten teacher) is running them every week.

We had Tenzer Learning Center High School class in today too. They are ESL students and they came to see the garden, learn about it and practice English by interviewing Bob, Jenifer and K. They were wonderful: from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Dominican Republic, China and Mexico. Smart, good natured and asked better questions than we ever get from newspaper reporters!

Thanks all.

K Webster/Bob Humber

Click a thumbnail to view photos.

Read MoreRecent events in M’Finda Kalunga Garden
  • Post category:News

City Council Hearings on Parks Budget Priorities


Sara Roosevelt Park Community Coalition

Good afternoon. My name is K Webster, President of the Sara Roosevelt Park Community Coalition.

The Parks Department has been our active partner in caring for this essential open space in our crowded and diverse neighborhoods. We appreciate Partnership for Parks for their ongoing support of this alliance. They provide steady guidance for the Coalition’s stewardship in this park.

Parks need the community working in them: deciding, gardening, and creating in collaboration with the Parks Department. Not outside the fence waiting to be “served”. We want a dynamic, ongoing relationship where we come to the table with common goals, disagreements, and with each group’s unique expertise. We get smarter together.

Our parks and open spaces are the country homes, science labs, nature preserves, places of play, respite and community gathering for most city dwellers. They keep life more alive here.

Therefore our parks need dedicated, assured funding commensurate with these vital roles and funding for an expanded role we think they need to play going forward.

We need a living wage for our underpaid WEP workers. We can’t maintain our parks on the backs of poor people.

But, urgently, climate mitigation, resiliency and recovery must now be part of the core mission of Parks.

We need innovative and decisive actions to meet the challenges of climate change and the present lack of adequate financial resources. We need to build a cadre of skilled and savvy citizen stewards and Park’s workers to meet both those challenges.

Every park can become a model of sustainable practices: from solar lighting to recycling. They can be beacons of information about bird and bee habitat, indigenous plantings, and water reclamation. Our parks buildings can provide sites of learning on climate resiliency, sites of recovery, solar-powered charging stations, bike repair shops and think-tanks for technologies that show a way forward. We can educate our city on their stake in their own environment.

Our city also has a global reach. We can join efforts in earnest to shift the balance on climate disruption. Military leaders, 97% of scientists, along with us tree huggers all agree: we are at a tipping point.

This will be challenging and we can do it. And there really isn’t any other choice.

Thank you for your time.

K Webster
Sara Roosevelt Park Coalition



Testimony of State Senator Daniel Squadron to New York City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation on the Fiscal 2015 Preliminary Budget
March 27, 2014 

My name is Daniel Squadron and I represent the 26th District in the New York State Senate. My district includes the Manhattan neighborhoods of Tribeca, Battery Park City, the Lower East Side, Chinatown, the Financial District, Little Italy, SoHo and the East Village and the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Vinegar Hill, DUMBO, Fulton Ferry, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Gowanus. Thank you for the opportunity to testify at this hearing on parks funding.

Let me begin by saying that the conversation today is incomplete. It focuses on only one piece of the overall spending on our City’s parks. This budget does not include the allocation of the millions of dollars that third party parks advocates and conservancies will raise and spend in parks around the City this year. Nor does it include the individual allotments and grants that community members lobby elected officials to spend from their so-called discretionary funds.

Introduction 154, sponsored by Council Members Lander and Levine, would bring increased openness and transparency to parks funding by requiring the Parks Commissioner to identify each source of funding for parks maintenance and capital projects, among other things.

Today’s patchwork model for funding our city’s parks, which are as vital to our civic infrastructure as oxygen is to our lungs, is wholly and completely inadequate for three reasons: underfunding by the City; lack of a dedicated capital budget; and the unintended consequences of conservancies.

For New Yorkers who are fortunate enough to live near one of our marquee parks, it’s probably not obvious that the Parks budget is inadequate. Those parks are doing better than ever, and it would be easy to believe that the Parks budget has increased based on those parks alone. But a visit to St. Mary’s Park in Mott Haven, or Flushing Meadows Park, or Sara Roosevelt Park in my district exposes the vast divide in Parks upkeep around our city.

In 1986, the Parks Department represented .86 percent of the city’s overall spending. During the 2001 election season, parks advocates organized a major campaign to push for one percent of the city’s budget to be dedicated to parks. We never got there and the campaign dissipated. Today, the Parks Department receives a paltry .52 percent of the city’s $73.7 billion budget. That percentage has been stagnant for years.

The fact is that because our marquee parks are doing so well, the momentum for doing something about the lack of funding for other parks around the city dried up. Fourteen years ago there was greater outcry about a Parks budget that is identical as a fraction of the city’s budget to what it is today. The biggest difference between then and now is the increase in dollars that generous conservancies spend to maintain and improve a small number of fortunate parks in affluent neighborhoods.

Until every park, playground, and plaza in the five boroughs is maintained to a state of good repair, this budget will continue to be inadequate.

The fact that the Parks Department has no discretionary capital budget of its own is a gaping hole in the funding structure. Without a capital program, Parks is left to grovel for member items and philanthropic donations to meet what should be considered basic needs. Instead of a system-wide evaluation, individual elected officials and philanthropists are left to make disconnected decisions about their neighborhood or their parks. New Yorkers for Parks has said the lack of capital budget creates inefficiencies, and I could not agree more.

In order to create more equitable funding within parks and change the current budget dynamic, I have put forward a proposal to create a Neighborhood Parks Alliance that would form partnerships between well-financed conservancies and parks that are most in need. A contributing park would commit a portion of its conservancy’s budget to a member park, defined as City parks rated as unacceptable in the prior two years. Those parks would become members by establishing their own conservancy group and receiving commitments from the Parks Department and local Council members to at least maintain current government funding levels.

A Neighborhood Parks Alliance certainly would not supplant the need for additional City and State support for parks. Those of us with budgetary responsibilities at the City and State must never forget that.

In fact, I believe a NPA would lead change the game for parks funding. The success of conservancies has inadvertently contributed to the problem. Let me be clear: conservancies have arisen to fill a gap in public funding of our parks, and it is true that they do tremendously good work.

Because we know that conservancies will raise the funds to keep our major parks in a state of good repair, the City does not dedicate the funds necessary to maintain its parks. Instead, the polished jewels sparkle while around them, the system falls into disrepair. This year, we have finally turned the conversation toward the role of conservancies, and that is a good thing. Private donations have become an integral part of financing our parks. We should continue to encourage these philanthropic donations.

The fact that we are having an active discussion about the role of conservancies means we are making progress. But this conversation must actually lead to two things that will fundamentally change the game for parks all across the city: a greater connection between all the parks in the system and more funding. This is a goal we all share.

We are one city. We all want and need great parks. We need a budget that will create access to great parks for all New Yorkers and remedy the vast disparity between the jewels in our parks system and those in desperate need of repair. A Neighborhood Parks Alliance cannot erase those disparities overnight, or even in a year, but it will cause us to dramatically rethink the funding for such a large public good. Its creation is an important step in reducing a major source of inequality in our city.

Again, I thank you very much for the opportunity to testify this afternoon.

Read MoreCity Council Hearings on Parks Budget Priorities

Celebrate the Chinese New Year – the Year of the Horse

From the Bowery Boogie


Plenty of celebration is loping Chinatown’s way. The 15th Annual Firecracker Ceremony, organized by the Better Chinatown Society, will have your ears ringing in the first day of the Chinese New Year – the year of the horse – over at Sara D. Roosevelt Park. Giddy up! The partying continues a few days later with a parade and festival combo to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

The Firecracker Ceremony begins at 11am on January 31, at Sara D. Roosevelt Park (at Grand and Forsyth Streets). We recommend getting there early, because, as we’ve reported in prior years, the crowds are massive.

The parade kicks off on February 2 at 1pm, starting in Little Italy and winding its way through the main streets of Lower Chinatown/Manhattan. Alongside the procession, there will also be a Cultural Festival transpiring inside Sara D. Roosevelt Park (at Canal and Forsyth Streets).

Read MoreCelebrate the Chinese New Year – the Year of the Horse
  • Post category:News

K’s unedited article originally posted in The Villager as a letter to the editor

Of Parks, Inequity and the Flinging of Coins…


At the “Talking Transitions Tent” New Yorkers for Parks hosted a panel entitled “Four Immediate Ways to Equitably Improve NYC’s Parks”. The panel consisted of committed and hard-working park advocates.

One of the panelists, State Senator Squadron, proposed that “marquee parks” (such as Central Park) share a percentage of funds raised in the private sector with parks that do not have private financial backers. He reminded us that all city parks exist within the same network. That any individual park’s situation affects all parks. It was an impassioned and intelligent plea.

Squadron’s proposal was hammered. The audience was warned of the chilling effect on marquee park supporters, of government interfering with the “democratic tradition” of philanthropy, of distracting from the real issues, and, that city parks were not in such bad shape anyway.

It was disheartening.

Here we were sitting in an enormous “tent” constructed by the wealth of billionaires, hoping to influence the next mayor. There was no time allotted for the audience to speak. We were in the county of Manhattan, home of the largest undisputed income inequality gap in this nation. Joseph McKellar, a panelist who represented Flushing Meadows Corona Park pointed out that there is a correlation between the racial and economic make-up surrounding a park and the conditions of that park. Too true.

Our parks can’t help but reflect this reality. And in a city of such opulence, that simply is not okay.

The Community Garden network has been involved in the care of Greenspaces for decades. This movement came out of poor neighborhoods and largely out of communities of color – with plenty of skill and agency. I doubt any Conservancy in New York City has much to teach us. But maybe we have something to offer them?

Community Gardeners know how to share. We are all volunteers who freely give plants, labor, resources and expertise. Our budgets are usually under $3,000. We get small grants and member fees – we do a lot with a little. We don’t feel a chill when asked to help struggling neighbors. We consider it an honor to be asked.

But neighborhood parks need large amounts of funding to fix broken equipment and to retool park buildings to serve as sites for resiliency centers, youth spaces, meeting and information hubs. Providing support to help make that happen- even one park at a time -would give hope to parks who would otherwise have none. Training by experienced gardeners (from Community Gardens, Parks, Conservancies, etc.) could support gardening stewardship by local neighbors in every park. It would beautify the city and give communities skills to learn how to truly care for and “own” their parks. Every neighborhood deserves their own “jewel” park.

Personally, I don’t believe the public good should have to depend on the largesse of the wealthy for meeting the basic needs of a city. And I don’t think a democracy can long survive relying on the whims of the rich. That’s why we have a tax system, so that government, including the Parks Department, would have the resources to take care of all parks.

Dr. King said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

Thank you to Senator Squadron for raising the issue in a way that won’t be ignored. And, as Mr. McKellar said, “Any vehicle that creates more equity is a poignant conversation”.

K Webster

Read MoreK’s unedited article originally posted in The Villager as a letter to the editor

Attention Downtown Artists!

Community Board 3, HOWL! H.E.L.P*, Bowery Poetry Club, Fourth Arts Block, GOH Productions, Jackie Factory, La MaMa, Performance Space 122, Poetry Project, TWEED TheaterWorks, Vangeline Theater

Invite You To A
Actors Fund Workshop

Find out if you’re eligible for free or low-cost insurance

Saturday, December 21, 2013
1-3 PM
Saint Marks Church – Parish Hall

Navigating Health Care Reform is a free workshop to help members of the creative community understand the Affordable Care Act and provide clear guidance by a certified Affordable Care Act Navigator on options that work for you.
If you sign up by December 23, your coverage will start January 1

*About HOWL! Emergency Life Project (H.E.L.P.) 

A Safety Net for Artists

Howl! H.E.L.P. was created to provide emergency financial assistance and social service support to artists who have participated in the annual HOWL! Festival or who have made or continue to make their careers in New York City’s East Village and Lower East Side arts community and whose work challenges the traditional boundaries of dance, theatre, music, multimedia and the spoken word.

Services include counseling and referrals for personal, family or work-related problems. Linkage to community resources for such needs as medical care, legal services, public benefits or elder care. Workshops are offered on a variety of topics and include: finding affordable housing, financial education as well as health insurance options. Financial assistance is available for rent, utilities, mental health and medical care as well as other basic living expenses. Grants are approved on a case-by-case basis based on need.

Susan Stetzer
District Manager
Community Board 3, Manhattan

Please visit the CB 3 website to join the new e-mail list.

Read MoreAttention Downtown Artists!
  • Post category:News

Bicycle Mechanics Training Program

bikeProgramDear LES and Workforce Stakeholders,

The LES Employment Network is very excited to announce that Henry Street Settlement and Recycle-A-Bicycle, with additional support from LESEN, have partnered to launch a Bicycle Mechanics Training Program. You may download the large-file attachment or click this link to view the marketing flyer for more information.

The program will cover the important fundamentals of bicycle mechanics necessary to secure a job in the exciting, growing bicycle transportation, rental, and retail markets. It will place a high proportion of graduates into liveable-wage employment upon completion as mechanics, customer service and support staff, and logistics crew. It is open to public and Network member participants, however, public candidates must register with one of LESEN’s 5 agencies in order to participate (LESEN resource sheet also attached for more information). The upcoming December 5, 2013, orientation is mandatory for all participants.

Although we are especially trying to target local Manhattan Community Board 3 residents and/or 18-24 year-old youth candidates for this, it is open to people from all communities and backgrounds who are interested in bicycle employment, are good with their hands, and do not have obstacles to completion (i.e. schedule, travel plans). The program will provide a modest stipend to cover transportation costs and students can intern at bicycle companies for an additional stipend.

We kindly ask that you market this opportunity through your existing networks and residential buildings, and share any questions or comments that you may have. We hope that you can assist us in recruiting for this crucial opportunity. Thank you in advance!


Gaspar Caro
LES Employment Network
Houston Street Center
273 Bowery
New York, NY 10002
646.455.9932 (cell)

LESEN Resource Sheet

Read MoreBicycle Mechanics Training Program
  • Post category:News