News

Clean Beaches Are Top Priority for Staten Island Fisherman

Wednesday, August 22, 2012
It only takes one glance at Richie Chan's e-mail signature to realize how much he loves fishing:
 
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For much of his life, Chan has spent mornings and evenings in the same place: the waters off Staten Island, in his waders, casting out for striped bass, fluke and blue fish. This is his time to enjoy a side of the city many New Yorkers don’t see, where gliding blue herons and cranes often provide the only soundtrack. More often than not, the fish bite for him. But sometimes, he reels in an unpleasant catch:  an aluminum can, a glass bottle, even the occasional diaper.

“I hate that!” Chan said. “Nothing's worse than a peaceful fishing night interrupted by a garbage hook.”

It’s these unfortunate incidents that led Chan to become one of Staten Island’s most active and effective leaders in organizing beach, park and open space cleanups.

Chan has lived on Staten Island for several decades – he now lives in the Dongan Hills neighborhood – and has been a part of the local environmental and maritime stewardship community for much of that time. Since 2000 he’s been a member of the Natural Resources Protective Association (NRPA) and has served as its Secretary. While his duties range from newsletter writing to membership tracking, he is probably most known for organizing cleanups.

“It’s just something I’ve taken on for the good of the island and its environment," Chan said. "Our work is never done.”

He supervises up to 16 cleanups a year, mostly in the spring and fall, and sometimes they attract as many as 60 volunteers. Regulars know Chan not only for his friendly leadership style but also for his fliers detailing the decomposition rate of marine debris which he hands out at every cleanup, along with fairs and festivals around the island.

Some of the numbers which Chan and NRPA have carefully researched: 80-200 years for an aluminum can to decompose, 400 years for a plastic six-pack ring, 450 years for a disposable diaper or plastic bottle, and up to one million years for a glass bottle.

“These are serious numbers, and people should understand the consequences for the environment when they just throw something on the beach or in a park,” Chan said. “I try to tell as many people as possible.”

The cleanups aren’t just centered in one place or even one neighborhood of the island. One weekend Chan might cover a whole section of the Bluebelt – the streams, ponds and wetlands that comprise a network of natural drainage corridors across a third of the island. Another, he’ll be in Conference House Park. But not surprisingly, the avid fisherman’s favorite cleanup events occur along the island’s miles of shoreline – whether municipal swimming beaches, craggy non-swimming areas, or tidal wetlands on Raritan Bay. He recently organized a cleanup near the “South Pole” marker at Ward’s Point in Tottenville, the southernmost point of New York State.

And the impact can be seen island-wide. Staten Island’s swimming beaches have gotten a lot cleaner in recent years, thanks to Chan’s cleanups and more effective efforts by the Parks Department. NY4P’s 2007 Report Card on Beaches gave D’s to Midland and South Beaches, and a failing grade to Wolfe’s Pond Beach. But by the 2011 report, we documented marked improvement at Midland and South Beaches, though Wolfe’s Pond is still challenged, scoring in the D range.

Chan credits the Parks Department for the improvements in Staten Island’s swimming beaches and though he finds reports of several hypodermic needles on beaches this summer disturbing, said that problem has gotten much better and is impossible to avoid altogether. Still, Chan would like to see the Parks Department focus more attention on non-swimming beaches and more effectively transport its beach rake around the island. But he understands that limited resources and budget constraints hamper the Department, concluding that overall conditions have drastically improved since he began leading the cleanups.

Like many parks and open space volunteers around the city, Chan’s passion for what he does has deep roots. He was always interested in maritime volunteerism as a Boy Scout in Rockville Center, Long Island, and recalls his membership in a junior sailors’ club almost as a rite of passage.

“I always loved being near the water, and now what I care most about is keeping those areas around the island clean.”

His hatred of littering is nothing new, though he reluctantly admits he might have been guilty of it himself once or twice in his youth.

“But I know one thing: I haven’t littered since 1967," he said. "We were sitting on the curb in Rockville Center, and my friends kept flicking cigarette butts. It was disgusting, and I yelled at them and promised to myself that from that moment on I’d never, ever, ever litter again, and I haven’t.”

As City Plants More Trees, Volunteer Stewards Fill Critical Role

Friday, August 10, 2012

Evelyn Chen’s boyfriend may have initially questioned her sanity when she trudged out of their Park Row co-op at 11 pm with 20 gallons of water for the street trees behind their building, but over time she convinced him otherwise.

Ten months into Chen’s self-appointed stewardship of five trees along St. James Place in Chinatown, the couple has seen the positive impact the trees have on their block: more shade, a calmer feel, and even a friendlier atmosphere among neighbors.

“I might look crazy out there with my red wagon,” Chen said, “but when people walk or bike by and yell ‘thank you,’ it’s pretty rewarding.”

The trees behind Chen’s building – she estimates there are between 12 and 14 of them – were planted about two years ago. Though they were watered occasionally by a local business group last summer, they were untended in the fall.

That led Chen to attend a tree stewardship seminar hosted by GreenThumb, a Parks Department program that provides programming and material support for more than 500 community gardens across the city. Though Chen grew up a tree lover in a leafy Connecticut town, she didn’t fully grasp the importance of urban tree care until the seminar.

“It made me think about the stresses the trees are under, the inhospitable street environment, and there was no turning back,” she said.

Each tree requires 20 gallons of water at once, and it took Chen several tries to develop an efficient routine. Because of her work schedule – and because water evaporates more during the heat of the day – she decided nights were best for the work. Her watering trips occur at least biweekly, depending on rainfall, and her tree-care regimen also extends to frequent weeding, mulching and flower planting.

Chen is one of thousands of unheralded local tree stewards throughout the city who take time out of their evenings and weekends to weed, water and mulch the tree pits on their blocks. The street tree stewardship movement is more important than ever in New York City:  budget cuts have slashed public funding for tree care at the same time that the MillionTreesNYC initiative hit its halfway mark – that’s 500,000 new saplings citywide – earlier this summer. NY4P advocacy helped increase 2013 funding for tree pruning by $2 million, but the Parks Department is still severely hamstrung in its tree care efforts.

“The City has less funding for maintenance, but there are lots of parts of the public realm that the average citizen can help maintain,” said Deborah Marton, Senior Vice President of Programs at the New York Restoration Project, which partners with the City on the MillionTrees initiative. “It’s tough when you’re working full time to add another task, but if everyone watered trees outside their home, the city would benefit in a huge way.”

Those benefits are far more than purely aesthetic. Recent studies have evidenced that the presence of urban street trees leads to decreased asthma and diabetes rates, increased physical activity, less overall anxiety and depression, higher real estate values, less energy use and lower crime rates.

Kaid Benfield, Director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth Program at the National Resources Defense Council, recently examined the value of street trees in an Atlantic Cities blog post. He highlighted the California Center for Sustainable Energy's San Diego County Trees Initiative, which built an interactive map showing specific street tree locations and the total monetary benefits provided by each tree, broken down into categories like carbon sequestration, water retention, energy saved and air pollutants reduced. A similar project is underway in Washington, D.C., where the nonprofit Casey Trees has created an interactive tree map.

Further, Benfield referenced a 2008 paper by Walkable and Livable Communities Institute Executive Director Dan Burden, which argued that “for a planting cost of $250-600 (includes first three years of maintenance) a single tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of a tree.”

Stewards like Chen, though, quickly realize the simpler benefits, like the improved camaraderie on her block. She says what she’s doing on her block can easily be replicated citywide.

“There are so many neighborhoods around the city where one person taking care of a tree could have a great impact,” she said.

Marton is hopeful that the network of tree volunteers will continue to grow, especially as MillionTrees and other environmental programs expand their community outreach and educate more New Yorkers about the benefits and rewards of stewardship. And she agrees with Chen that though adopting a tree might seem too time-consuming or mundane, the case for doing so is compelling.

"If people think about the investment versus the returns, I think they're much more likely to get involved,” Marton said.

NY4P Works With City Council to Secure Open Space Improvements in Modified NYU Plan

Wednesday, July 25, 2012
The New York City Council voted 41-1 in favor of New York University’s 2031 campus expansion plan on Tuesday, clearing the way for construction to begin in 2014.

To gain passage, NYU agreed to scale back its construction on two superblocks south of Washington Square Park by a further 17 percent – including significant trimming of proposed building heights and footprints – after making additional concessions earlier in the land use approval process.

Since that process began, NY4P has supported NYU’s plan – with modifications – based on our guiding principles that public open spaces should serve the greatest number of constituencies, and be preserved and well maintained in perpetuity.

In our testimony before a June 29 City Council hearing on the plan, we called on NYU to make several key modifications, including strengthening the open space maintenance and operations agreement, establishing a fund for long-term maintenance, and giving the Parks Department the ability to enforce the agreement.

Over the past few weeks, we worked closely with local Council Member Margaret Chin, her staff, and the Council’s Land Use staff to secure these and other modifications.

Specifically, Council Member Chin negotiated a commitment from the City and NYU to enter into an agreement for the care of all public land within the two superblocks. NYU will establish an endowment that will provide $150,000 annually for upkeep of the City-owned open spaces, and NYU will maintain both these and the privately-owned public open spaces at the same standard of care. The agreement also requires NYU to secure a letter of credit upon which the Parks Department can draw if NYU fails to meet required maintenance standards.

Throughout the process, NY4P also pushed for the establishment of a long-term oversight body, including representatives from the community, to oversee the design and care of all public spaces within the superblocks. The resulting Open Space Oversight Organization will consist of five members, representing the Council, Community Board 2, the Manhattan Borough President, the Parks Department and NYU.

In addition, NYU agreed to reduce above-grade density by 44 percent on the north superblock – including a 64 percent reduction in the proposed “boomerang building” – which will allow for larger, more visible access points to interior public spaces.

Language was also added that provides greater protection for LaGuardia Community Garden, a beloved plot at the corner of LaGuardia Place and Bleecker Street, during construction on the southern block.  Finally, the school agreed to several immediate open space improvements, including wayfinding and signage for the Sasaki Garden, a new seating area on Bleecker Street and playground for Mercer Street, plus improvements to the LMNOP playground.

In the end, our advocacy has produced the blueprint for comprehensive upkeep of new public open spaces, longer preservation of the Mercer Playground, transfer of several Department of Transportation-owned strips of land to the Parks Department, and the opportunity for community input in the open space design and ongoing maintenance process.

While there’s still work to be done, we’re confident that the public open spaces created by the plan will be more accessible and welcoming, serve a broader spectrum of New Yorkers, and be better maintained than the current spaces within the superblocks south of Washington Square Park.

Meet a New Yorker for Parks: Dorothea Poggi

Saturday, July 21, 2012
Though Ferry Point Park West is located in the shadow of the heavily trafficked Bronx-Whitestone Bridge in the eastern Bronx, the waterfront park, rich with breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, is extremely hard to reach for most residents of New York City.

It’s too far to walk from the 6 train, and a recent attempt to reach the park by bus resulted in a trip over the bridge into Queens. There’s no actual designated stop along the route for the park, the driver told us – you have to specifically ask to be taken there.

If we felt the park had been forgotten before we arrived, this perception was confirmed after Dorothea Poggi, Founder and President of the Friends of Ferry Point Park, gave us a tour. The grounds were littered with trash, the fields far from lush. An historic Robert Moses-era walkway and 9/11 Memorial Grove of trees are overgrown with weeds. And while the Parks Department expects to put a state-of-the-art comfort station project out to bid later this summer, for now there is no running water in the park at all. Four portable bathrooms provide some relief near the park’s entrance, but Poggi says they are filthy and that large weekend crowds often use a nearby motel – or the park grounds – to relieve themselves.

While the Parks Department is aware of the problems plaguing Ferry Point West, the small community that has loved the park for decades remains concerned.

Poggi grew up in the tiny, three-block Ferry Point neighborhood just north of the park. She and her friends swam in the Westchester Creek and played on its banks. Like much of the southeastern Bronx waterfront, that space gradually became industrialized, and Poggi began visiting the vast Ferry Point Park as a teenager.

“I’d just go sit there and enjoy the peacefulness and views, and draw. And we loved using the park for big events – family reunions, church outings. It was a special place for the community.”

Poggi’s mother Catherine was an early advocate for the park, chairing Community Board 10’s Parks & Recreation Committee. But like many New York City parks in the 1970s and 80s, the space fell into disrepair. When Poggi drove past the park in the 1990s and saw a line of men using the parking lot as a bathroom, she had had enough.

“We had lost the space,” she said. “I realized that unless I did something, the community wouldn’t use the park.”   
   
She founded the Ferry Point Park West Coalition in 2001 and quickly became known as an open space champion in the area after gathering hundreds of signatures to push plans for a public, but not free, golf course to the eastern side of the park, on the other side of the bridge. In effect, that advocacy helped preserve Ferry Point Park West as a public park.  She made such an impact that Community Board 10 asked her to submit a master plan to the park, which eventually helped influence Parks Department planting schemes for the park.

Her group connected with Partnerships for Parks, a joint program of City Parks Foundation and the Parks Department, at Bronx Parks Speak Up, an annual event, in 2004, and began hosting It’s My Park Day events and cleanups that year, and have every year since. She signed up a record 800 volunteers in 2007 and continues to attract 200 volunteers to four cleanups a year. Because of the park’s location, finding volunteers has been tough, and her success is testament to her outreach and advocacy abilities. Most helpers come from schools and veterans groups from nearby neighborhoods, like Throgs Neck and Edgewater Park. MillionTreesNYC workers also often lend a hand.

“Even with our cleanups, there’s just trash everywhere,” Poggi said. In particular, she noted litter from weekend soccer league games, along with goat heads and assorted offerings from Hindu ceremonies which often wash up on the shore. She also expressed concerns about security, especially on crowded weekend days when drinking is prevalent.

In response to a question about maintenance, bathroom and security issues at the park, a Parks Department spokesman responded by email: “The Parks Department cleans Ferry Point Park daily. In addition, we have met with park user groups to encourage responsible park use, our Parks Enforcement officers regularly visit this park as part of their patrol routes, and we have worked with the NYPD to improve security in this park.”

The founding of Poggi’s group coincided with the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. A hillside waterfront view from the park’s southwest corner had offered a perfect view of the twin towers, and soon after the tragedy the Prince of Monaco donated one tree for each person killed in the attacks. Some of those trees were planted around the hillside vista to mark the gaping hole in the skyline. Today the Memorial Grove offers a solemn tribute and creates one of the most hauntingly serene spots in the city.

Though Poggi has been troubled by weekend behavior among the throngs of park-goers, a recent episode gave her hope: after a long afternoon of soccer matches, she spotted a man from one of the leagues cleaning up trash all along the fields.
 
“I recently almost threw in the towel,” she said. “But lately people have really started to notice our issues.  The soccer league playing a part in taking care of things gave me hope. I guess that’s what will keep me going.”

NY4P Commends City Council, Mayor for Increases to Parks Department Budget

Friday, July 06, 2012

NY4P commends the Bloomberg Administration and New York City Council for securing a targeted increase of more than $38 million to the Parks Department's budget for Fiscal Year 2013. Council leadership was provided by Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Finance Committee Chair Domenic M. Recchia, Jr., and the unusual bipartisan coalition who joined us at a June 5th rally to decry proposed cuts to Parks' budget:  Parks & Recreation Committee Chair Melissa Mark-Viverito, Brad Lander, Minority Leader James S. Oddo and Letitia James.

Among the restorations:

· A $9.737 million restoration for summer seasonal services, including $1.437 million for pools, $1 million for playground associates, and $7.3 million for other seasonal needs. These restorations will ensure that all municipal pools open for the full season, and that pools and playgrounds maintain regular hours;

·  $16.783 million for the Job Training Participant program, saving 845 full-time equivalent maintenance positions; 

· $9.2 million to make up for an FY12 staff attrition target that fell short; and

· $2 million for tree pruning, helping prevent dangerous conditions that result from insufficient tree maintenance.

“While this additional funding does not solve the Parks Department’s fiscal challenges, it is a significant stop-gap measure to help ensure that New Yorkers can continue to enjoy clean, safe parks,” said Holly Leicht, Executive Director of NY4P. “New Yorkers for Parks commends the Council and Administration not only for restoring seasonal funds, but also for saving nearly 850 maintenance jobs and bolstering essential funding for tree pruning.  In recent years, there has been a disconnect between the robust capital investments being put into new and existing flagship parks and the depletion of the maintenance budget. Today’s restorations signal a positive shift to better align Parks’ capital and maintenance budgets.”

The increase in Parks Department funding between the preliminary and final FY13 budgets is greater than in recent years. According to public officials, NY4P can claim a big share of the credit, thanks to recent advocacy efforts that included the June 5th rally with Council Members and park advocates on the steps of City Hall. We also helped bring the potential dangers of insufficient tree care to light, resulting in the first increase in funding for tree pruning since 2008.



Snug Harbor, Hidden Gem on Staten Island, Welcomes NY4P 

Thursday, July 05, 2012
Of all the public spaces in New York City, there’s only one where you can find everything from a garden built in China to a full vegetable farm to the keyboard on which the RZA composed the Wu-Tang Clan’s legendary “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" album.

Formerly a home for retired sailors, it’s hard to believe that the tranquil 83-acre, 28-building Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden is part of New York City. Visitors will find a wide range of activities and attractions: a two-acre farm, 14 acres of wetlands, rolling lawns for picnicking, the Richmond Country Savings Foundation Tuscan Garden, and the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden, which was built by Chinese artists in China and shipped, piece by piece, to Staten Island in 1998.

And then there are the buildings, several landmarked, which comprise the largest ongoing adaptive reuse project in the country. There’s the second-oldest concert hall in the city (Carnegie is the oldest), and several visual art installations, including “Island Sounds: a 500 Year Music Mash-Up” – a whirlwind tour of the musical history of Staten Island that takes visitors from Native American music to a guitar signed by Journey ‘s Steve Augeri to that Wu-Tang keyboard. The exhibit coincides with the 120th anniversary of the Concert Hall.

Snug Harbor is also home to the Art Lab, the Council on the Arts & Humanities for Staten Island, the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, the Noble Maritime Collection, SHARP/Snug Harbor Artist Residency Program, Staten Island Children's Museum and the Staten Island Museum & Archives.

NY4P visited in mid-June, and we were deeply impressed – both by the beauty and diversity of the landscape but also the generosity of the staff. Our day ended with lunch, fresh from the farm, overlooking the Tuscan Garden.
 
Snug Harbor, just a five minute drive or bus ride from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, is unlike anywhere else in New York City and perfect for a summertime visit.

Meet a New Yorker for Parks: Phyllis Yampolsky

Wednesday, July 04, 2012
McCarren Pool opened to the public last weekend for the first time since 1984. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was there on the North Williamsburg/Greenpoint border for the ribbon-cutting, and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe jumped in with dozens of local children to re-christen the giant basin. The pool was packed all weekend with capacity crowds of 1,500 swimmers.
 
Behind the fanfare over the unlocking of the pool’s grand arched entranceway on Lorimer Street, intertwined with the well-worn account of the neighborhood’s transformed social landscape, is the story of Phyllis Yampolsky, who fought for nearly a quarter century – in the face of community opposition – for the pool’s rebirth.
 
Her memories of her earliest days as a Greenpoint resident, in 1982, are still vivid. “It was a remote little Polish town, a 1930s museum piece,” she said in an interview last week.
 
She wanted to get civically involved, and a friend urged her to join the Friends of MCarren Park, a small local group. In 1988, she became its Chair.
 
“I took the position because no one else wanted it,” she said.
 
McCarren Pool opened in 1936, one of 11 play spaces funded by the federal Works Progress Administration and planned by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses to open that summer, the hottest on record in the United States. It held 6,800 swimmers under the watchful eyes of triumphant art deco-style ornamental eagles and was the summer hub of the area. But as Parks Department maintenance funds were slashed in the 1970s, the structure began to crumble. And as often happens, civic neglect begat misuse: trash was routinely thrown in the pool and fights often broke out. Neighborhood sentiment among the nearby Polish and Italian communities began to turn against the pool and its users – sentiment that was often racially tinged, Yampolsky said. The pool closed, the eagles placed in storage. While the city planned to refurbish the pool and open it for its 50th anniversary in 1986, many neighbors wanted it demo lished.
 
Pushing for and overseeing that Parks Department demolition project was the assignment handed down to Yampolsky’s group by her local community board, and she somewhat reluctantly accepted. But her stance soon shifted for good.
 
On a cool November afternoon in 1988, Yampolsky went to watch a local artist perform near the closed pool. Looking inside the gates, she was overcome with emotion.
 
“It was this lovely, mythical, magical place, a magnificent hole in the urban fabric,” she said. “I fell in love.”
 
That day marked the start of her 24-year push to save the pool. She quickly formed her own Friends of McCarren Park group, and the McCarren Park Conservancy, in 1994. Her goal was simple: bring back the pool.
 
“No one else in the community wanted it at the time,” she said. "But I knew it was the hearthstone of the neighborhood.”
 
She was, however, able to find architects and preservationists from across the city to join her cause. In 1989, those allies, along with a few local groups like El Puente, in South Williamsburg, effectively blocked the planned demolition.  
 
“We thought victory was nearly at hand, but really that victory was just the start of a 19 year battle,” she said.
 
Over the next several years, ideas for the pool were batted around, and the local support network grew. Celebrities with North Brooklyn ties, like Eddie Murphy, Spike Lee and Geraldo Rivera, donated their time and money to the pool's cause.
 
“Everyone, no matter who it was, always told me, ‘Hey, I grew up in that pool,'” Yampolsky said.
 
That became her group’s motto and in the early 90s, she hosted the "Hey I Grew Up in That Pool!" Grand Reunion Festival to raise awareness and funds.
 
After years of planning meetings, Yampolsky felt the tide had finally turned in 2001. She presented a plan to her community board in which the pool would generate revenue for its upkeep.
 
“The board parsed the plan and was impassioned by the idea,” she said. “The pool was going to be saved.”
 
A meeting to grant the plan final board approval, scheduled for September 17, 2001, never happened. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, City funding for the project, which had been in place, went elsewhere. Priorities shifted.
 
“The pro-demolition crowd was re-energized, and I began my fight anew,” Yampolsky said.
 
This time, finally, her timing was right. Her countless meetings with planners, architects and preservationists had made a mark, and people around the city began to realize the site’s potential. In 2005, it was reopened as a temporary outdoor concert venue, which became wildly popular among the rapidly expanding under-30 population in the area. In 2007, the pool’s fortunes shifted for good. In two final blows to the pro-demolition forces, it was designated a landmark by the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and awarded $50 million for a full rehabilitation as part of the Bloomberg Administration’s PlaNYC 2030 initiative.
 
Yampolsky relished a battle won last week on the eve of the pool’s reopening, and her memories came streaming back. Perhaps distracted by all the hype and hubbub, she still hadn’t decided on an outfit for the opening gala.
 
The next day, she saw what she had fought so hard for: the brick bathhouse was as sturdy as the day it opened in 1936; the eagles back in place. New touches, added by Rogers Marvel Architects, include locker room benches made from recycled Coney Island Boardwalk wood and hundreds of wire mesh baskets, used decades ago for locker room storage, dipped in silver paint and affixed to the new rec center’s ceiling. And of course the sparkling pool, newly painted in cerulean blue like a domed church in Santorini.
 
“For me to be able to see all this happen in my lifetime is a special dream that I never thought would come true,” said Yampolsky, her voice trembling with emotion. “For many years, people who wanted the pool gone hated me, and many still do. Maybe now they’ll finally change their minds.”

NY4P Makes Final Budget Season Push with City Hall Rally to Restore Parks Department Funding

Friday, June 15, 2012
NY4P was joined last week by a bipartisan group of New York City Council Members and park advocates from across the city to call upon the Council and Bloomberg Administration to work together to restore $33.4 million to the Parks Department’s expense budget prior to the July 1 deadline. The rally was held on the eve of the final public testimony on the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.
 
$33.4 million is the base minimum to ensure that all of the city’s swimming pools can be opened and sufficient seasonal staff can be hired this summer, essential maintenance jobs are not slashed, and trees are pruned and stumps removed to keep sidewalks and streets safe.
 
“The Bloomberg Administration is to be commended for its unprecedented commitment to creating great new parks, but we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that the budget for maintaining and operating our city’s 2,100 existing parks has been cut over 23 percent in the past five years,” NY4P Executive Director said to cheers at the event. “To care about New York City’s neighborhoods is to care about its parks. We are here today to say ‘we care,’ and the time has come to start investing in the maintenance of our city’s park system as generously as we have in its expansion.”
 
Leicht was flanked by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Brad Lander, James Oddo, Letitia James, and backed by “friends of” park groups from all five boroughs, workers’ rights advocates, community gardeners and members of regional and waterfront planning organizations.
 
The following analysis, which NY4P submitted to the City Council, is a detailed breakdown of the additional funding we called for:

Seasonal staff and services:  $13.12 Million
As has become the tradition in recent years, the FY13 Executive Budget does not include funding needed for summer seasonal staff – including Job Training Participants (JTP’s) and Playground Associates – and four swimming pools (Wagner in Manhattan, Howard in Brooklyn, Fort Totten in Queens and Faber in Staten Island), and would necessitate a reduced season for all pools. Not only should $13.12 million be restored to avert these service cuts, but these functions should be baselined in DPR’s budget going forward, as they are essential services of the Parks Department.
 
Job Training Participant (JTP) program:  $16.25 Million
JTPs make up the bulk of Parks’ maintenance crews, yet this program may lose up to 700 positions in Fiscal Year ’13, on top of seasonal reductions.  In our comparison between the proposed FY 2013 budget and the FY 2008 adopted budget, NY4P identified a decrease of 1,435 JTP workers, a 62% cut. If the Council and Administration do not restore $16.25 million to hold the JTP program harmless, New Yorkers will increasingly see a decline in park conditions across the city.
 
Pruning and stump removal:  $4 Million

At the same time the City is planting a million new trees, the budget for pruning and stump removal has been slashed by 80 percent since 2008. With a budget of $1.4 million, trees are now pruned on a 15- to 20-year cycle rather than the recommended five-year cycle, and funding for stump removal, which stood at $2.3 million in FY08, has been totally eliminated. Tree maintenance is not optional; unmaintained trees create dangerous conditions, and $4 million for pruning and stump removal should be baselined in DPR’s budget.

update (July 6, 2012):

NY4P commends the Bloomberg Administration and New York City Council for securing a targeted increase of more than $38 million to the Parks Department's budget for Fiscal Year 2013. Council leadership was provided by Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Finance Committee Chair Domenic M. Recchia, Jr., and the unusual bipartisan coalition who joined us at a June 5th rally to decry proposed cuts to Parks' budget:  Parks & Recreation Committee Chair Melissa Mark-Viverito, Brad Lander, Minority Leader James S. Oddo and Letitia James.

Among the restorations:

· A $9.737 million restoration for summer seasonal services, including $1.437 million for pools, $1 million for playground associates, and $7.3 million for other seasonal needs. These restorations will ensure that all municipal pools open for the full season, and that pools and playgrounds maintain regular hours;

·  $16.783 million for the Job Training Participant program, saving 845 full-time equivalent maintenance positions; 

· $9.2 million to make up for an FY12 staff attrition target that fell short; and

· $2 million for tree pruning, helping prevent dangerous conditions that result from insufficient tree maintenance.

“While this additional funding does not solve the Parks Department’s fiscal challenges, it is a significant stop-gap measure to help ensure that New Yorkers can continue to enjoy clean, safe parks,” said Holly Leicht, Executive Director of NY4P. “New Yorkers for Parks commends the Council and Administration not only for restoring seasonal funds, but also for saving nearly 850 maintenance jobs and bolstering essential funding for tree pruning.  In recent years, there has been a disconnect between the robust capital investments being put into new and existing flagship parks and the depletion of the maintenance budget. Today’s restorations signal a positive shift to better align Parks’ capital and maintenance budgets.”

The increase in Parks Department funding between the preliminary and final FY13 budgets is greater than in recent years. According to public officials, NY4P can claim a big share of the credit, thanks to recent advocacy efforts that included the June 5th rally with Council Members and park advocates on the steps of City Hall. We also helped bring the potential dangers of insufficient tree care to light, resulting in the first increase in funding for tree pruning since 2008.

 

Con Edison Joins NY4P for Spring Cleanup & Planting in Morningside Park

Thursday, June 14, 2012
Rain fell overnight into the early morning of Saturday, June 2, but the sun was shining for NY4P’s mid-morning cleanup and planting in Morningside Park – perfect conditions for planting and weeding in the still-damp soil.
 
We were joined by 15 volunteers from Daffodil Project sponsor Con Edison and Friends of Morningside Park, along with Parks Department Supervisor Joe Spano and several maintenance workers from Parks.
 
Friends of Morningside Park head Brad Taylor began the day by sharing the history of the park, which opened in 1895 and was the final green space designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.
 
Then we dug in, weeding a hillside in the park’s southwest corner. By 1pm, with Joe's guidance, eight new dogwood and mulberry trees were planted along the hillside.
 
Thanks to Con Edison, the Parks Department and Friends of Morningside Park for a successful morning.

Meet a New Yorker for Parks: Deborah Myers

Monday, June 11, 2012
At NY4P’s June 5 Parks budget rally on the steps of City Hall, Debra Myers arrived with a Claremont Park/Mt. Eden Malls/Grand Concourse sign, and a broad smile. She grabbed a green “Support Our Parks” shirt and began waving it wildly. When the event ended, she started handing shirts to participants in the next rally – totally unrelated to parks – that had booked time on the steps. What could they do other than oblige her? She joined them in the fourth row, still waving her green shirt, and still smiling and shouting her support for parks. Though perhaps slightly confused, the participants in the rally joined in, waving their shirts, too. Her passion for parks is contagious. 
 
The effect Myers has on people, along with the lessons of her earliest years, have helped her make a difference for more than 40 years in the Mount Eden section of the Bronx.
 
“I grew up in South Carolina – a rural farming community,” Myers said. “My mother died when I was just six, but I remember always gardening with her. I never forgot how she taught me to be proud of where I lived because it looked beautiful.”
 
In the 1960s, she moved to Harlem, and a few years later, the Bronx, and had children of her own.
 
“All I saw when I moved was concrete, sidewalks, dirty tenement buildings,” she said. “I couldn’t walk outside into green, like I had in my childhood.”
 
She began small, by gaining permission from her landlord to plant flowers in front of her building.

“I wanted to teach my children the same thing my mother taught me. I wanted them to go out their front door and see beauty, like I had,” she said.
 
Her work along the block continued, and she became active in the local civic world, becoming her building’s Tenant Association President and frequently speaking out in public meetings about local education and housing issues. As people encountered the warmth of her community pride, they, too, began planting flowers along residential blocks.
 
Since 1997, Myers has expanded her beautification efforts to nearby 38-acre Claremont Park and the Mount Eden Malls, a narrow, five-block green space that abuts Claremont. Neighbors and friends have joined in droves, helping to line the formerly trash-strewn space with tulips, NY4P daffodils, and other flowers.
 
But Myers didn't stop there. In 2004, she secured a $500,000 allocation from former New York City Council Member Maria Bayez for It’s My Park Day plantings and cleanups along the Malls and attracted the support of Partnerships for Parks, a joint program of the City Parks Foundation and the Parks Department. Partnerships for Parks joined her for the inaugural It’s My Park Day in 2004 and has been a steady partner ever since. In 2006, she founded Friends of Mount Eden Malls and Claremont Park.

But then, despite her efforts to keep the park clean and organize planting and weeding events, Myers said the park’s maintenance conditions deteriorated, largely due to fewer permanent and temporary workers dedicated to Claremont.
 
That makes sense, considering the severe cuts that have been made to the Parks Department’s maintenance and operations budget since 2008, and the 62 percent cut in the temporary worker program that makes up the bulk of the Parks Department’s maintenance staff. Myers’ trusted Park Supervisor was transferred without notice away from Claremont, a place he had known intimately, Myers said.
 
But the last straw for her was NY4P’s 2011 Report Card on Large Parks, which gave Claremont a “D" for maintenance conditions. The report found “an extraordinary amount of litter” impacting athletic fields, courts, lawns and natural areas, along with weed growth, hazardous tree stumps and non-functioning bathrooms.
 
Myers took the report to her local Community Board’s Planning Committee meeting and to Bronx Parks Commissioner Hector Aponte’s office.
 
“The Department really became focused on Claremont after that,” she said. “They really listened, offered to work with us in the community on cleaning and weeding, and now it is much better. I was grateful for the grade, to be honest. It’s kept people on their toes.”
 
Myers is now working with Council Member Fernando Cabrera to secure capital funding for tree pruning, grass re-seeding, and sidewalk and retaining wall repairs. If her past influence and attitude is any indication, she will succeed. Myers just keeps pushing, and touching people with her relentless optimism and spirit. Thanks to those lessons her mom taught her as a little girl in South Carolina, she won’t be letting up anytime soon.
 
“I visit the park, or the Malls, or even my block, and I see children able to see beauty. It gives them a sense of pride in where they live. You can’t give a child back a childhood. I see a little girl smile, and it just makes me so happy. I can’t stop because of that.”