New Legislation Creates Greater Transparency in Parks Funding

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Quality parks are impossible without quality maintenance. With more than 5,000 properties across the city, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) cares for approximately 29,000 acres of public land. Yet up until recently, DPR was not tracking and reporting allocations of staff for individual properties. This made understanding discrepancies in the quality of parks across the city practically impossible, partly because there are so many other factors that affect the quality of a park. These include rates of usage, types of usage, terrain, capital expenditures, and the work of a volunteer group or conservancy, among others. It was also impossible to determine if parks staffing is equitably distributed across the city. We had no way of knowing if parks in low- to moderate-income areas were getting as many resources as those in more affluent neighborhoods.

Intro 154-A, legislation sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander and signed into law on November 4, addresses this issue by requiring DPR to submit an annual report to the City Council detailing work performed at each property under its jurisdiction, and to publish on its website the status of each capital park project. 

The maintenance report will include information on whether each park has permanent or mobile staff assigned, the weekly average and dollar value of work-hours performed, and total weekly average dollar value of specific maintenance services at each property. DPR will phase in reporting over the next two years: by December 1, 2016 they will provide data on the 100 largest parks in the city, and by December 1, 2017 they will include data on every park.

The status of parks capital projects will be updated at least quarterly. The information will include the starting and estimated completion date, total amount of funds allocated to the project, a description of the project, and the location.

These reports will work with another important piece of legislation, Intro. 384-A, signed into law in March of this year, which established regular, uniform reporting for parks conservancies on the amount of non-government funding they receive. By comparing the gap in funding between conservancy parks and city parks New Yorkers will have a more complete picture of what resources are necessary for quality open spaces across the city, and will know what to ask for when budget and election seasons come around.

In a press release, Council Member Lander highlighted the importance of this legislation and the contribution of parks advocates such as NY4P. “In each of our parks, for too long, it has been impossible to know what the City is spending, whether our capital program is on track, and whether every community is getting its fair share. This new law will solve that problem. Thanks to support from… strong advocates like New Yorkers for Parks for their work making sure that every NYC neighborhood has the first-rate parks our families need.”

NY4P Testimony on the Parks Without Borders Initiative

Thursday, December 03, 2015

On Wednesday, December 3, Tupper Thomas testified at the New York City Council Parks Committee hearing on An Examination of the Parks Without Borders Initiative. The purpose of the Initiative, which NY4P supports, is to make NYC parks more open and accessible by improving entrances, edges, and parks-adjacent spaces. Mayor de Blasio dedicated $50 million in funding to the program, of which $40 million will go to 8 pilot projects. The public can nominate parks that they think would be good candidates through an online interactive map, and at in-person meetings. The remaining $10 million will go to capital projects already in the pipeline, that could use further funding for edge improvements. 

Go to our issues page to see our testimonies, or download the pdf here.

Statement on the Creation of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Alliance

Tuesday, November 17, 2015
On Monday, November 16, Mayor de Blasio and Council Member Ferreras announced the creation of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Alliance. New Yorkers for Parks issued the following statement in response:

With today’s announcement, Queens community members and leadership have taken great steps toward creating better open space for the borough. The Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Alliance will increase the quality of life for the tens of thousands of residents from across the borough and the city that depend upon Flushing Meadows-Corona Park for recreation, relaxation, and as a place to gather with family and friends.

New Yorkers for Parks worked with Councilmember Ferreras and Queens community members for the past 4 years, first to save the Park from intrusion from a proposed Major League Soccer stadium, then in securing $10.05 million in funding from the US Tennis Association, and finally to help establish this conservancy. It is a true alliance with a board made up of government, business, and community leaders, as well as an independent Community Advisory Board.

The Alliance can now advocate for the park and raise funds to augment its limited budget. With this support, the park will receive much-needed capital improvements and hire additional staff to supplement its 18 full-time and 35 seasonal Parks Department staff. By comparison, Central Park has approximately 300 full-time workers, 17 of whom are paid for the Parks Department.

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park encapsulates so many of the qualities that make New York City great; it attracts people from across the borough and the city, who congregate in the park for diverse reasons. On any given week the park hosts soccer, baseball, volleyball, and cricket games. As many as 20,000 people play soccer in the park every week through the organized league games alone. Residents run and bike along its paths, and row boats in Meadow Lake. Extended families gather in the park to celebrate birthdays, baby showers, quinceañeras, and all manner of special occasions. With its iconic Unisphere from the 1964 World’s Fair, the Queens Museum, New York Hall of Science, Botanical Garden and Zoo, the “World’s Park” is a place where New York’s history mingles with the essential everyday activities of residents from the surrounding communities.

The park is a beautiful and important place, and the creation of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Alliance is going to give the people of Queens the ability to make it even better.

NY4P Testimony on Creation of Task Force to Study Shadows

Thursday, November 12, 2015

On November 12, 2015 the New York City Council Parks and Recreation Committee held a hearing on Int. 737, a bill that would require an inter-agency task force to study the effect of shadows cast by tall buildings over City parkland. NY4P testified in support of the bill, as the impacts of shadows can have profoundly negative effects on parks and gardens.  Find our testimony on our issues page, or download it here.  


NY4P’s Research Helps Open Space Advocates

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Jennifer Ratner founded the Friends of the East River Esplanade almost ten years ago to “create a waterfront that everyone in the surrounding communities can be proud of.” An essential resource that the group uses in their advocacy work is New Yorkers for Parks’ Manhattan’s East Side Open Space Index. “I carry the Index everywhere I go,” Ms. Ratner explains. “Having the New Yorkers for Parks name on the research we use lends credibility to our advocacy. Because we’ve come to the same conclusions about the need for open space in our community, it has a big impact.” They’ve presented the Index to numerous politicians and community leaders, including at their first meeting with NYS Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriguez. That conversation helped prompt him to create A Tale of Two Rivers, which called for increased funding for the Esplanade.

Ms. Ratner has lived near the Esplanade for 50 years, and is a die-hard lover of New York City. While she was long aware that the Esplanade needed a lot of work, her activism really began about ten years ago while biking along the waterfront with her seven-year-old son. Seeing such a beautiful place with crumbling paths and inadequate infrastructure prompted her to go to a local East River task force meeting. While there she suggested that the Esplanade needed a conservancy. One thing led to another, and the Friends of the East River Esplanade was born.

The Index shows that the demographic that could benefit from an improved waterfront extends far beyond the current users. The Friends want to change that, and envision the Esplanade providing much-needed open space to all different types of users, “not only from different socioeconomic backgrounds but for people with different interests - for the fishermen, bikers, runners, etc. We want to make it more welcoming.” Ms. Ratner believes that, “if you build it, they will come; or in this case, if you improve it, they will come.”

They’ve had numerous successes so far. Through their persistent advocacy they had dangerous sinkholes along the Esplanade fixed by the City. They used grant money to fund the first-ever public art display on the Esplanade, earning them coverage in the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets. A big part of their vision is to have quality programming on the waterfront, because they find that people like knowing that things are happening in their neighborhood and community. To that end they’ve hosted events like plantings, Latin music concerts, and Afro-Caribbean dance performances. They realized that the Esplanade doesn’t have food vendors – so they even brought in local ice cream maker Ice & Vice.

“We want to be even better than the West Side,” Ms. Ratner says with a laugh, but she isn’t joking. She knows that the East Side has huge potential, and the Friends of the East River Esplanade are committed to meeting it. “The Manhattan’s East Side Open Space Index came out at the same time that we decided to really ramp up our efforts, and it felt serendipitous. It’s extremely helpful to have something tangible that puts numbers and data on what we’re saying.”

NY4P Welcomes Megan Douglas as Director of Communications

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

We’re very happy to announce our new Director of Communications, Megan Douglas. Megan has extensive experience working in both environmental policy and communications on the federal, state, and local level. She is excited to help New Yorkers for Parks promote and advance our mission of ensuring quality parks and open space for all New Yorkers. She is particularly looking forward to working with local advocacy and community groups to highlight the vital and innovative work happening in our city.

Prior to NY4P Megan worked with Recycle-A-Bicycle, a Brooklyn-based grassroots nonprofit; the Association for Energy Affordability, a Bronx-based nonprofit weatherization agency; and ICF International, a Washington, DC-based consulting firm with a focus on environmental issues. We’re delighted to welcome a communications professional who has experience with community-based organizations, governmental agencies, and corporations, who can adeptly work with all of our partners to continue to advocate on behalf of park users across the city. 

New Yorkers for Parks Statement on Phase II of the Community Parks Initiative

Friday, October 09, 2015

NEW YORK, NY - On Tuesday October 6th, NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver announced the continuation of the Community Parks Initiative, with a second phase of investment in underserved New York City parks.  New Yorkers for Parks issued the following statement in response:

"New York City continues to make great strides towards an equitable park system with yesterday’s announcement.  The Community Parks Initiative (CPI), which targets capital investment, programs, community outreach, and maintenance funds towards the neediest neighborhoods in the city, will expand to a second phase with this commitment from the de Blasio administration through NYC Parks, NYC Department of Environmental Protection, the City Council, and the City Parks Foundation.   New Yorkers for Parks is thrilled to see that the City continues the commitment made in OneNYC to expand this program by continuing the funding for capital improvements and in-house repairs to more small parks in underserved CPI neighborhoods.  The inclusion of DEP capital funds to this program will also make more of our neighborhoods sustainable and less prone to flooding.
Yet throughout the city, and even in the neighborhoods that are targeted for investment, there are hundreds of small and neighborhood-sized parks that do not have access to this robust funding for capital improvements.  Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Silver must bring the funding and the community engagement process of CPI to all parks across our city that still have dire need of overall rejuvenation.  The backlog for capital improvements is long and has to be aggressively addressed.  

Most importantly, the Administration has not lived up to its most important commitment to CPI: maintenance funding for CPI zones.  In FY 2015, the Mayor added $5 million on funding for park operations and the Council added $3 million.  For FY 2016, the Council had to fund the entire $8 million.  

This way of funding is not a long term commitment.  The full $8 million should have been permanently added to the NYC Parks budget as part of the Mayor’s allocation, instead of depending on temporary, one-year Council money to fill the gap.  It would create permanent budget lines for staff, not vulnerable annual positions.  The capital work being done under CPI will take at least 3 years to accomplish from planning to completion, but the results of increased maintenance staffing could be seen immediately.  25 new targeted improvement sites will soon be named: that work will be done by existing NYC Parks staff, which is already stretched thin across the city’s more than 1,800 parks.  We are glad that the Council supported additional staff for the year, but those positions must be made permanent.  If we want to see “caring” for our parks as a reality, there needs to be enough staff to let the public know that NYC Parks cares!

We look forward to making this vision a reality with the partnership of NYC Parks, the dedicated support of the Council and the thousands of park users and advocates that work for this city’s open spaces."

New City Council District Profiles Provide Data on Your Parks

Thursday, October 01, 2015

As the City Council continues to play a critical role in funding New York City’s parks, understanding how parks and open space rank in each of the 51 City Council Districts provides key to local advocacy efforts.
The 2015 City Council District Profiles, released on Thursday by New Yorkers for Parks provide a comprehensive assessment of open space resources throughout the five boroughs, and may be used to educate citizens, elected officials, non-profits and others on park issues and to inform park advocacy in every district.
Each Council District Profile tells a local story about neighborhood resources, but as a collection, they tell us a lot about each borough and the city as a whole.  Some interesting findings include:
61% of New Yorkers have access to a local park: NY4P measured the proportion of city residents who live within a five-minute walk of a city park entrance. 

Access to parks is highest in Manhattan: 69% of Manhattan residents live within a five-minute walk of a city park entrance. However, Manhattan has proportionately low park & playground acres per residents, with only 1.7 acres of city parks & playground per 1,000 residents. 

Staten Island has the highest amount of city parks & playground acres per resident: There are 11.8 acres of city parks & playgrounds per 1,000 residents in Staten Island. Yet, only 33% of the borough’s residents live within a five minute walk of a city park entrance. 

Brooklyn, compared to other boroughs, is park-poor: Brooklyn has 1.4 acres of city parks & playgrounds per 1,000 residents, well below the city’s average of 2.9 acres. Only 6% of the borough’s area is comprised of city parks & playground properties. Three out of the five lowest-ranked districts for park & playground area are in Brooklyn: District 45 (Jumaane Williams), 1%; District 44 (David Greenfield), 2%; District 34 (Antonio Reynoso), 2%.

City parks & playgrounds cover 9% of the city’s area: The Bronx has the greatest proportion of city parks & playgrounds by area, at 16%.

Each profile provides rankings for park acreage in each district, maintenance inspection information, population and parks access, and capital spending on parks in each district. New Yorkers can find out how their district ranks on number of parks amenities and measures of civic engagement. Up-to-date maps pinpoint the locations of parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, recreation centers and community gardens.  In addition to the data, contact information for political representatives is included to support local advocacy efforts.

The Council District Profiles indicate how well each district performs against other districts and citywide averages in measuring important local indicators such as how many residents live within a 5 minute walk of a park entrance, or the amount of district land that is made up of parks and playgrounds.  The profiles take a deeper dive by highlighting the percentage of the local population that is under 18, and the amount of parkland acreage per 1,000 children.  The senior population is given the same attention, with population measures and the amount of parkland per 1,000 residents over age 65.  For the 2015 district profiles, socioeconomic data is included to measure the open space inventory for the most under-resourced communities by including statistics that reflect the percentage of a district population in poverty, as well as the percentage of children receiving public assistance.


 About the City Council District Profiles: NY4P’s City Council District Profiles provide residents, neighborhood groups and elected officials with comprehensive information about open space resources in their communities. They also include quality of life measures, such as civic engagement and socioeconomic statistics, and borough and citywide data that enable constituents to compare their local resources to those of other neighborhoods. The last installment of District Profiles was completed in 2009.

Data Collection by the Numbers

Thursday, September 10, 2015
NY4P's summer survey team covered a lot of ground this year collecting data for our next Report Card on Parks. Here are some stats on their stats:

6 surveyors traveled to:
5 boroughs in
10 weeks to collect data in
39 parks.

They took more than:
200 subway rides and covered
449 acres of parkland in
770 man-hours (and woman-hours).

They leave more than 1,200 data sheets and
3,000-plus photographs for analysis - which they collected using
3 tablet computers and 
2 digital cameras (equipped with 6 backup batteries).

Our next steps are to take that massive pile of data and find out what it tells us about the health of our parks - and we've been given a huge head start with their work.

Beautifying NYCHA Housing, One Garden at a Time

Thursday, September 10, 2015

One of NYC’s most interesting (and competitive) annual contests is one that many New Yorkers likely don’t even know is taking place. Since 1963, residents of NYC public housing have been eligible to compete in the annual New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Garden Competition. Every August, NYCHA’s Garden and Greening program convenes horticultural professionals to serve as judges, as their resident gardeners compete to win the top spot in three garden categories – prizes can be won for the best Flower Garden, Theme Garden, and Vegetable Garden. NY4P staff have had the privilege to participate as judges for the last few seasons, and this summer’s batch of gardens were as impressive as ever.  NYCHA’s Garden and Greening program uses the contest to highlight the hard work, dedication, and care that NYCHA residents put into their beloved spaces. The competition is just one facet of what NYCHA’s Garden and Greening program does – they serve as an environmental education program that provides technical assistance and informational workshops for residents wanting to gain more horticultural knowledge.

NY4P’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Dora Armenta, served as a first time judge this summer. “I was blown away by the devotion and love NYCHA residents pour into their gardens. They truly transform the grounds to a space of beauty and community pride.” As we walked through each development, it became evident that these spaces serve to provide a source of community pride and a place for homegrown stewardship. One garden at the Wise Towers development on the Upper West Side was scattered with handmade signs featuring uplifting quotes for passersby to read. At Union Avenue Consolidation in the Claremont section of the Bronx, we spoke to a vegetable gardener who shares her crops with her neighbors – she even shared some of her fresh peaches with us while we were there. At Breukelen Houses in Canarsie, Brooklyn, long-time gardener and 2013 Brooklyn Daffodil Award Honoree, Ms. Anne Marie Rameau, once again wowed the judges with her impressively designed and beautifully blooming flower garden.

For NY4P Director of Outreach and Programs, Emily Walker, one of the most incredible aspects of the judging experience is getting to speak with the gardeners themselves. “At Parkside Houses in the Bronx, we spoke with a woman whose love of gardening was borne out of mourning. She told us about how after her son passed away, she realized she needed an outlet for her grief. His love of flowers inspired her to start beautifying a patch of land in front of her building in his memory. The results are incredibly colorful, beautiful, and welcoming, and clearly provide such a therapeutic outlet. It’s amazing that these residents have this kind of opportunity.”  Having the chance to view so many colorful, bountiful, and fascinating gardens throughout the city, one thing rang true – these are spaces that truly cultivate and grow community.

Breukelen Sight Garden

Peace Love and Breath Garden