Transition Recommendations for the de Blasio Administration: Four Ways to Equitably Improve NYC’s Parks

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In every neighborhood, in every borough, parks bring together New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds unlike any other public amenity. They lie at the heart of our neighborhood life, fostering community and providing peaceful respite and healthy recreational opportunities amidst a dense urban environment.  Keeping all our parks well programmed, safe and beautiful for all New Yorkers to enjoy is integral to the very lifeblood of our city. Quite simply, neighborhoods without quality parks and public spaces are not places where people want to live. 

Maintaining and programming all 30,000 acres of city parkland requires both informed decision-making about resource allocation and an acknowledgment of the unique value of these spaces. For more than 100 years, New Yorkers for Parks has protected, studied and fought for our city’s parks. Our positions are informed by in-depth, independent research, making us the city's premier park advocacy group and the most trusted citywide voice among local park groups and City officials alike.

Adopting the following recommendations would send a resounding message from the de Blasio Administration that acknowledges the value of parks as critical components of healthy neighborhoods in every corner of the city – and that when it comes to parks, equity matters.

1. Give the Parks Department a well-funded, flexible capital budget to plan a long-term pipeline that targets parks most in need.

Unlike many agencies that oversee a large portfolio of capital projects, the Parks Department does not have a meaningful discretionary budget enabling it to plan for and fund capital projects over time across parks citywide.  Rather, the Department has been reliant for funding for the majority of its projects on piecemeal discretionary allocations from City Council Members and Borough Presidents, whose priorities may not align with each other or with the on-the-ground assessment of needs within the Department.  Cobbling together allocations over multiple fiscal years from different elected officials is inefficient, leads to inequitable results, and often means the nuts-and-bolts needs of parks across the city fall through the cracks.  The Bloomberg Administration provided consistent capital funding for parks, but those funds have been targeted to a limited number of large-scale projects.  Without increasing the Mayoral budget for parks by a single dollar beyond the current level, giving the Parks Department a discretionary capital budget to target and prioritize spending across the park system based on need would do more than any other single action to address disparate conditions among parks citywide. And park capital projects would get done in a timelier, more cost-effective manner than today.

2. Create a new jobs program that would give temporary workers a meaningful chance at full-time work within the Parks Department.

The Parks Department’s maintenance budget was slashed for many budget cycles, leaving the Department woefully understaffed to care for its 30,000 acres of parkland.  Seventy-five percent of the maintenance staff is made up of Job Training Participants who work at the Department up to six months but are almost never given an opportunity for permanent employment once their training is complete.  The new Mayor could show commitment to both improving neighborhood parks and creating new jobs by developing a program that would provide a robust training program and transition qualified temporary workers into full-time positions as park maintenance workers over time.  

3. Be a leader in protecting New York’s public realm by restricting and strongly regulating the privatization of parkland.

In a city as densely built as New York, parks should be vigorously protected and should be the last places considered for non-park uses.  Parkland alienation should only occur if the City can show that there is no other land available for an essential municipal need.  And when parkland is alienated, the law should require that it be replaced acre-for-acre with new, proximate parkland of comparable size and program.

Parks are not potential development sites and should not be considered viable locations for economic development projects, no matter how worthy the project.  We have already given away too much of our parkland for stadiums and other so-called “compatible” private uses; it is up to the new Mayor to draw the line.  

4. Be the Mayor for NYC neighborhoods by integrating the public realm, physically and administratively.

Parks are part of a broad network of public spaces that provides the physical foundation of every New York City neighborhood.  Parks need to be considered as part of the larger infrastructure of neighborhoods and the city as a whole, and City agencies must coordinate to create a safe, cohesive public realm.  Too often City agencies operate in silos, but interagency cooperation is essential if New York is to be a truly sustainable urban environment.  The Parks Department, DOT, DEP, SCA, and NYCHA all have open space in their jurisdictions, and the operation of the spaces should be coordinated to maximize public use and resiliency measures.

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