New Yorkers for Parks Releases 2012 Report Card on Large Parks

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The good news: New York City’s large parks average a B+ for maintenance, up from a B a year earlier. The bad news: old problems keep popping up in new places.

The 2012 Report Card on Large Parks, released today by New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P), revisits maintenance conditions of the 43 parks between 20 and 500 acres surveyed in the organization’s 2011 Report Card. Eighty-eight percent of parks scored in the A or B range, three scored in the C range and one earned a D. This is an improvement from the 2011 report, in which 80 percent of parks scored an A or B, and one park received a failing grade.

“This is encouraging news,” said Holly Leicht, Executive Director of NY4P, an independent citywide parks and open space advocacy group. “However, when you scratch below the surface, it’s clear that the Parks Department has been ensnared in a property management version of “Whac-A-Mole”: they fix one problem, and another emerges elsewhere.  The pie just isn’t big enough.”

The grades are based on scores of 11 key features of large parksFor every feature in the survey – even those that increased on average citywide from 2010 to 2012 – the performance varied considerably from park to park. For example, while the citywide drinking fountain average rose from 64 in 2010 to 75 in 2012, there were 17 parks in which the condition of drinking fountains in 2012 was inferior to the condition in 2010. The overall park experience, then, improved on average – but specific problems in many parks got worse.

NY4P’s Report Card series, launched in 2003, is the only independent comparative survey of park maintenance across all five boroughs. NY4P Report Cards have analyzed conditions of parks, playgrounds, turf fields, and beaches, and offer system-wide suggestions that are routinely used by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation in targeting maintenance investment and identifying citywide needs.

The new report offers recommendations based on three cycles of maintenance:

•             Continuous Stewardship: Parks Department staff must work in tandem with volunteer networks to address day-to-day operations and maintenance needs such as trash pickup, weeding and beautification. Skilled technicians are necessary to fix broken drinking fountains, prune trees and remove stumps.

•             Equipment Replacement:  It’s essential that the Parks Department have the funds to plan ongoing equipment and infrastructure replacement – such as safety surfacing and turf field replacement, and pathway repaving– as a necessary supplement to day-to-day maintenance.

•             Broader Urban Planning:  The City must undertake long-term park planning – and broader urban planning – to ensure the future integrity of our waterways, shorelines, wetlands, roads and bike paths, public transit, housing, and indeed, the city itself.

Hurricane Sandy occurred after field work for the report was complete, and NY4P staff revisited over half of the parks to assess storm damage, as summarized in the report. Fallen trees and downed tree limbs were the most pervasive indications of storm damage in large parks, and the report calls for increased funding for tree care. While those funds increased in FY2013 and remain stable in the proposed FY2014 budget, they are significantly lower than in 2008.

Like much of NY4P’s research, issuing this report is just the first step in advocating for improvements in New York City’s large parks. Outreach to communities with the lowest-scoring parks and the Parks Department is already underway.

“I commend New Yorkers for Parks on this valuable inventory of one our city’s most important public resources," said New York City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “It’s critical that we stay committed to strengthening our parks, especially in this time of austerity and budget cuts. Healthier parks mean a healthier New York.

“Despite improved scores, the bottom line is that the Parks Department hasn’t had sufficient resources to keep up with the maintenance demands of 29,000 acres of parkland,” Leicht said. “We are gratified that the City’s preliminary FY2014 budget includes over 400 new maintenance positions for the Parks Department.  Quite simply, New York’s park system can’t be maintained at the high level we’ve come to expect over the past two decades unless the Department has sufficient staffing.” 

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