Parks deserve an extra $385 million in city funding, advocates say
March 26, 2018
By Lisa Colangelo
New York City’s parks need some more green.
Elected officials and park lovers are asking the City Council to designate 1 percent of the city’s budget to be used specifically for parks.
“Green and recreation space is the great equalizer,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams on Monday as he released “The Pulse of Our Parks,” a year-long study of 270 parks in Kings County.
“We have to stop looking at our parks like a luxury that is a separate entity from the overall development of the borough and the city,” he said. “By encouraging greater green space, it encourages people to stop living in their own silos, come out and interact with other groups. It’s the larger picture we are looking at.”
Adams unveiled the study with a group of parks advocates at the Ridgewood Reservoir site in Highland Park, which sits on the border of Brooklyn and Queens.
He said boosting funding to 1 percent would increase the city’s parks budget by about $385 million. The current amount in the preliminary budget is about $501 million — a little more than half of 1 percent of the budget.
The release of the study coincided with Tuesday’s City Council hearing on the preliminary parks department budget. The council and the de Blasio administration will spend the next three months conducting hearings and negotiating a budget for the 2019 fiscal year.
This isn’t the first time park lovers have tried to persuade the City Council to embrace the 1 percent standard. Back in 2001, there was an aggressive — but ultimately unsuccessful — campaign to lobby the City Council to pledge 1 percent of the budget for parks.
Adams said he thinks this time could be different because healthy parks are connected to many of the city’s initiatives championed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, such as Vision Zero and more bicycle use.
“Parks is something the council is always going to support in the strongest possible way — obviously we would like it to be more,” said City Councilman Barry Grodenchik of Queens, who chairs the parks committee.
Grodenchik noted the budget for parks usually increases after negotiations, but said the process is in the early stages.
The report conducted by Adams’ office found 88 percent of the Brooklyn parks surveyed did not have access to publicly available Wi-Fi, 40 percent did not have a comfort station and 11 percent did not have access to a drinking fountain.
It also found 73 percent of those parks were not affiliated with a nonprofit or formal community group.
“There aren’t a lot of greenspaces around here aside from this park,” said Aurelie Hug, 36, of Fort Greene, as she walked in Fort Greene Park with her toddler, Guile. “The city needs more of them.”
Tobias Holler, 44, a restaurant owner, who lives in Fort Greene said he has seen improvements in Fort Greene Park.
“It’s always easy to point at something and say, ‘this should be better,’ but getting the money and taking the time is hard,” he said. “[Adams’ plan] is definitely a good first step and hopefully the city can be creative.”
Maintenance of city parks has been an issue as agency funds have been cut over the years, and there is more dependence on local City Council members to fund new playgrounds, dog runs and other amenities. Public-private partnerships also pay for maintenance and programming at some of the city’s larger parks such as Central Park and Prospect Park.
“We are appreciative of Borough President Adams’ advocacy and continued support of Brooklyn’s parks and public spaces,” city Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver said in a statement. “We share his commitment to engaging with our local communities through our grassroots efforts like the Community Parks Initiative, which has already impacted more than 1 million children through physical park improvements, expanded programming, and enhanced community partnerships.”
Parks officials said over the last four years the agency’s joint program with the City Parks Foundation has supported 1,355 community park groups and assisted over 98,000 volunteers.
“This administration will continue to make significant strides in creating a more equitable city by bringing world-class neighborhood parks to all New Yorkers,” Silver said.
Prospect Park Alliance President Sue Donoghue said an active park group can advocate for that site and fight for resources.
“Greenspace and open space is so important throughout the five boroughs,” she said.
Parks are also the only place for many New Yorkers to go when they want to relax.
“This is the Bermuda for people who can’t afford to take that trip,” said Adams. “For people who can’t afford to leave the city or the country this is all there is.”