February 4, 2022
By Adam Ganser
Don’t be fooled by these cold white winter days. Spring is just two short months away.
As we emerge from the snow and yet another COVID-19 variant, New Yorkers will again have their eyes on our parks to provide safe havens to be with their families, friends and communities. And as climate change, public health and public safety dominate our daily news cycle, the time is now for transformative investment in our city’s parks system.
On the campaign trail last year, both Eric Adams and Adrienne Adams — now mayor and City Council speaker — recognized parks as critical infrastructure. Significantly, both candidates strongly voiced their support for New Yorkers for Parks and the Play Fair coalition’s call to increase funding for New York City’s parks to 1% of the city’s budget.
This is the kind of forward-thinking vision we need from our city’s leaders at this critical moment. Raising parks funding to 1% of the budget, from about 0.6% where it stands today, would reverse decades of city disinvestment that has left our parks department operating under an austerity plan with only 0.5% of total city spending since the 1970s. It would also help bring our parks to a state of good repair after a pandemic and massive 2020 budget cut that resulted, by the agency’s own evaluation, in the worst parks conditions the city has seen in decades.
The mayor’s preliminary budget this month will be a statement of his priorities for the City’s next fiscal year and could set an agenda with impact for years to come. We urge Adams to include 1% for parks in the budget. This would be an affirmation of the bold vision he has consistently expressed in the past.
For the last 50 years, the deterioration of our public parks due to our city’s disinvestment compelled civic groups, volunteers, not-for-profits and philanthropy to help fill the financial gaps for a few of New York’s most visible parks. But the overwhelming majority of the city’s parks, big and small, including 30,000 acres of land and more than 1700 parks and playgrounds, community centers, pools and beaches, our natural areas, have suffered generations of neglect.
City investment in these resources is critical to an equitable parks system. One percent for parks is a rounding error in a city budget that tops $100 billion overall. Yet these funds would make a generational change for our city and empower the parks department to ensure that parks are safe, clean and accessible to all New Yorkers.
So, what would a properly funded parks system look like?
In the densest city in the country, where few families have backyards or terraces, New Yorkers would have a safer, healthier city where New Yorkers across the five boroughs have access to fantastic green space.
One percent of the budget for parks would directly translate to better public safety. The parks department could finally hire enough Parks Enforcement Patrol officers to work with communities and cover all the parklands across the city. Currently the agency has just 400 officers — roughly one pair for every 150 acres of parkland.
One percent funding for parks would deliver permanent staff at every playground that has a Park House. We would have parks employees dedicated to the communities where they work rather than roaming crews that come and go. Those relationships result in greater care for our public spaces and for the people who use them.
One percent funding would ensure that we have adequate gardeners to keep our parks healthy and thriving for our future. New York currently has just one gardener for every 133 acres of parkland. Compare that to San Francisco, which has one gardener for every 20 acres!
One percent funding would allow our Parks Department to fully care for our city’s trees, to prune and replant trees where they are needed. And to care for our urban forests and natural areas.