By Joseph Ostapiuk
May 27, 2022
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Dozens gathered on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan Thursday morning to call on Mayor Eric Adams to fulfill his campaign pledge to commit 1% of the city’s budget to the operations of the Parks Department.
Leading advocates, including New Yorkers for Parks and other members fo the Play Fair Coalition, an advocacy group that includes hundreds of groups and organizations, said the mayor’s current plans fall short of his prior promises and threaten to continue disinvestment in the city’s green spaces, which served as havens throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our parks and green spaces are some of the city’s most valuable environmental assets — they improve air quality, lower air temperatures by up to nine degrees, cut air conditioning use by 30%, reduce heating energy use by a further 20-50% and remove 1,300 tons of pollutants from the atmosphere each year,” Julie Tighe, executive director of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said in a release. “That’s why we are here pushing our city to budget 1% for Parks in the city budget and why the Play Fair campaign continues to advocate for our open spaces.”
Earlier this year, Adams released a preliminary budget proposal that fell short of reaching the 1% threshold — a number that advocates have maintained should be a floor for funding, not a ceiling — and his follow-up proposal, which tallied in at around $600 million, still remained under an allocation level that reflected his public vows.
Adams has not backed off of his commitment to fulfill his “Percent for Parks” promise. However, during his State of the City speech, he appeared to conflate the Parks Department’s operating budget with capital spending — two separate sources that advocates say should not be combined to reach the 1% bar.
He called his newest budget proposal “a significant down payment toward our ultimate commitment of 1% for parks,” and his office previously noted Adams would be in office through the end of 2025 and therefore had time to fulfill his pledge.
Advocates, though, were skeptical of the comments and continued this week to press the mayor to increase his commitment toward the Parks Department, enabling the agency to rely less on seasonal workers and ensure it has adequate staffing to maintain its locations. Recent reports have highlighted the disparity between environmental jobs in New York City and the vast expanse of natural space throughout the five boroughs.
The mayor’s office did not respond for a request for comment Thursday.
“While the mayor has positioned his budget proposal as a ‘down payment’ to 1%, New Yorkers for Parks and the Play Fair Coalition are asking for a stronger commitment,” said Adam Ganser, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks.
“Without this funding, the Parks Department will lack the resources and staff needed to properly maintain parks and open spaces across New York City,” added Ganser. “Our parks already fell into disarray when the city budget was cut during the COVID-19 pandemic and we don’t want to see a repeat of that. 1% for Parks will ensure New Yorkers have the clean, safe and accessible parks they deserve.”
To achieve 1% of the operational budget, the Parks Department would need to receive around $1 billion. Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine at Thursday’s rally said the city deserves a budget “worthy of the best park system in the world,” adding, “We need 1%. We need $1 billion.”
A recent analysis of the network of parkland operated by varying levels of government in New York City found nearly all residents of the five boroughs live within a 10-minute walk to a park. The report calculated parks give $9.1 billion of recreational value to adults and children, with the most popular activities including walking or hiking.
The pandemic cast a stark light on the necessity for these areas to be maintained, offering an outdoor respite to work and school days spent inside.
The benefits of parkland stretch to combatting the insidiously increasing effects of climate change, including rising temperatures and more extreme storms, by cooling surrounding areas and absorbing rainwater. Parks help absorb runoff that would otherwise be pumped into sewers, streets and waterways, offering up to $2.43 billion in avoided stormwater treatment costs, the report said.
“Trees and green spaces make our city better for all,” said Emily Nobel Maxwell, cities director at The Nature Conservancy in New York. “When we ask for at least 1%, we are asking for greater capital and operational investments to care for and enhance parks that make up nearly 14% of our city’s land area, and trees that account for over half of the canopy cover in the city.”
“Last weekend’s extreme heat was a stark reminder of the necessity of well-maintained parks and a flourishing urban forest to help keep our communities safe and healthy, and for a just, climate-resilient, and thriving New York City,” she said.