By Adam Ganser and Donovan Richards
June 3, 2022
With spring upon us, parks season is here — and once again New Yorkers are turning out by the thousands to relax and find community in their local parks and open spaces.
Parks have always been integral to the health of New York City. The pandemic has made that fact inescapable as open spaces became a special kind of haven for people breaking out of what so many have felt to be the isolation of the past couple years.
Yet too many New Yorkers do not have access to parks or quality green spaces.
As an example, you can look to Corona in Queens, the epicenter of the pandemic in spring 2020. Corona residents remain cut off from most of the borough’s crown jewel park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, by two intersecting highways. And many other neighborhoods in Queens have similarly poor access to parks and green spaces.
This is the result of a legacy of historically inequitable park planning and investment in New York City. Lower-income neighborhoods still have access to 21% less park space than their wealthier counterparts, and Black, Latino and Asian neighborhoods have 33% less park space than predominantly white areas.
Today our parks in Queens, and other communities underserved by green space across the city, such as central Harlem and South Brooklyn, are barely getting the support they need
But this is not the Parks Department’s fault.
Parks is doing an admirable job with limited resources. However, it is critical that Mayor Adams and the City Council empower the department to do its job effectively.
Last month, the mayor proposed an Executive Budget that reduces funding from last year and in the near term will reduce staffing for our city’s parks.
In reality, 1% of the city’s operating budget is the minimum the Parks Department requires to be a successful steward of the city’s more than 30,000 acres of parkland. We need the mayor and City Council to take this crucial first step toward reversing an embarrassing half-century legacy of disinvestment in our city’s parks and commit to allocating 1% of the city’s annual operating budget to the Parks Department.
This increase in funding is essential to ensure parks are safe, clean and accessible to all New Yorkers. The last point is critical. The city has historically underinvested in large swaths of its geography. That’s why in Queens today our parks system faces huge challenges not only in maintenance and upkeep, but a scarcity of open green spaces and green infrastructure that would make our communities healthier and stronger.
For the past 50 years, the city has asked the Parks Department to do more with less. If we repeat the policies of the past, then we are simply writing off the problem — leaving our parks struggling with basic upkeep and woefully unable to accomplish the reinvention and expansion of green infrastructure that our city desperately needs.
Failure to invest in parks hurts predominantly lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color in the outer boroughs the hardest; 12 of the top 20 districts with the least amount of parkland are districts with a majority people of color. Inequity has been built into our parks system, and it’s time for change.
Allocating 1% of the city budget for parks would support critical staffing and services for our parks and our open spaces at a moment when we must commit to addressing the persistent inequities of access that have been endemic to New York City’s parks system for too long.