NY4P on In Focus with Cheryl Wills on NY1
July 7, 2019
Just ask any New Yorker about their parks and they’ll tell you how important those little (and sometimes not so little) green oases are to their sanity. But for decades the parks have been the poor stepchild at budget time. The Parks Department has received on average .59% of the budget, and it would lose money as other agencies were considered to have greater needs. Well, no more. This year Parks has been allocated a fat wad of much-needed cash, $43 million, to be exact, and parks advocates are cheering. Lynn Kelly is the Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks, an organization that has been fighting for help for the city’s parks for more than a century. She’ll talk about “Play Fair”, the coalition of parks advocates and conservationists that have banded together to put parks at the forefront in every City Council budget meeting. Martha Lopez-Gilpin’s organization, the Astoria Park Alliance, is a member of that coalition, and they cover Astoria Park (and if you don’t remember the Astoria Pool, you’re not a true New Yorker). She’ll talk about what that cash can mean to parks not called Central, that don’t get the philanthropic attention (and funding) that the big parks receive.
Queens Councilman Peter Koo has just been named the Chair of the Parks Committee at the City Council, and he couldn’t have come in at a better time. With a far bigger budget, much needed improvements will be happening in all of the city parks. Our guests will talk about where that cash will go: 50 more gardeners, 50-100 more Park Rangers, for starters. With so little funding for more than 40 years, how have the parks survived? The operation of the bigger parks was often taken over by conservancies that paid for much of the care and feeding. Dan Garodnick runs one of those conservancies, Riverside Park. He’ll talk about how much work goes into running one of the biggest park spaces in the city, and why overseeing a park means being an innovator (goats mowing lawns? Yeah, they got that). The panel will also talk about the smaller parks, the ones not covered by conservancies, who have had to struggle to fend for themselves, and what this money will mean to them. They’ll also answer the question, why now?
Finally, we turn to the true value of parks in a city like New York. Yes, they are a part of our basic infrastructure and should be treated as such. And parks don’t care for themselves. But there are studies that show that having a park nearby is good for your physical and mental well-being. Millions of New Yorkers use them to run, play, explore, party, have a little “me” time. That’s why park usage is up all over the city. More rangers may encourage more park use, especially in parks that are considered dangerous after dark. And parks attract tourists (who could resist a giant patch of green in the middle of the concrete jungle?) And our panel will point out that, ultimately, we are the stewards of our own parks, responsible for keeping them clean, keeping them loved, and fighting for every penny they need.