De Blasio Signals Possible Shift In Parks Strategy
April 25, 2017
By Dana Rubinstein
Mayor Bill de Blasio is building new parkland.
His administration announced on Tuesday that his soon-to-be-unveiled executive budget will include $100 million to "significantly narrow" the "largest gap in the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway," the pedestrian and bike path that rings Manhattan.
The news comes just days after the city closed a $160 million deal to buy the final, 11-acre parcel necessary to complete Bushwick Inlet Park, in North Brooklyn.
Parks advocates have long groused about the state of the East River waterfront, which is separated from the city by the FDR Drive. They've also long compared de Blasio's park investments unfavorably to those of his predecessor, whose administration helped build Brooklyn Bridge Park and the High Line, opened Governors Island to the public and continued piecing togetherthe greenway that now almost entirely encircles the island of Manhattan.
All in, former mayor Michael Bloomberg claims to have added more than 850 acres to the city's parks system. So far, according to the de Blasio administration, it's added 115, including Bushwick Inlet and the planned greenway extension. That number includes, among other things the preservation of existing community gardens and seven acres at Fresh Kills.
Advocates hope Tuesday's news, coupled with the Bushwick Inlet development, signals a shift in de Blasio's priorities toward building parks, rather than merely maintaining existing ones, or adding a couple acres here and there.
"I hope it means that the mayor’s thinking is opening up to other parks and greenways," said Adrian Benepe, the Bloomberg-era parks commissioner who is now a senior vice president at the Trust for Public Land and an advocate for building the so-called QueensWay.
The $100 million de Blasio announced Tuesday will go towards building a new East River esplanade between East 53rd and 61st streets. The project should be complete in 2022, the year after de Blasio's presumptive second term ends.
New Yorkers for Parks executive director Lynn Kelly said it represents an important acknowledgment that "open space is critical city infrastructure."
In the case of the greenway, de Blasio has decided to move ahead using city money, rather than wait for a complicated and apparently moribund land swap deal involving the United Nations to come to fruition.
"At this point, the city has decided this project is so important that they should just fund it, and I think that’s a very welcome step," said East side Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh.
Even so, gaps on the greenway remain, including portions in Inwood, Harlem and between 41st and 53rd streets.
"We’re going to need to find a way to address that," City Councilman Dan Garodnick said.