THE FIVE POINT PLAN FOR PARK EQUITY
New York City’s parks and open spaces are critical infrastructure. In the densest city in the United States, our parks and open spaces have always been our backyards. Parks are places for joy but also essential resources for physical, mental, social, and ecological health. They are critical tools in our fight against climate change and they are drivers of economic development. For NYC to recover and thrive, parks and open spaces must be catalysts for equity and environmental justice. We need a new era for parks.
1. THINK BIG
COMPREHENSIVE PARKS & OPEN SPACE PLAN
NYC needs a cross-agency open space vision that focuses on parks, equitable access, climate resiliency, public health, and equitable economic development. We need a 21st Century Parks System.
Access to open space varies widely across boroughs, neighborhoods, and districts. The size and quality of parks follow in step with patterns of historic neglect, disinvestment, and environmental injustice, which disproportionately impact communities of color and those with lower incomes. As NYC continues to recover and develop, equitable access to parks and open spaces must be a singular priority and one integrated into the priorities of other sectors including affordable housing, transportation, and infrastructure.
NYC needs a comprehensive vision for its parks and public spaces. A new Director of the Public Realm position, as outlined by NY4P and the Municipal Art Society, would set the agenda for the future and ensure that plans and agencies are collaborating to advance an open space vision across NYC.
2. DOUBLE DOWN ON PARKS
1% OF THE CITY’S BUDGET FOR PARKS
Top U.S. cities dedicate 1-2% of their city budget to parks – NYC has been stuck at less than 0.6% for decades. Put our values into policy.
For decades, NYC Parks has received 0.6% of the city budget for maintenance and operations, even less than it received during the ‘70s financial crisis. Most major U.S. cities spend between 1-2% of their city budgets on parks. Conditions in NYC parks vary widely, with parks in low income areas often receiving less maintenance and investment. Parks conditions fall short of the City’s own standards. NYC must commit to a higher standard of maintenance across the five boroughs and designate NYC Parks as an essential city service. Committing 1% of the city budget for maintenance and operations would fund a year-round well-trained team of parks professionals rather than relying on seasonal staff that turns over each year, and ensure more robust green job opportunities..
NYC must invest in positions and programs that enhance safety, routine maintenance, and access to better serve surrounding neighborhoods. Urban Park Rangers and Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, now woefully underrepresented in numbers, help park users feel more safe and comfortable. Right now, 47 Urban Park Rangers and fewer than 300 Parks Enforcement Patrol officers monitor over 30,000 acres of parks and open spaces in NYC. More full-time maintenance staff presence helps build community relationships, volunteer participation in parks, and overall better conditions.
New York League of Conservation Voters
Play Fair Coalition
NYC parks generate enormous economic benefits for NYC, but NYC Parks is often the first agency budget to be cut and last to be restored. For decades, this has worsened chronic issues. NYC Parks needs more resilient and reliable funding to protect our parks, specifically those in underserved communities, from economic downturns. One model implemented in many major U.S. cities is to have dedicated tax streams that fund their parks budgets.
Another source of revenue includes funds generated from concessions in NYC parks - currently, those funds go to the NYC general fund. NYC should change this model and keep concessions revenue within the parks system.
3. BUILD MORE PARKS AND OPEN SPACE
EQUITABLE ACCESS FOR ALL NEW YORKERS
New Yorkers do not have enough access to parks and open space. Period.
The COVID crisis has laid bare what has been known for decades – NYC does not provide equitable access to parks. New Yorkers in large swaths of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx do not have access to a park within a 10-minute walk, a minimum standard measure for cities across the country. Parks in low-income communities are two times smaller than parks in more affluent areas of NYC, and parks in majority Black communities are nearly four times smaller than in majority white communities. Additionally, there are far too many neighborhoods impacted by environmental injustices like major roadways and heavy industries, where residents do not have access to large, safe, and healthy parks.
NYC has 20,000 acres of natural areas, an urban forest of over 7 million trees, and 520 miles of waterfront, 161 miles of which are managed by NYC Parks. These spaces are not equitably accessible or maintained, and many frontline communities are vulnerable to rising sea levels. As climate change continues to threaten our waterfront city, NYC must invest in comprehensive environmental plans that protect natural areas, ecology, and waterfront to make our city more climate resilient.
Natural Areas Conservancy “Forest Management Framework”
Waterfront Alliance “Four-Point Plan for the Waterfront”
NYC Nature Goals “Goals & Targets 2050”
Harbor Estuary Program “Action Agenda”
Natural Areas Conservancy “Wetland Management Plan” (forthcoming)
Natural Areas Conservancy “Strategic Trails Plan” (forthcoming)
The Nature Conservancy in NY “Urban Forest Agenda report” (forthcoming)
While it is not possible to build large parks in some parts of the city, NYC must provide easier and safer access to existing parks and embrace creative strategies to develop public spaces. NYC should expand the greenway network and invest in the existing network of community gardens to enhance access for New Yorkers in communities that lack parks and open spaces. Further, the next administration must expand the Open Streets plan to create additional public spaces in areas that lack access to parks and playgrounds.
4. FIX THE CAPITAL PROCESS
SO WE CAN FIX OUR PARKS
Parks projects in NYC take longer to complete and cost more than they should. And our neighborhoods suffer because of it.
As part of our recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, NYC must reform its capital process to save valuable public dollars, especially during the fiscal crisis. Public capital projects in New York City, including parks projects, take much longer and cost more than they do in other cities. Estimates indicate that nearly $1B could be saved over five years by reforming the city’s capital process. Parks infrastructure is no different. Park bathrooms/comfort stations cost $4 million to build and street trees cost $3,400 per installation. With $6B in deferred maintenance projects, the majority of which are in areas long neglected, these delays and costs are robbing our residents of better parks.
NY4P and Public Works Partners “A Survey of Capital Projects Management Among New York City Government Agencies”
New York Building Congress “Building The Future of New York”
Center for an Urban Future (forthcoming)
Unlike other agencies that do capital construction, NYC Parks does not have a meaningful discretionary budget nor does it have a comprehensive capital needs assessment, making it impossible to plan and budget for capital projects long-term citywide. Further, the agency is reliant on discretionary allocations from City Council Members and Borough Presidents whose priorities may not align with those of the Department. This creates an inequitable, inefficient, and potentially politicized process for funding capital projects. This system compounds the effects of chronic neglect in under-resourced communities, who often have less opportunity and political capital to advocate for vital improvements.
5. EMPOWER OUR COMMUNITIES
SO THEY CAN SUPPORT OUR PARKS
From volunteers and community gardens to “friends of” groups to conservancies, NYC has a deep history of civic engagement and not-for-profit stewardship. Yet the city makes it difficult for these groups to do their work.
NYC has a deep history of not-for-profit parks advocates and stewards. Many of these groups gained traction when disinvestment in our communities led to disastrous park conditions and blighted vacant lots. The not-for-profit and volunteer model is now an essential part of the NYC parks system. These stewards range from large conservancies to “friends of” groups to community gardeners to small volunteer networks. The city must embrace and support these groups to allow them to improve the park and garden spaces their communities rely on. By streamlining the process for license agreements and indemnifying these small not-for-profits and volunteer groups, NYC will ensure that these vital partners continue to care for parks and gardens across the five boroughs. Additionally, NYC Parks must continue to prioritize the voices of the communities that are most impacted by park improvements and developments.
Parks and community gardens are the centers of their communities and their stewards address many of NYC’s most pressing social needs. During the COVID crisis, many community gardens helped address food insecurity, volunteer groups collected compost when programs were cut, and “friends of” groups volunteered in record numbers to pick up trash. NYC should promote these activities and make it easier for groups to facilitate programs that serve social and community needs.
NY4P developed this platform with input from the 300+ Play Fair Coalition and other organizational partners and groups, including: