NY Times Coverage: $150M For NYC Parks

5 Neglected New York Parks to Get $150 Million for Upgrades

August 18, 2016 

By William Neuman 

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday announced that he would spend $150 million to upgrade five large New York parks — $30 million to one in each borough — in what he called an effort to combat an unequal system in which parks in wealthier parts of the city were well financed while those in poorer neighborhoods were neglected.

“This is about fairness,” the mayor said at a news conference at St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx, which will receive the new financing. “We talk about fighting inequality. This is one of the most basic ways to do it.”

Adding that parks in poor neighborhoods have long decayed and struggled to get resources, the mayor said, “The people who needed it the most got the least.”

Besides St. Mary’s Park, the other parks include Highbridge Park in Upper Manhattan; Betsy Head Park in Brownsville, Brooklyn; Astoria Park in Queens; and Freshkills Park on Staten Island. The money will be spent on improvements like new baseball and soccer fields, running tracks and hiking trails.

Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, said about 750,000 people, or nearly one in 10 New Yorkers, lived within a short walk of the five parks.

The parks commissioner, Mitchell J. Silver, said the money would be spent over the next four years. He said officials would consult with local communities to ask for their ideas on how to fix up the parks.

The upgrades are meant to complement two other major programs begun under Mr. de Blasio. The Community Parks Initiative, with a budget of $285 million, is providing improvements to 60 smaller parks across the city. Through another program, Parks Without Borders, the city has budgeted $50 million to make parks more inviting and better integrated into neighborhoods by improving parks’ entrances and perimeters along sidewalks and streets.

“This is a good step, but there are probably a few dozen parks that need this level of investment,” said Adrian Benepe, a senior vice president of the Trust for Public Land, a national advocacy group for parks and open spaces, who was the parks commissioner under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

“No other American cities are investing money like this in parks,” Mr. Benepe added.

St. Mary’s Park, in the Mott Haven neighborhood, encompasses about 35 acres, including a hilly area with rock outcroppings. It has an outdoor running track, ball fields, playgrounds and a recreation center with an indoor pool.

Nicole Taylor is part of a group that has collected signatures to seek improvements to a small dog run in one corner of the park, surrounded by a four-foot-high chain-link fence.

“We want to make sure they get some love over here,” Ms. Taylor said when asked how she would like the $30 million spent. She said she would like a higher fence so that dogs could not jump out, a fountain for dogs to get water and artificial turf or other synthetic surface suitable for dogs.

Andrew Figueroa, another member of the group, said the park did not have adequate lighting at night.

D. J. Stallworth, 9, who wore a T-shirt that said “Hello, My Name Is Awesome,” sat on a bench with his grandfather, David Melendez, near the ball fields, where concrete bleachers sat derelict, without benches to sit on.

The two were full of ideas for how to improve the park, such as building an outdoor pool and tennis courts.

“I see other parks have tennis,” Mr. Melendez said. “That’d be nice. I think you’d have more kids involved in it and probably even the parents would take classes. If you had that it’d be something.”

Mr. Bloomberg had designated billions of dollars in capital spending for parks, including construction of the new Brooklyn Bridge Park, the High Line park and parts of the Hudson River Park.

“Bloomberg was there for three terms and de Blasio has been here for three years,” said Tupper Thomas, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy group. “He’s on the right course. He gets how important parks are.”

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