'Play Fair' campaign launches fight for increased funds for NYC Parks Department
By Lisa Colangelo
February 28, 2019
A coalition of lawmakers, city workers and park advocates have banded together to demand the Parks Department receive a larger share of the city budget.
The “Play Fair” campaign — which launched on Thursday with a rally outside City Hall — aims to convince the City Council and the de Blasio Administration to boost the Parks Department expense budget by $100 million this year. And the group pledged to continue its efforts through the 2021 mayoral election.
“In the early 1960s, over 1.1 percent of the total budget in the city went to parks,” said City Councilman Barry Grodenchik, who chairs the Parks Committee and founded the campaign with New Yorkers for Parks, NY League of Conservation Voters and District Council 37, the union representing most park workers. “[Now], it’s just 0.59 percent.”
The current expense budget for the agency is about $534 million.
“No one is saying our parks are in bad shape,” said Grodenchik, who has visited parks in about two-thirds of the Council districts across the city. “But improvements are needed such as more activities, more gardeners.”
He also said more efforts are needed to shore up parks along the city’s coastal areas to ward off future storms.
Funding for parks has been an issue for years as budgets and staffing have been trimmed. City Council members use discretionary funds to build playgrounds, dog runs and other facilities in parks, while some of the larger sites, like Central Park, have privately-funded conservancies to help with maintenance and programming.
In 2001, advocates launched a similar campaign to direct 1% of the city budget to parks during the mayoral race.
This latest campaign is especially challenging since Mayor de Blasio has asked all city agencies to cut their budgets as part of the latest fiscal plan.
About 60 groups have joined the Play Fair campaign. Grodenchik said 40 of his City Council colleagues have pledged their support for the effort.
“From our Community Parks initiative to Parks Without Borders, the Mayor understands that parks are the heart of our neighborhoods," said Jane Meyer, a spokeswoman for de Blasio, in an email. "That is why the Parks budget increased $154 million since the beginning of this administration. As we continue finalizing next year’s budget, we’ll have to take into account the city’s new economic reality though and tough choices will likely be made.”