By Adam Ganser
March 25, 2022
This spring, for the third year in a row, New Yorkers across the five boroughs are poised to turn out in massive numbers for their community parks and open spaces.
The pandemic not only highlighted the importance of parks as essential infrastructure for New Yorkers’ physical, mental and emotional well-being, it also laid bare the inequities of New York City’s parks system—including disproportionate lack of access in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
As budget negotiations begin to ramp up between the City Council and Adams administration, it is critical that the city follows through with a transformative investment in New York City’s parks.
Unfortunately, the mayor’s preliminary budget fails to realize his repeated campaign promise to increase funding for parks to 1 percent of the city budget; even worse, it proposes cutting $60 million for critical parks maintenance and operations, along with 3,500 essential parks jobs.
Let’s be clear: taking away resources from the Parks Department at a moment when the agency is still working hard to recover from another Covid-era budget cut in 2020 would be a severe mistake that leaves parks under-staffed, unkempt and unsafe.
On behalf of the City Council Parks Committee and Play Fair coalition—a citywide coalition of over 400 organizations, co-founded by the City Council Parks Committee, New Yorkers for Parks, New York League of Conservation Voters, and DC 37—we urge Mayor Adams to stand by his commitment to allocate 1 percent of the budget, or $1 billion, to the Parks Department.
Raising parks funding from 0.5 to 1 percent of the budget is the bare minimum required for adequate staffing, maintenance, and parks planning to ensure that our parks are safe, clean, and accessible for all New Yorkers. This is critically important as the city gears up for another summer of increased demand and need for open spaces.
One percent for parks would help ensure public safety in our parks, and a greater presence of Parks Enforcement Patrol officers. It would ensure every playground is adequately staffed and that we have more than one gardener per 133 acres of parkland (which is the city’s current, untenable ratio). It would enable the Parks Department to better care for our urban forests and natural areas, and to maintain these areas for future use.
Increased funding is also absolutely necessary for New York City to expand access to safe, quality park space, especially in underserved areas such as Flushing, Brownsville or the South Bronx that tend to bear the brunt of austerity budgeting at the Parks Department.
If the goal is to get to 1 percent, as the mayor continues saying, then we have to start moving meaningfully towards that goal in this budget. It is not enough to state the importance of the issue, as the mayor has time and again (“an equitable parks system starts with funding for the agency and accessibility for New Yorkers”); we need a funding policy that enables the agency to do its job.
And we haven’t had that in our city for decades. Since the 1970s the Parks Department budget has languished around 0.5 percent of the budget, where the Mayor is currently proposing it remain, while the city defers the work of creating a 21st-century parks system for all New Yorkers.
It is great to see the mayor showing his love for parks by calling to accelerate work on more than 100 stalled parks capital improvement projects across the city, including 7 out of 10 in underserved neighborhoods that lack access to quality open space.
However, this kind of stop gap measure isn’t a comprehensive or long-term solution. Raising funding for the Parks Department is both, and the most important step our elected leaders must take in order to build a more robust, equitable and sustainable parks system in New York City.
The Council and Mayor Adams must take a stand at this pivotal moment and reverse decades of disinvestment that have left our Parks Department operating without the resources it needs to support an equitable, robust and sustainable parks system.