By Fay Hill
July 12, 2022
In the heart of Southeast Queens is Springfield Park, providing the Springfield Gardens community with 23.54 acres of flowerbeds, trees, wildlife and a large lake. Aside from beautiful outdoor space, the park is a central hub offering recreational activities for people of all ages to enjoy—from children playing basketball and tennis to volunteers planting flower bulbs and painting benches to young adults simply hosting a picnic with friends.
Springfield Park has been a first-rate respite for visitors and residents alike since Dutch settlers arrived in the 1640s, attracted to the area’s system of natural ponds and creeks. But it has not been without hardship such as almost being turned into an industrial facility in the 1970s. This tumultuous event proved the power of community voices, particularly how we can prevail when activists come together and decide to do something for the neighborhood park we all share.
I started Volunteers for Springfield Park, Inc., in the period after this as it fell into terrible condition. Joined by other committed and dedicated volunteers, we’ve worked tirelessly for more than 40 years to improve and maintain Springfield Park through partnerships with neighbors, local businesses, schools and churches.
Our group hosts students and volunteers for “It’s My Park” Day in the spring and fall, advocates at community board meetings and budget hearings to our local electeds and educates the next generation of youth on how we can shape Springfield Park’s future.
The latest hardship our community endured was the COVID-19 pandemic, and Springfield Park did not go unaffected as residents sought refuge in the shared outdoor space. Citywide parks usage also skyrocketed while the Parks Department saw a devastating 14 percent cut in funding, resulting in the lowest recorded conditions since New York City started keeping track in 2004.
However, efforts led by New Yorkers for Parks and 400-plus parks and open space advocacy organizations as part of the Play Fair Coalition led to the City adopting its largest-ever budget for the Parks Department this year.
The nearly $624 million in funding ensures that the agency has resources to keep Springfield Park and 1,700-plus other parks it oversees clean, safe and accessible for New Yorkers across the five boroughs. The 715 new baselined positions and 50 new park rangers will strengthen the Parks workforce and ability to provide critical maintenance and operations for these shared open spaces as peak park season approaches.
While this is a significant step in the right direction to reverse decades of historic divestment, the FY23 budget still falls far short of Mayor Adams’ repeated commitment to dedicate one percent for Parks.
One percent for Parks is the foundation for a healthy parks system in New York City. We also recognize the budget is not the solution or cause of all our problems. We need Mayor Adams to follow through on another of his early commitments after taking office: establishing a task force that will finally make some real headway in removing the array of bottlenecks in the City’s capital process.
This broken system for improving and building infrastructure has resulted in the delay of more than $6 billion worth of critical parks projects alone, not to mention the countless school and library renovations left in limbo for months and sometimes years on end.
Reforms are long overdue to address this sluggish, fragmented system and deliver critical capital needs that allow our parks and communities to thrive.
A prime example of this is the construction of Springfield Park’s dog run, which was allocated $1.1 million from our previous Council Member Donovan Richards. These funds were later redistributed and have been stalled in the capital process ever since, further delaying its construction from ever happening.
Springfield Park has endured its fair share of hardships but we need a firmer commitment from Mayor Adams, a candidate I proudly supported, that he will make funding one percent for Parks a reality during his time in office. Community voices and groups like ours are powerful but in order to create an equitable 21st century park system that New Yorkers deserve, we need the support of our elected officials.
One percent for Parks and a more efficient capital process will lay out a future where our parks thrive rather than falling into disrepair and becoming a place to avoid. Springfield Park has always been a safe haven for our community and if we don’t have it, where else will we go?
Fay Hill is the Executive Director and Secretary of Volunteers for Springfield Park, Inc and has been a community activist for over 40 years.