By Joseph Ostapiuk
June 17, 2022
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — New York City’s $101 billion 2023 fiscal year budget falls short of delivering 1% towards the operation of the city Parks Department — a threshold that has become the rallying cry of park advocates and reflects a promise made by Mayor Eric Adams. But it did come through on other fronts that support green spaces throughout the five boroughs.
A total of $624 million was allocated to the agency’s operations in what amounts to the highest Parks Department budget in the city’s history, said Adam Ganser, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, a nonprofit advocacy group that championed the “Percent for Parks” pledge that Adams previously signed on to.
Ganser called the monetary figure “a really important step in the right direction,” but added, “It is not, clearly, 1% of the city budget for parks.”
In early May, Adams’ office told the Advance/SILive.com that the mayor remained steadfast on his pledge of ensuring that 1% of the budget goes to parks within the term of his mayoralty.
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request to comment detailing when — or how — that goal would be completed.
The bottom-line allocation towards the agency’s operation budget is about 0.6% of the city’s overall purse. It does not include the agency’s capital spending, which experts have said should not be combined to reach the 1% bar.
Advocates maintain that $1 for every $100 spent by the city should be the floor — not the ceiling — of fiscal commitment from the mayor.
Proposals issued by Adams during the negotiation process also fell short of the 1%, making the final iteration an expected reality for those who have been pushing for increased support for the agency for decades.
“This beginning of a reinvestment in parks is 40 years in the making,” said Ganser. “Forty years ago, we funded our parks in a much different level when they were a much bigger priority, and what we’ve seen coming out of COVID is that 40 years of austerity is not working.”
However, the final budget did fund 715 new positions within the Parks Department and works towards bridging the gap between the 30,000 acres the agency is responsible for and the lack of workforce currently able to maintain it, added Ganser.
The dedicated jobs provide opportunities for the community while also enabling the agency to better train people working to cultivate green spaces.
The rise in the number of nature-based jobs was “badly needed,” said Ganser.
“This is a great victory for parks advocates,” he added. “It’s not what we wanted, but it’s a move in the right direction and we have the commitment from the mayor of getting where we need him to go.”
Queens Councilman Shekhar Krishnan, chair of the city council’s committee on parks and recreation, called the budget a “historic investment” for natural areas throughout the five boroughs and vowed to continue advocating to ensure the mayor fulfills his promise of 1% for the Parks Department.
“We achieved permanent funding to protect the jobs of hundreds of parks workers that were set to expire imminently,” said Krishnan in a written statement. “We fought to win funding for our natural areas, forestry, and Green Thumb gardens. We fought to restore funding for parks equity.”
COVID-19 AND THE VALUE OF PARKS
The COVID-19 pandemic shed a stark light on the value of parks, as residents flocked to green spaces for a reprieve from restrictions and days largely spent inside.
An analysis of the network of parkland operated by varying levels of government in New York City found that nearly all residents of the five boroughs live within a 10-minute walk to a park. The report calculated that parks give $9.1 billion of recreational value to adults and children, with the most popular activities including walking or hiking.
Additionally, parks serve as vital buffers to flooding by absorbing runoff that would otherwise be pumped into sewers, streets and waterways, offering up to $2.43 billion in avoided stormwater treatment costs, the report said.
Trees and other green spaces also cool surrounding neighborhoods by tamping down high heat days that are expected to insidiously increase in frequency in the coming decades due to human-induced global warming.
Maintaining park grounds remains a vital issue, said Ganser, and represents a topic that will continue to elicit calls from both environmentalists and others throughout the five boroughs who enjoy the benefits offered by parks.
“This is not an issue that’s going to go away,” he said.