By Joseph Ostapiuk
April 30, 2023
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Mayor Eric Adams unveiled his latest proposed 2024 fiscal budget on Wednesday, scaling back budget cuts for the Parks Department but remaining well-below his campaign commitment of delivering 1% of the city’s overall purse to the agency’s operations.
The plan, which will have to undergo negotiations with the City Council before becoming finalized this summer, sets aside roughly $610 million for the Parks Department’s operations, which is separate from its capital allocation and used to fund its workforce.
That total is approximately 0.59% of the proposed $106.7 billion executive budget, despite the city Parks Department maintaining 30,000 acres across 14% of the city’s land area.
The first iteration of Adams’ spending plan, released in January, included around $582 million toward the Parks Department’s operations out of the $102.7 billion proposal. While a slight climb from that initial ask, which was lower than last year’s Parks Department operations budget, the baby-step increases have drawn concern from advocates.
“What we are looking for is meaningful investment in the future, not a negotiation around the crumbs that are on the outskirts of the budget table,” Adam Ganser, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, told the Advance/SILive.com.
Adams has not yet backed down on the “Percent for Parks” promise he signed while running for mayor, but it appears unclear how exactly that goal will be attained during the course of his tenure.
“Since taking office, this administration has made significant investments in our parks and green spaces,” said a City Hall spokesperson in January. “We are committed to working toward the goal of 1% for parks, which must be done wisely and efficiently to strengthen and improve our parks for all New Yorkers.”
Advocates contend getting to 1% — a threshold intended to be a floor for Parks Department funding and not a ceiling — will take significant steps forward the Adams administration has not yet shown an affinity for taking.
The operations budget is the source for boots-on-the-ground labor needed to manage the city’s sprawling green spaces, and a larger dollar amount would enable the agency to rely less on seasonal workers. Reports have found the Parks Department, after years of disinvestment, is already hamstrung to fully meet that task.
New Yorkers for Parks called for 1,000 new junior parks workers positions to be budgeted in the city’s plans, and the City Council supported that ask in its preliminary budget; however, no mention of the jobs were included in the latest proposal, said Ganser.
“The areas where we need people the most, which is in basic boots on the ground maintenance across the city, there’s no there’s no movement there at all,” said Ganser of the latest budget proposal. “And that’s in a budget that has grown by several billion dollars at a time when we’re all shouting from the rooftops for safer, greener parks in New York City.”
Parks in New York City offer billions of dollars in benefits, said a report issued last year. It found residents visit the 50,000 acre-network of city, state and federal parks a combined 527 million times annually, with 99% of people living within a 10-minute walk to a nearby park.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for green spaces as city residents flocked to parks for exercise and an escape from work-from-home routines. Studies have found green spaces are tied to positive health impacts that reduce long-term healthcare costs.
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.
Those benefits cross socio-economic and demographic boundaries, according to research, magnifying the importance of adequately funding the workforce centered on maintaining the parks system.
“The Parks Department budget is a rounding error in the city budget,” said Ganser. “To not be pushing it to a billion dollars, which would be roughly 1%, it is just an unbelievable missed opportunity to improve the lives of every single New Yorker.”