Mr. Mayor, fulfill your parks pledge: Investing 1% of the city budget in parks was a promise that must be delivered
By Adam Ganser
May 5, 2023
As the weather warms and flowers start blooming, New Yorkers are flocking back to our city’s more than 1,700 parks. These greenspace sanctuaries are the heart of our city — keeping us healthy and happy, connected to our community, and protected from extreme weather.
But in recent weeks, Mayor Adams released both his executive budget proposal and PlaNYC, his long-term strategic climate plan. In both his short-term budget priorities and his long-term vision for sustainability, the mayor failed to reciprocate the love New Yorkers have for our parks, and hasn’t followed through on his pledge to dedicate 1% of the city’s budget to the Parks Department.
We are blessed with a park system spanning 14% of the city, yet NYC Parks’ operating budget is only 0.6% of NYC’s operating budget. Other major cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago allocate 1.5%-4.0% of their budgets to parks. And this disinvestment has lasted decades — since the 1980s, the Police Department’s budget has grown 127%, the Department of Sanitation’s 148%, and the Correction Department’s 165% — while the parks budget has grown only 72%.
During his campaign and in recent months, Adams has committed to reversing the decades of disinvestment that’s led to increased rates of broken equipment, unsanitary conditions and crime in our public green spaces, and getting to 1% during his term. Despite this benchmark still being less than many major cities, this promise has yet to be fulfilled — in fact, he’s fighting a City Council eager to increase parks funding.
While the Council called for hiring 1,000 additional parks staff, the mayor’s executive budget doesn’t fund these essential workers and core services. Worse, the mayor’s budget remains at 0.6% yet again. And just weeks ago, he ordered additional PEG cuts to city agencies, including the Parks Department.
Underfunding parks has an outsized effect on lower-income neighborhoods whose parks depend solely on public funding, while parks in more affluent neighborhoods benefit from private investment and conservancies. This played out during the pandemic when the parks budget was cut. From 2019 to 2020 Manhattan parks saw a 1% uptick in overall park conditions — during the same timeframe, the Bronx saw a 5% dip in overall cleanliness. Lower-income communities — the same communities that the mayor is said to prioritize — are hit hardest by continued disinvestment.
This is unacceptable. Parks are not a “nice-to-have” amenity for the public — they are vital public spaces that impact our physical and mental well-being, bring communities together, and promote resiliency. Illustrated in a new report, 1% for Parks would bring a multitude of benefits to all New Yorkers.
For one, the Parks Department could hire direly-needed staff, including maintenance workers and public safety officers, giving the agency the capacity to keep our parks safe and clean. That means no overflowing trash bins and litter; well-maintained lawns and horticulture; clean bathrooms; well-maintained dog runs and play equipment. And instead of just one Parks Enforcement Patrol officer for every 333 acres of park land, parkgoers would feel protected knowing there’s a greater public safety presence.
With 1% we’d also see significant expansion of programming and access for New Yorkers of all ages, including doubling citywide programming in parks — such as exercise classes and free concerts — and extending open-hours of park buildings and comfort stations. This money would also enable the agency to deliver on its vision for an improved citywide trail network, making these spaces more accessible to New Yorkers in all five boroughs.
Parks are also critical climate infrastructure that are necessary to hit the administration’s climate objectives. During the summer, our urban forest cools temperatures and alleviates the effects of extreme heat waves. During periods of heavy rain, our parks’ green infrastructure absorbs and filters stormwater runoff. These greenspaces provide our city with improved air quality and countless other environmental benefits, and 1% for Parks will allow us to further our resiliency.
Our parks system has the potential to be one of the greatest in the world — but it’s currently mired by decades of underfunding. And while parks have an immense impact on our quality of life and long-term climate goals, we don’t fund them with the corresponding urgency, predominantly hurting the well-being of lower-income New Yorkers.
After decades of disinvestment, the status quo is unacceptable — we need a flourishing park system to create a healthier, more equitable, and thriving city. We need the mayor to follow through on his commitment to 1% for Parks in this year’s city budget.
Read the article online at the New York Daily News