Press Release: BK and BX Neighborhoods Fall Short of Open Space Benchmarks

Open Space in Brownsville, Brooklyn and Southern Boulevard, Bronx, Falls Short of Key Open Space Benchmarks in New Reports

New Yorkers for Parks releases its 7th and 8th Open Space Index reportsIncludes recommendations to address findings


CONTACT: Megan Douglas / 212-838-9410 ex.310 /

June 18, 2018 (New York, NY) – For the fifth year in a row the New York City Council has had to provide temporary funding for what should be 150 permanent parks maintenance and gardener positions, staff who do the essential jobs of keeping our parks clean and safe. Just days later, two new reports released by New Yorkers for Parks find communities in Brooklyn and the Bronx dealing with insufficient parkland and unacceptable park conditions.

The two comprehensive assessments of open space, the Brownsville Open Space Index and the Southern Boulevard Open Space Index, paint a picture of neighborhoods that have serious challenges facing their parks, but also a deep history of community organizing to combat inequity.

Ultimately, Brownsville failed 10 of the 14 open space benchmarks. Southern Boulevard failed 8 of the 14, rising to 11 out of 14 when Crotona Park, which many residents have difficulty accessing, is excluded. Benchmarks include total amount of open space, access, tree canopy and overall maintenance.

According to the City’s own standards neither neighborhoods have enough open space, and what does exist is often hard to get to. When residents arrive at their parks they can often expect to find cleanliness and overall maintenance to be sub-par. Neighborhoods with child asthma rates more than twice that of the citywide rate have few trees to combat air pollution. Some neighborhoods are seeing their hard-fought open spaces threatened by increased density and large scale state infrastructure projects. And even long-overdue improvements come at a cost.

The Southern Boulevard area in the Bronx is one of the areas that the City is considering rezoning, and area residents wonder how increased density will affect the open spaces that they have fought long and hard to create and improve. Another threat to open spaces here and in Hunts Point, immediately to the south of the potential rezoning area, comes in the form of New York State Department of Transportation’s proposed off-ramps from the Bruckner Expressway, as part of Governor Cuomo’s plans for the Bruckner and Sheridan Expressways. The ramps would shadow newly-built waterfront parks along the Bronx River that local communities have long advocated for, decreasing access to these parks and increasing local air pollution. This is particularly troubling as the area has some of the worst asthma rates in the city.

In Brownsville, after years of community organizing the City has responded with major investments of $30M in Betsy Head Park through the Anchor Parks Initiative, and a renovation of the Brownsville Recreation Center. These are two of the most-used parks sites in the neighborhood. Betsy Head is the biggest park in Brownsville, with a large athletic field, and the recreation center is the only one in the area. While this investment is fantastic, and long-overdue, the resulting temporary closure is concerning. Local community groups have identified active recreation for young people as their top priority for open space, and see recreational spaces and programming as key to the health and safety of young residents. The two largest centers for active recreation in Brownsville will be offline for at least two years, leaving over 18,000 young people without access for a significant portion of their formative years.

“Quality open spaces are important for all New Yorkers, but particularly in areas where parks are suffering from years of neglect,” said Lynn Kelly, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks. “These communities have responded with clear and comprehensive plans for what they need from their open spaces, and with this data their advocacy will be even stronger. These reports also present an opportunity for the City to continue its fantastic work on park equity, and to building more livable neighborhoods in every corner of every borough.”

Both reports offer user-friendly, actionable recommendations about how local advocates, elected officials and agencies might increase and improve open space in these communities.

The Southern Boulevard study recommendations include:

  • Support the community’s visioning for the Bruckner Sheridan de-commissioning
  • Expand the Community Parks Initiative to capitally renew neglected parks
  • Provide increased wayfinding and access to local waterfront parks
  • Ensure funding for maintenance support is adequate for existing and in-construction parks
  • Increase programming and organized activities in parks
  • Increase funding for forestry services inside and outside parks

The Brownsville study recommendations include:

  • Increase programming in parks, especially for young people
  • Increase NYPD engagement with community-based agencies and focus on increasing youth access to open spaces
  • Pair NYCHA infill development with improvements to NYCHA open spaces
  • Increase funding to renovate the pool at Betsy Head Park
  • Increase funding for maintenance and programming
  • Direct funding of Governor Cuomo’s Vital Brooklyn to maintenance of Brownsville spaces
  • Strongly encourage public open spaces in private construction projects

“I always encourage New Yorkers to speak up, talk to their elected officials and make their needs known. These reports help do just that,” said New York City Council Member Barry Grodenchik, Chair of the Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee. “I’m working to ensure that as the City changes and grows, every New Yorker has access to great parks. When residents are informed and empowered, they can bring about incredible change in their communities and get the kinds of parks and open spaces they need.”

“For decades, we have been organizing for improved parks, more green spaces, access to our waterfront and environmental justice for the Hunts Point community,” said Danny R. Peralta of THE POINT CDC, in the South Bronx. “This report gives us an opportunity to back up our expertise as community members with independent, third-party data. As the city rezones the Southern Boulevard area, this will be a useful tool for making sure our needs are not once again forgotten in the process. Additionally, it strengthens our case for why Governor Cuomo and the State Department of Transportation should seriously consider the community’s visioning for the Sheridan Expressway as this is one of the only opportunities left to undo policies that disproportionately affect the health of our communities.”

“It’s unfortunate that we still have to make the case that Brownsville is worthy of investment, but this report shows that our open spaces aren’t where they should or could be,” said Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, District 41. “Youth programming and spaces for recreation are some of the main priorities for Brownsville residents, and we’re about to lose two major resources for two years. While we are delighted and celebrate that Betsy Head Park and the Brownsville Recreation Center are being renovated, the timing, and findings of this report, show that Brownsville needs more careful, long-term and sustained investment.”

“We need information like this to ensure that the open spaces we depend on for our free running program are invested in by the City,” said Sheila Gordon of We Run Brownsville. “Parks and open spaces are not only where we go to get healthy, but also where we shape and conduct our own advocacy. We’re so happy that the track at Betsy Head Park will be renovated and are looking forward to taking our first run on it. But we’re still not sure where we’ll meet and train while it’s closed. The fact that this presents us with a real challenge shows that these spaces are essential to the strength of our community and the health of our residents.”


Read the full reports:

About the Open Space Index: NY4P’s open space assessments provide residents, civic organizations and elected officials with detailed snapshots of their open space resources – data that can help them prioritize their needs and advocate for strategic investments. Residents and advocates from Jackson Heights in Queens to the Lower East Side in Manhattan used data provided in our Open Space Indices as a base for movements and successes for local parks. In East Harlem it was used to inform the open space vision created in the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan. In addition to the Southern Boulevard area, we continue to study other New York City neighborhoods facing rezonings, giving them the same opportunity to bolster local advocacy with our data-driven research. In summer 2018, we will research Bushwick in Brooklyn, Long Island City in Queens and the Bay Street Corridor area of Staten Island.

About New Yorkers for Parks: For over 100 years New Yorkers for Parks has been the independent champion for quality parks and open space for all New Yorkers. Through our research, advocacy, and the Daffodil Project, we work with communities and elected officials to promote and preserve quality open space across the city. Learn more: