THE FIVE POINT PLAN FOR PARK EQUITY
New York City’s parks and open spaces are critical infrastructure. In the densest city in the United States, our parks and open spaces have always been our backyards. Parks are places for joy but also essential resources for physical, mental, social, and ecological health. They are critical tools in our fight against climate change and they are drivers of economic development. For NYC to recover and thrive, parks and open spaces must be catalysts for equity and environmental justice. We need a new era for parks. #NewEra4Parks
Most major U.S. cities spend between 1-2% of their city budgets on parks. NYC Parks has received about 0.5% of the city budget for parks maintenance and operations, even less than it received during the ‘70s financial crisis. Conditions in NYC parks vary widely, with parks in low income areas often receiving less maintenance and investment. Parks conditions fall short of the City’s own standards. NYC must commit to a higher standard of maintenance across the five boroughs and designate NYC Parks as an essential city service. Committing 1% of the city budget for maintenance and operations would fund a year-round well-trained team of parks professionals rather than relying on seasonal staff that turns over each year, and ensure more robust green job opportunities.
NYC must invest in positions and programs that enhance safety, routine maintenance, and access to better serve surrounding neighborhoods. Urban Park Rangers and Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, now woefully underrepresented in numbers, help park users feel more safe and comfortable. Right now, 47 Urban Park Rangers and fewer than 300 Parks Enforcement Patrol officers monitor over 30,000 acres of parks and open spaces in NYC. More full-time maintenance staff presence helps build community relationships, volunteer participation in parks, and overall better conditions.
New York League of Conservation Voters
Play Fair Coalition
NYC parks generate enormous economic benefits for NYC, but NYC Parks is often the first agency budget to be cut and last to be restored. For decades, this has worsened chronic issues. NYC Parks needs more resilient and reliable funding to protect our parks, specifically those in underserved communities, from economic downturns. One model implemented in many major U.S. cities is to have dedicated tax streams that fund their parks budgets.
Another source of revenue includes funds generated from concessions in NYC parks - currently, those funds go to the NYC general fund. NYC should change this model and keep concessions revenue within the parks system.
New Yorkers do not have enough equitable access to parks and open space. Period.
The COVID crisis has laid bare what has been known for decades – NYC does not provide equitable access to parks. New Yorkers in large swaths of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx do not have access to a park within a 10-minute walk, a minimum standard measure for cities across the country. Parks in low-income communities are two times smaller than parks in more affluent areas of NYC, and parks in majority Black communities are nearly four times smaller than in majority white communities. Additionally, there are far too many neighborhoods impacted by environmental injustices like major roadways and heavy industries, where residents do not have access to large, safe, and healthy parks.
NYC has 20,000 acres of natural areas, an urban forest of over 7 million trees, and 520 miles of waterfront, 161 miles of which are managed by NYC Parks. These spaces are not equitably accessible or maintained, and many frontline communities are vulnerable to rising sea levels. As climate change continues to threaten our waterfront city, NYC must invest in comprehensive environmental plans that protect natural areas, ecology, and waterfront to make our city more climate resilient.
Natural Areas Conservancy “Forest Management Framework”
Waterfront Alliance “Four-Point Plan for the Waterfront”
NYC Nature Goals “Goals & Targets 2050”
Harbor Estuary Program “Action Agenda”
Natural Areas Conservancy "Wetlands Management Framework for NYC"
Natural Areas Conservancy "NYC Strategic Trails Plan”
The Nature Conservancy in NY “NYC Urban Forest Agenda”
Parks projects in NYC take longer to complete and cost more than they should. And our neighborhoods suffer because of it. We partnered with the Center for an Urban Future to launch Build Back Faster NYC, a campaign on citywide capital reform.
As part of our recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, NYC must reform its capital process to save valuable public dollars, especially during the fiscal crisis. Public capital projects in New York City, including parks projects, take much longer and cost more than they do in other cities. Estimates indicate that nearly $1B could be saved over five years by reforming the city’s capital process. Parks infrastructure is no different. Park bathrooms/comfort stations cost $4 million to build and street trees cost $3,400 per installation. With $6B in deferred maintenance projects, the majority of which are in areas long neglected, these delays and costs are robbing our residents of better parks.
Center for an Urban Future "Stretching New York City's Capital Dollars"NY4P and Public Works Partners “A Survey of Capital Projects Management Among New York City Government Agencies”
New York Building Congress “Building The Future of New York”
Unlike other agencies that do capital construction, NYC Parks does not have a meaningful discretionary budget nor does it have a comprehensive capital needs assessment, making it impossible to plan and budget for capital projects long-term citywide. Further, the agency is reliant on discretionary allocations from City Council Members and Borough Presidents whose priorities may not align with those of the Department. This creates an inequitable, inefficient, and potentially politicized process for funding capital projects. This system compounds the effects of chronic neglect in under-resourced communities, who often have less opportunity and political capital to advocate for vital improvements.
From volunteers and community gardens to “friends of” groups to conservancies, NYC has a deep history of civic engagement and not-for-profit stewardship. Yet the city makes it difficult for these groups to do their work.
NYC has a deep history of not-for-profit parks advocates and stewards. Many of these groups gained traction when disinvestment in our communities led to disastrous park conditions and blighted vacant lots. The not-for-profit and volunteer model is now an essential part of the NYC parks system. These stewards range from large conservancies to “friends of” groups to community gardeners to small volunteer networks. The city must embrace and support these groups to allow them to improve the park and garden spaces their communities rely on. By streamlining the process for license agreements and indemnifying these small not-for-profits and volunteer groups, NYC will ensure that these vital partners continue to care for parks and gardens across the five boroughs. Additionally, NYC Parks must continue to prioritize the voices of the communities that are most impacted by park improvements and developments.
Parks and community gardens are the centers of their communities and their stewards address many of NYC’s most pressing social needs. During the COVID crisis, many community gardens helped address food insecurity, volunteer groups collected compost when programs were cut, and “friends of” groups volunteered in record numbers to pick up trash. NYC should promote these activities and make it easier for groups to facilitate programs that serve social and community needs.
NYC needs a cross-agency open space vision that focuses on parks, equitable access, climate resiliency, public health, and equitable economic development. We need a 21st Century Parks System.
Access to open space varies widely across boroughs, neighborhoods, and districts. The size and quality of parks follow in step with patterns of historic neglect, disinvestment, and environmental injustice, which disproportionately impact communities of color and those with lower incomes. As NYC continues to recover and develop, equitable access to parks and open spaces must be a singular priority and one integrated into the priorities of other sectors including affordable housing, transportation, and infrastructure.
NYC needs a comprehensive vision for its parks and public spaces. A new Director of the Public Realm position, as outlined by NY4P and the Municipal Art Society, would set the agenda for the future and ensure that plans and agencies are collaborating to advance an open space vision across NYC.
While it is not possible to build large parks in some parts of the city, NYC must provide easier and safer access to existing parks and embrace creative strategies to develop public spaces. NYC should expand the greenway network and invest in the existing network of community gardens to enhance access for New Yorkers in communities that lack parks and open spaces. Further, the next administration must expand the Open Streets plan to create additional public spaces in areas that lack access to parks and playgrounds.
NY4P developed this platform with input from the 400+ Play Fair Coalition and other organizational partners and groups, including:
A 21st century parks system is on the horizon
NY4P has secured commitments from Mayor Eric Adams, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, and many of the incoming Council Members and Borough Presidents. Over 100 other candidates also made these commitments during the race for Mayor, Council, Council Speaker, Comptroller, and Borough President. See their responses at Candidates on Parks.
Mayor Eric Adams
Would you as mayor commit to allocating 1% of the city budget to Parks?
Yes, in fact I called for this back in 2018 when I released “The Pulse of Our Parks” report from Borough Hall. We need to support our city parks that provide so many vital services to this city. In the moments of this pandemic our green spaces provided a place for us to gather, express ourselves, and too simply catch a breath of fresh air. We need to do everything we can to preserve the future generations of New Yorkers the right to these essential parks.
Would you support the creation of a Director of the Public Realm to oversee the holistic planning of parks, streets, sidewalks, plaza, waterfronts, natural areas?
Yes, I would support the creation of such a position to oversee the holistic planning of our parks, streets, sidewalks, plazas, waterfronts, and natural areas.
Would you commit to a policy of developing parks and playgrounds so that all New Yorkers have access to parks and open space within a 10 minute walk?
Yes, in my “A Greener City, A Brighter Future” plan for New York, I specifically note my plan to allow all New Yorkers regardless of the neighborhood they live in to have access to open, green space. This includes opening dozens of new public spaces, closing the park equity gap in high-need, underserved neighborhoods, and transforming 100 asphalt schoolyards into green community playgrounds. I am also calling to create a “Safe Routes to Parks” program which will build out protected bike and pedestrian infrastructure to safely connect neighborhoods far from large open spaces to destination parks.
How would you create a more equitable parks system for NYC?
As I mentioned above, an equitable parks system starts with funding for the agency and accessibility for New Yorkers. I will commit to spending one percent of the budget on parks services. I am calling to create a “Safe Routes to Parks'' program which will build out protected bike and pedestrian infrastructure to safely connect neighborhoods far from large open spaces to destination parks. In addition, every New Yorker knows we can’t grow more land so I will begin a program that will recapture land lost to Robert Moses-era highway projects. That means jump-starting projects like the BQGreen and PX Forward, as well as mapping and analyzing additional opportunities across the five boroughs to recapture lost land and reconnect our communities. Creating a more equitable parks system has been a priority for me as borough president, evidenced by my investments in perimeter access projects to underserved communities on the edges of both Prospect and Fort Greene parks.
How would you reform the capital process so we can more effectively address the growing backlog in deferred parks maintenance projects across the city?
I am running for Mayor to eliminate all the government inefficiencies that have restricted services and opportunities to so many New Yorkers. For example, we can directly address the capital process and we can do so by expanding the role of franchises to handle capital projects in our parks. We will partner with conservancies who can execute work faster and cheaper than the City. This will allow us to open up opportunities, complete important projects, and provide essential park services.
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams committed to funding NYC Parks at 1%, reforming the city's capital process, and creating a Director of the Public Realm. Here are her answers to our Speaker Candidates Forum: A New Vision for Open Space, which we hosted in partnership with New York League of Conservation Voters, Regional Plan Association, and Center for an Urban Future. Also present were Council Speaker Candidates Diana Ayala, Justin Brannan, Gale Brewer, Francisco Moya, Keith Powers, and Carlina Rivera who all endorsed the same ideas.
New York City’s Parks have been underfunded and under-resourced for decades, with funding frequently being cut. Most cities commit between 1-4 percent of their city budget to parks. Do you support 1% for NYC Parks as Mayor Elect Adams has? And how will you ensure that parks funding isn’t cut in the future as we saw with devastating results during the pandemic?
Yes, absolutely, I support a 1% commitment in the budget for NYC Parks. During the FY21 budget, which was passed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, our City saw an $84 million cut to the Parks Department budget. That represented 14% of their operating budget, which absolutely devastated our parks. It led to 1,700 fewer maintenance and seasonal staff to help maintain our parks and playgrounds, and we saw the decline in the conditions of our green and open spaces. The budget cut also deeply impacted Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, Urban Park Rangers, the GreenThumb program, and more. That’s why in the FY22 budget, we restored the funding for the Parks Department to pre-pandemic levels, and brought back the crucial park workers who keep our parks safe, clean, and maintained.
As recent reports from the Center for an Urban Future have shown, the city's process for designing and building capital projects is badly broken. A new park bathroom can easily cost $3 million and recent library construction projects have cost more than $1,500 per square foot -- roughly triple the cost of building a Class A office building. As a result, NYC's limited capital dollars don't go nearly far enough to help meet the full range of infrastructure needs. As Speaker, what would you do to help reform this process, bring down costs, speed up timelines, and help deliver more vital social infrastructure projects for New Yorkers?
Reforming our design and construction process is key to ensuring that infrastructure projects are completed not just in a timely fashion, but also on budget. We saw that with the use of design-build, we were able to speed up the vendor selection process without sacrificing the end product. We must build off of this new way of doing business, but also open up new doors of opportunity for Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) firms that are qualified and can get the job done efficiently and effectively.
Secondly, the City Council must exercise its oversight role to ensure that city agencies are operating at their maximum capacity and ability. We often hear from residents and organizations that they are frustrated by the red-tape and delays in crucial infrastructure projects that have tremendous benefit for the entire community. In my opinion, it’s key that we dig deeper into why these delays exist, and hold accountable those who are responsible for moving these projects along.
Parks are often cut when the city is struggling financially, as we saw during the height of the pandemic in 2020, we lost critical parks funding when New Yorkers needed open spaces the most. What can the Council do to ensure parks will be funded through hard times and that they can receive consistent funding for staff and programs?
We have to protect the Parks budget from being slashed, even during hard fiscal times like we saw during the height of the pandemic. Parks are essential to every New Yorker, and that was reinforced even more during the pandemic. In future budgets, we must baseline funding for our parks and park workers moving forward. I am committed to championing our green spaces to ensure we don’t see a situation like we saw in past years.
NYC’s public realm (parks, plazas, waterfronts, streets, sidewalks) are all managed by different agencies often with different rules and priorities, rather than working as a connected network. Would you support the creation of a Director of the Public Realm?
Yes, we should create a centralized place in City government that can oversee and manage all of our City’s different public spaces. The pandemic has truly underscored the importance of our public parks, plazas, waterfronts, and streets. The responsibility to maintain these public spaces is far too dispersed, and it creates a system of confusion and lack of accountability. Consolidating this into one office or Director position is definitely a positive step forward to ensuring that we have all of our public spaces managed and maintained to the best of our ability.
During the pandemic, programs like Open Streets and Open Restaurants were innovations by necessity that extended a lifeline to communities across the city and literally thousands of small businesses. What is your vision for a successful, equitable and permanent iteration of these programs to support our city and recovery?
Open Streets and Open Restaurants saved so many of our small businesses at a time when the industry was really falling apart due to the pandemic. It also gave our residents a chance to enjoy their favorite open spaces safely. We should continue this program and tweak it to address outstanding concerns from neighbors and other stakeholders. This initiative has been a great boon for our City, and it came at the right time. But we should also tailor the program to meet the needs of every neighborhood, whether it’s in Queens, Brooklyn, or Staten Island. We shouldn’t have a one-size-fits-all Open Streets program because every neighborhood is different. I believe a successful and equitable Open Streets and Open Restaurants program will thrive moving forward in our City.
Transportation Alternatives’ 25x25 plan seeks to reclaim 25% of our street space for pedestrians by 2025. Do you support this proposal, and how can the council lead work to prioritize pedestrians, cyclists, buses, and pedestrian plazas over cars?
Transportation Alternatives’ 25x25 plan is certainly worth strong consideration and we will work to ensure that our City creates more space for pedestrians. Especially in the densest parts of our City, we need more space for pedestrians to get where they need to go, and to do so safely. I believe that with the proper community and stakeholder engagement, and taking into consideration neighborhood concerns, we can transform our streetscape to be safer and more equitable.
As we saw this summer during Hurricane Ida, our city remains vulnerable to flooding and the impacts of climate change. How would you make our streets more resilient, and put in place policies that help prevent flooding across the sewer system and into places with damaging consequences like our subway stations and basement homes?
We must invest in more green infrastructure as a method of making our City more resilient. Our parks and playgrounds can play a critical role in relieving some of the flooding that takes place now on our streets, and seep into basement homes and subway stations. Infrastructure like rain gardens are also essential to transform our streetscape, and it’s something we can invest in right now. Southeast Queens in particular has some of the oldest sewer infrastructure that needs to be upgraded, and it’s in places like these that we must see the most investment.
Parks are critical green infrastructure that helps to keep our city resilient in the face of extreme storms, heat, and other climate-induced disasters. As Speaker, how will you invest in parks and green space to help improve our city's resilience?
We have to continue to reimagine our parks and playgrounds into spaces that can contribute to resiliency. For example, earlier this month at PS 223Q in my district, we cut the ribbon on a new playground that was designed by the students and incorporated many green features with the help of the Department of Environmental Protection. That project, which was led by the Trust for Public Land and funded by New York Road Runners, required collaboration from all parties, but it was ultimately a great project for everyone involved. We need more partnerships like these to ensure that our parks and playgrounds, both big and small, became the public spaces that we need to not only provide fresh air and ample space, but also help fight back climate change. That starts with partnerships and investments, which I am committed to doing in the next City Council.
Parks and green spaces are often sparse in Environmental Justice neighborhoods, where rates of air pollution and extreme heat are already high. How can the NYC council work to prioritize equity in their work to support parks and green spaces? What are some initiatives you would like to champion?
Equity must be at the center of this work when it comes to combating environmental racism and injustice. For example, we see that fossil fuel infrastructure is often planned and placed within communities of color, leading to higher-than-average asthma rates and other adverse health impacts that have long-lasting impacts on the children of our community. And we know that climate change will – and has already – impacted coastal communities, which are often home to marginalized communities of color. To address this inequity, we have to invest deeply in parks and green spaces where these inequities exist. Programs like the Community Parks Initiative have proven successful, and we should work to ensure that we build on those successes. Secondly, we have to prioritize the voices of the marginalized who are living in Environmental Justice neighborhoods. In the next City Council, we will center their voices and concerns, and tackle the health and environmental issues that have affected them for far too long.
Lightning round questions:
What is your favorite park?
What was the last park you visited?
When was the last time your rode a bicycle?
What’s the last open restaurant you went to?
What’s your favorite open street?
Long Street in Jamaica & 120th Street in Richmond Hill
2022 City Council Members
Not sure who your representative is? Go to the NYC Council website to find out.
Council Members who committed to the Five Point Plan for Park Equity:
2-D Carlina Rivera
3-D Erik Bottcher
4-D Keith Powers
5-D Julie Menin
6-D Gale Brewer
8-D Diana Ayala
19-R Vickie Paladino
20-D Sandra Ung
21-D Francisco Moya
27-D Nantasha Williams
28-D Adrienne Adams
30-D Robert Holden
33-D Lincoln Restler
35-D Crystal Hudson
36-D Chi Ossé
39-D Shahana Hanif
40-D Rita Joseph
43-D Justin Brannan
47-D Ari Kagan
49-D Kamillah Hanks
Not seeing your Council Member on this list of committed leaders? Email them about the importance of parks and email us at email@example.com to learn more about getting involved.