In 2022, NY4P led a comprehensive, months-long campaign to dedicate 1% of the City’s budget to the Parks Department. In partnership with the 400+ members of our Play Fair Coalition, we held rallies, petitions, and email-writing campaigns, testified at public meetings, and gathered grassroots support for our goals.
The campaign culminated in major success in the annual budget process, when the Mayor and City Council agreed to a $624 million budget for parks in FY2023—the largest in City history. This follows on the heels of the FY2022 budget of $618 million, which was also record setting.
This year’s gains are particularly meaningful because the FY2022 budget included significant federal money related to pandemic recovery and economic stimulus. The FY2023 budget is funded entirely by the City, without federal support. While it fell short of our ultimate goal of allocating a full 1% of the City’s budget to parks, it represented an important step in that direction.
In 2021, NY4P called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council to restore essential funds to the NYC Parks department. NYC Parks received the 2nd largest cut of any agency following COVID-19 austerity measures. That reduction of $84 million caused parks to be in the worst condition on record while demand for them was at an all-time high.
Elected leaders heard our voices and restored $80M to NYC Parks budget for FY22, making it (at the time) the largest NYC Parks budget ever adopted by the city. All of our Play Fair asks were funded through the full fiscal year either through Council, Mayoral, or federal stimulus funds, or a shift of funds from operations to capital budgets.
2020 brought unprecedented challenges, but NY4P adapted to continue our advocacy. The Play Fair Coalition's campaigning in-person, by phone and email, and on Zoom resulted in 300 secured jobs for NYC Parks workers, despite the agency taking a 14% cut of $84 million. Of those 300 secured jobs, 150 were made permanent and 150 were renewed just for one year.
In early 2019, NY4P officially launched the Play Fair campaign. Together with a growing coalition of parks advocates we rallied, wrote letters, testified, met with elected officials and eventually succeeded in securing a historic investment of $44 million into the Parks Department Expense budget. These funds were earmarked specifically for much-needed maintenance and operations, improvements to all 550 community gardens, and funding for forestry management. Simultaneously, NY4P released three neighborhood-level Open Space Index reports on Long Island City in Queens, Bushwick in Brooklyn, and the Bay Street Corridor in Staten Island. These areas were at different phases of rezoning and our concise reports provide quick facts and recommendations for advocates and decision makers alike. Our inaugural Leon Levy Fellow for Great Parks launched NY4P’s first ever podcast, Lots to Grow, which catalogued the history and issues around community gardens in New York City. Its episodes were played over a thousand times within months of release. We also produced and hosted our third 'Open Space Dialogues' panel series, in partnership with New York Law School, which aims to convene and engage the public in provocative and productive discussions centered on open space and the public realm.
In 2018, we worked with the New York City Council, the New York League of Conservation Voters, and DC37, the Parks workers’ union, to launch a multi-year budget advocacy campaign called Play Fair. We released two Open Space Index reports on Southern Boulevard in the Bronx and Brownsville in Brooklyn. The reports were guided by community input and provide in-depth analysis of neighborhood-level open space conditions. We launched the Leon Levy Fellows for Great Parks program, designed to help young career professionals learn the ropes of nonprofit parks research and advocacy. In late 2018, we continued our second season of our 'Open Space Dialogues' panel series, this time in partnership with New York Law School. With increased reach through the partnership, more people attended our discussions and learned about various challenges facing New York City’s open spaces.
In early 2017 we launched our next round of borough and citywide community meetings, NY4P: Boro x Boro. Each meeting brought together open space advocates and activists to identify the issues facing their parks, and possible solutions. Attendees shared lessons learned and strengthened their local networks. Their insight lead to the creation of our Public Realm Bill of Rights for New York City, which lays out the principles the city should follow in creating and maintaining public space. We launched new advocacy software that enables New Yorkers to write directly to their elected officials regarding open space issues. As the 2017 city election approached, we asked candidates for public office to respond to the Pubic Realm Bill of Rights for NYC and shared their answers on our website so that voters could make an informed choice. With support from The Rockefeller Foundation, in late 2017 we kicked off our 'Open Space Dialogues' panel series, convening experts and thought leaders to tackle the difficult issues facing New York City's open space.
Based on our research, and with the input of community members from our How's Your Park, NYC? outreach, we focused our budget advocacy on the preservation and creation of jobs within the Parks Department, and restoration of neighborhood parks. In the FY 2017 budget, our call was answered: Mayor de Blasio added $12 million for peak seasonal staff - three times the usual amount - and the city council provided $96 million to preserve 150 maintenance worker and gardener positions for another year. The mayor included over $400 million for the next round of the Community Parks Initiative, which address inequity in our parks, and for improvements to "Anchor Parks" in every borough. In the fall of 2016 we started a new webinar series that helps people get involved in local government policy. Going on the Record explains how to give testimony at a City Council hearing, covering every step and offering guidance on how to craft messaging.
Working closely with New York City Council Parks Committee Chairman Mark Levine, other City and elected officials, and park advocates throughout the spring, NY4P helped the Council secure a $8.7 million for maintenance workers and gardeners, which had been removed by the mayor in the preliminary budget. Parks also gained $1.65 million for the Parks Equity Initiative, which supports work in parks under the Community Parks Initiative. In the fall of 2015 we launched our new outreach initiative, 'How's Your Park, NYC?' Through borough-wide meetings NY4P convened advocates from 80 neighborhoods across the city to help us identify funding needs for parks, as well as ongoing concerns about maintenance and conditions in parks and gardens citywide.
Working closely with New York City Council Parks Committee Chairman Mark Levine, other City and elected officials, and park advocates throughout the spring, NY4P helped the Council secure a $16.25 million increase for the Parks Department's maintenance and operations budget. That amount includes $8.75 million for 200 full-time maintenance workers and gardeners, $5 million for 80 Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, $1 million for tree pruning, $750,000 for stump removal, and $750,000 for a neighborhood parks equity fund for "friends of" groups.
In connection with City Council approval of two development projects – the National Tennis Center’s Expansion and Queens Development Group’s Willets West Project – an NY4P advocacy campaign helped deliver more than $25 million to improve and maintain Flushing Meadows Corona Park and seed a new nonprofit alliance for the park. No publicly usable parkland was lost in the process. Thanks to funding from the Altman Foundation, J.M. Kaplan Fund, and New York Community Trust, NY4P hired a leading national expert to conduct an independent study to estimate the park's current and upgraded maintenance costs, which helped determine the eventual amount given to the park. Additionally, NY4P opposed a plan to build a Major League Soccer soccer stadium in the heart of the park in a New York Daily News Op-Ed. The City and MLS backed off plans to build in the park.
According to public officials, NY4P can claim a large share of the credit for the $38 million increase to the Parks Department’s budget for Fiscal Year 2013, thanks to recent advocacy efforts that included a rally with Council Members and citywide parks advocates on the steps of City Hall. We also helped bring the potential dangers of insufficient tree care to light, resulting in the first increase in funding for tree pruning since 2008.
Through our ongoing advocacy in 2011 and 2012, we were successful in convincing New York University and the City to alter NYU’s 2031 development plan to ensure that the open spaces created in the plan will be more accessible and welcoming, serve a broader spectrum of New Yorkers, and be better maintained than the current spaces within the superblocks south of Washington Square Park. We convinced the University to map the open space where Mercer Playground has existed for several decades, and we helped develop a stringent long-term maintenance and operations plan for all open spaces on the site, including establishment of a community oversight body and an NYU-funded maintenance endowment. The plan's final approval also includes greater protections for LaGuardia Community Garden, which we will continue to monitor.