A forum at the Delancey Street Senior Center in lower Manhattan earlier this month aimed to tackle the issue of inequity in city parks, which are the result of private conservancies (based on local residents’ donations) boosting maintenance efforts in more affluent neighborhoods while poorer residents experience decrepit conditions due to a lack of such funding. But across the spectrum, parks advocates bemoan a lack of sufficient municipal resources and have shown a willingness for collaboration (or at least a conversation) to address the issues involved.
The forum was led by State Senator Daniel Squadron, who found the conversations to be substantive and important. Others agreed.
“It was excellent idea to get everybody together and come up with a plan,” said Jean Silva, President of the Flushing-Meadows Corona Park Conservancy, who was in attendance. “We don’t necessarily agree on all the ideas he’s [Squadron’s] coming up with, but he has some good points.”
Still, Silva liked that Squadron was working hard on solutions for less affluent parks. “The important aspect is that we stop working as independent entities and we all come together with a common interest,” she said.
At the forum, the group discussed a need for greater consistency, and a need-based system, in allocating dollars to our parks. The system must be unified and treated as a single network, Squadron claimed, and every park, including the largest conservancies, should have an obligation to the entire system in terms of expertise, education, and dollars, and that the political voice of neighborhood parks, large and small, must be a more valued component in parks equity discussions, and parks issues overall.
In addition, a number of participants laid out the following values/goals from a previous meeting in January, reiterating that these items should frame any solution to the equity crisis facing city parks:
- All neighborhoods deserve good parks; nicer parks cannot be reserved for wealthier neighborhoods.
- There needs to be a stronger, more urgent push for increased funding to operate parks.
- Outside support should be augmented and better distributed.
- Community engagement strategies and best practices should be shared.
- The parks system, as a single unified network, should be strengthened.
“It is generally true that parks with well-funded conservancies in affluent neighborhoods have more amenities, better security, and are better maintained than parks in neighborhoods whose residents cannot afford to pay for upkeep of their local park — the neighborhoods that need green space the most,” Squadron said in testimony to the City Council in April. “In a city as wealthy as New York, it is absurd that parks are allowed to deteriorate in neighborhoods because those neighborhoods cannot afford to pay more for their upkeep.”
Squadron views the current dichotomy of continuing park inequity or deteriorating parks in good condition a “false choice” and that ultimately, private citizens should not be required to fund such public institutions.
The solution, Squadron believes, involved a “Neighborhood Parks Alliance” that would create linkages between affluent conservancies and needy parks, forging a system that can begin to alter this dynamic, together with the points laid out in the forum.
“The lack of capital budget for New York City’s Parks Department is, of course, a major source of the problem,” Squadron said. “Its absence requires the department to rely on a patchwork medley of funding sources, including member items from elected officials, and of course, philanthropic donations.”
A Neighborhood Parks Alliance would not erase disparities in parks funding overnight, or even in a year, but it can cause us to dramatically rethink the funding model for such a large public good, Squadron claimed.