Updated 2/19, 9:25 a.m. — Yesterday’s New York Times featured an article by Lisa Foderaro titled: New York Parks in Less Affluent Areas Lack Big Gifts. A key thing missing from the piece was any analysis or historical perspective of the allocation of funds from the city’s budget for our public parks and spaces. The piece seems to accept the premise that parks should be privatized in order to succeed and neglects to mention the devastating cuts to the Parks Department’s budget over the last 40 years.
In Patrick Arden’s highly regarded article, “The High Cost of Free Parks” (2010), he wrote:
In 1960 parks maintenance and operations claimed 1.4 percent of city funds. Mayor Bloomberg’s new $63.6 billion budget would send parks’ percentage to a record low of 0.37 percent, or $239 million. (Chicago spent almost $150 million more last year on 21,000 fewer acres.) The mayor’s cut would drop the full-time workforce below 3,000, less than half the number employed by the Parks Department in 1970. “No other city agency has lost a greater percentage of its workforce over the last 40 years,” says [Geoffrey] Croft [NYC Park Advocates]. “Private money will never make that up.”
New Parks Commissioner Veronica White basically agrees as she is quoted in the Times‘ article stating: “Where we have trusts and alliances, the goal is not to shift costs,” Ms. White said. “Parks are paid for by the tax base, and they should be.”
The rest of the article makes it sound, as if, to survive, large donations are the way to go and all the other parks are asking for a piece. They would not have to be if parks were adequately funded under the city budget. Under Mayor Bloomberg, they have not been – as the Parks Department’s budget continues to shrink.
From the Times:
Last year, Central Park received what is believed to be the largest gift ever given to an American park, $100 million, from the hedge fund manager John A. Paulson.
When Frederick J. Kress, who sits on the board of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy, heard about it, he had only one thought: What about us?
Flushing Meadows-Corona, which has been the setting for two World’s Fairs, is considerably larger than Central Park, at 1,225 acres, compared with 843. Last year, its conservancy attracted $5,000 in donations.
The park’s bicycle and walking paths are cracked and pitted, Mr. Kress said, and its natural areas are overgrown with invasive species. “Central Park is doing pretty well,” said Mr. Kress, who is also president of the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces, noting that though Mr. Paulson’s home on Fifth Avenue overlooks Central Park, he grew up in Queens. “I’m not saying he owes anyone anything, but how about you give Central Park $98 million and Flushing Meadows-Corona $2 million? That two million would have gone so much further in an underappreciated park.”
A look back to 2008: New York City Parks Department: 2/3 cuts in workers and many privatization schemes:
According to New York Jobs With Justice:
“Years ago, NYC’s public parks were administered by over 7,500 municipal employees of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Today, it’s only 2,500 municipal employees taking care of NYC’s public parks. This number continues to shrink as the years go by. Much of the labor has been privatized through city partnerships with non-profit administrators resulting in a two-tier work force of public servants in the City’s public parks.”
That is a 66% reduction in Parks Department workers.
Privatization — Behind the Scenes
Then there is another aspect revealed by WNYC:
City park concessions typically return up to 20% of their revenues back to the city. [Danny] Meyer’s deal [at Shake Shack] allows him to pay only 12%. In addition, Meyer caters private events at the park from which his company makes up to $15,000 an hour, according to the WNYC piece by Arun Venogopal.
Due to the Bloomberg Administration’s over-reliance on private funding in city parks and the administration’s overarching belief that this can take the place of proper funding allocated from the city budget, the Parks Department is in sad shape. This is greatly affecting parks in poorer areas, which don’t have the good fortune of being in high value destinations for real estate and commerce.
[Patrick] Arden and parks advocates say the “Golden Age for Parks” that Adrian Benepe claims is more like a Gilded Age, “with wide — and growing — disparities between lavish, showplace parks for the haves and cast-off parcels for the have-nots. For every Madison Square, Bryant Park or High Line, there are hundreds of parks that depend solely on the city, and many suffer from scandalous neglect.”
When people cavalierly state that private money for parks is a good thing, there are so many more layers to it which inevitably uncover problems with the model, such as:
Geoffrey Croft, of NYC Park Advocates, so aptly noted, “It is the city’s legal responsibility to maintain its park system which they are clearly not doing. The city continues to try and abdicate its responsibilities by entering in these agreements which the elected officials are allowing. Besides the enormous disparity these deals create, they also hand over an enormous power and decision and policy to these groups with little transparency and accountability on what is supposed to be public land.”