New Yorkers for Parks is run by a former employee of Mayor Bloomberg’s, Holly Leicht. Prior to becoming Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks, Leicht was Deputy Commissioner for Development at the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). New Yorkers for Parks typically works hand-in-hand with the Parks Department and the organization has never, to my knowledge, spoken out against the privatization of our public spaces beyond the more obvious ones. (Leicht’s former association with Mayor Bloomberg, like for many others, may help to cement this position.) That being said, via their “Parks Platform 2013,” the organization does acknowledge vast room for improvement and more accountability on behalf of the Parks Department as well as the need for more money allotted to the agency and better accounting practices.
Private entities in “public-private partnerships” can cause issues, the Platform notes — actually, they only acknowledge one issue below, while there are certainly many others — and that people have taken issue with them.
In addition to asking candidates running for New York City offices to endorse their NY4P’s Parks Platform 2013, they are coming before all the city’s Community Boards asking them to also do so. They will be presenting their Platform before Community Board 2’s Parks Committee this Wednesday, July 17th. (It is too bad this did not happen before last month’s Washington Sq Park Conservancy vote because it might have been a bit of an education for the Parks Committee, even allowing for New Yorkers for Parks’ pro-private entity stance.)
New Yorkers for Parks “Park Platform 2013” is a “set of policy recommendations” based on “NY4P research and analysis … [and] feedback from more than 100 park advocates from every borough.” (A note: That NY4P vs. just NYFP is a bit annoying!)
From the New Yorkers for Parks Park Platform 2013:
We call on the next Mayor and Administration to:
OVERHAUL HOW THE PARKS DEPARTMENT IS FUNDED.
1) The Parks Department should have its own discretionary capital budget.
Unlike many capitally driven agencies, the Parks Department does not have a meaningful discretionary budget to enable it to plan and budget for capital projects over time in parks citywide. Rather, the Department 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 inefficient, inequitable, and potentially politicized process for funding capital projects, and makes it impossible for the Department to plan for the long-term capital maintenance and improvement of parks system wide.
2) The Parks Department’s maintenance budget should be increased, and funding for core functions should be baselined – meaning automatically renewed – in its annual expense budget.
The Parks Department’s maintenance budget has been slashed for many budget cycles, leaving the Department woefully understaffed to care for its 29,000 acres of parkland. In addition, multiple core functions of the Department – such as tree care and seasonal staffing for pools and playgrounds – are subject to annual budget negotiations rather than being included in its baseline budget that gets renewed every year. These activities are central to the Department’s mission and should not be subject to political wrangling. It is time for the Parks Department’s maintenance budget to reflect the true cost of maintaining, operating and programming all parks properties at a consistently high standard of care.
3) The Parks Department provides an essential city service and should be staffed accordingly.
Mandated staff cuts for City agencies that perform essential services are half that of other agencies. The Parks Department is responsible for maintaining the city’s street trees in addition to its parks and Greenstreets, and when major weather events hit, Parks Department staff are among the first responders. It has never been more clear just how critical New York City’s parks are to the sustainability of our city, or what an essential role the Department’s staff plays in protecting our shorelines and vulnerable areas. DPR is responsible for maintaining public safety on our streets, sidewalks, beaches and in our parks, yet they are not treated as providing an essential service at budget time.
INCREASE THE TRANSPARENCY AND EFFICIENCY OF THE PARKS DEPARTMENT TO ENSURE EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF RESOURCES.
4) The Parks Department should know the cost to maintain every City park, as well as the amount of public and private funding that supports each.
Because few parks have dedicated full-time maintenance crews, it is not easy to track staffing and maintenance costs for individual parks. In 2011, the Parks Department began piloting technology that would allow for better tracking of time spent and tasks performed by Parks staff on a park-by-park basis. The end goal of this new tracking system should be to calculate cost estimates for maintaining every park. These estimates, plus data on how public and private funding goes into each park, would enable the Parks Department to more effectively allocate resources throughout the parks system and advocate for more maintenance dollars based on measurable need.
5) The Parks Department should adopt the best practices of other capital projects agencies to improve its own process.
Like the Parks Department, multiple City agencies and authorities – including the Department of Design and Construction, the Economic Development Corporation, and the School Construction Authority – have large pipelines of capital projects, though their practices and procedures vary. The Parks Department should study and incorporate these other agencies’ best practices, or alternatively, off-load its projects to the agency or agencies that can complete them in the most timely, cost-effective manner.
6) Organizations in public-private partnerships with the Parks Department should report annual revenues, expenses and other critical financial information in a simple, consistent manner to be shared on the Department’s website.
The Parks Department has contractual agreements with more than 20 nonprofit partners that, depending on the terms of the agreement, may do anything from fundraising and programming to maintenance and capital improvements in affiliated parks. These public-private partnerships have enhanced services in multiple parks citywide. There has been some criticism of these partnerships, however, due to a perception that they benefit select parks to the detriment of the system as a whole, replacing rather than augmenting public funding – an assertion the Parks Department denies. (WSP Blog Ed. note: this is not the ONLY reason.) If the public is to truly understand the important role that these organizations play, it is critical that their financial information be transparent and publicly available, not just through required tax disclosures, but through a simple and consistent reporting document issued and posted by the Parks Department. (WSP Blog Ed. note: So much for people at C.B. 2 meetings saying how transparent these organizations are… Plus if all the above was done, #6 – and the overarching reliance on public-private partnerships – would not be necessary.)
RESTRICT AND STRONGLY REGULATE THE PRIVATIZATION OF PARKLAND.
7) Parkland alienation should not occur unless no other land is available to serve an essential public need. In a city as dense as New York, parkland is scarce and sacred. Parks should be the last place where private uses are sited, and the City’s presumption should be against any alienation of parkland. Whether proposing a municipal non-park use or a private use that is arguably “compatible” with a park, the City should not view our parks as potential development sites, even for necessary or worthy projects.
8) State and local laws regulating parkland alienation should be strengthened to require earlier and broader notification of alienation actions, and to mandate acre-for-acre replacement of lost parkland.
The New York State Legislature can alienate the City’s parkland with only a last-minute notice to the City Council and without any notice to the Parks Department or the Parks Committee of the Council. What’s more, neither State nor City law require replacement of alienated parkland. The laws regulating alienation need to be strengthened to ensure that those entities charged with protecting our parks have at least 30-days’ notice of any potential alienation action, and that New Yorkers receive an equal amount of proximate new parkland of the same quality and character to replace any alienated parkland.
The rest of NY4P’s Parks Platform 2013 can be read here.
C.B. 2 Parks Committee Meeting Info:
Wed., July 17th, 6:30 p.m. – Little Red School House, 272 Sixth Avenue (corner of Bleecker St.), Auditorium
Also on agenda — Father Fagan Park: presentation by Parks Department architect showing the updated designs for the renovation of the park.
On August 15th, New Yorkers for Parks is holding a “Parks Platform rally” at 11 a.m. on the steps of City Hall.