Updated — Written seven months ago in late April, this letter from New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, former Chair, Community Board 2, and New York State Assembly Member Deborah Glick to NYC Parks Commissioner Veronica White is worth reviewing:
April 29, 2013
Commissioner Department of Parks and Recreation
The Arsenal, Central Park
New York, NY, 10065
Dear Commissioner White,
We are dismayed that the Department of Parks has been having private conversations about the formation of a Conservancy for Washington Square Park without public discussion or outreach. We have generally found Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro to be accessible and available to the community*, which adds to our confusion and disappointment that these conversations were neither public, nor were the Community Board or elected officials informed they were going on.
We hope that the Department of Parks will rectify this mistake by engaging in an open, public process which includes meetings with Community Board 2 and time for the public to discuss the appropriateness of such a plan, prior to any official action being taken.
Although we appreciate the upgrades and renovations that the Department of Parks has made to Washington Square Park over the past few years, it seems short-sighted if these upgrades were made knowing there were not sufficient funds for the maintenance of the park going forward. For example, the fountain was moved at huge expense. We understand that capital and operating budgets are separate; however, maybe this alteration could have been forgone if Parks knew that after completion, there would not be money to continue the general upkeep of the park.
The Department of Parks is a City agency; the public knows the source of its funding, who is responsible for its management and the policy making structure. I understand the Department is confronted with shrinking resources but privatization of public spaces is not appropriate.
Once a Conservancy is established, the transparency associated with Parks Department oversight will be diminished and the public may be left without a clear understanding of how policies are made or the source of the park’s funds and perhaps most importantly, the connection between such funding and future park policies.
It is unacceptable for the City of New York to get out of the business of maintaining and being responsible for open green space. Parks are a fundamental part of our society and the Department of Parks and the City of New York, not private citizens, are responsible for ensuring that we have them for generations to come. It is now, and has always been, terrific when individual citizens or a group of citizens are interested in assisting their local park.
Sometimes this is a clean up effort, or local gardeners enjoying a chance to plant, or when their local park becomes their favorite charity. However, that is vastly different from a formal conservancy that weighs in on policy matters. It seems that the process for the creation of a Conservancy thus far has intentionally been done quickly and quietly because the Department of Parks understands full-well that the community would have strong opinions if they knew of this plan.
We urge you to slow down and engage in the public discourse that this topic deserves and allow for a democratic process.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.
Deborah J. Glick, Assemblymember
Brad Hoylman, State Senator
CC: William Castro, Manhattan Borough Commissioner
Community Board 2
Update on this letter:
According to Deborah Glick’s office, the response received from the Parks Department was a “non-response,” lacking any substance.
* Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Bill Castro has emerged as the egregious orchestrator of the omissions of known information and colluded with the private Conservancy members on false and misleading statements to push Community Board approval. Read more on how this played out here.
* Community Board 2, led by current Chair David Gruber, has been, on the whole, non-responsive to community concerns, and basically ignored the content of this letter from Assembly Member Glick and State Senator Hoylman (and also a subsequent letter sent from Glick alone, at link below).
Previously at WSP Blog: