A Tale of Two Views of Parks Funding: Response to Powell’s NYT Article on Conservancies from Veronica White and Carol Greitzer

Two responses to the recent Gotham column by Michael Powell in the New York TimesCity’s Parks Department Takes a Seat Behind Nonprofit Conservancies (Feb. 4):

First from former Parks Commissioner Veronica White, who now works for Bloomberg L.P., defending Bloomberg’s “legacy” I guess. Powell’s piece wasn’t really about Bloomberg but the Times gave her the space (was that really necessary?). She also quotes a report from the Trust for Public Land where her predecessor, 10 years too long Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, now works. The statistics from Trust for Public Land White cites in her letter — that NYC puts more money into public parks than all those other cities combined — must be fudged a bit. There is no way in the real world that that is true.

Following her letter is one Carol Greitzer, former City Council person, current parks advocate and Village resident, submitted in response to the piece. That is the letter The Times ought to have published.

New York Times – The Opinion Pages, Letter, February 13, 2013:

To the Editor:

The debate over whether nonprofit park conservancies should be mandated to turn over a portion of their donations to support other parks should not obscure the enormous resources that New York City has devoted to parks in the five boroughs.

The Bloomberg administration made $5 billion in capital investments in parks, the largest capital investment in the city’s history, with the vast majority of it going to support existing parks and some to create new ones in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Northern Manhattan.

The Bronx River Greenway, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Aquatic Center, Freshkills Park on Staten Island, Fort Washington Park in Washington Heights and Coney Island are just a few examples of parks that received major investments under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who added more than 850 new acres of parkland to the five boroughs.

In addition, the department’s $380 million yearly operating budget is the largest in city history. According to a report by the Trust for Public Land, New York City invests nearly twice as much public money in parks as the cities of Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Miami and Philadelphia combined. As a result, and thanks to the dedication of thousands of workers and volunteers, New York City’s parks have never been in better shape.

VERONICA M. WHITE
New York, Feb. 5, 2014

The writer, New York City parks commissioner from 2012 to 2013, is an executive at Bloomberg L.P.

From Carol Greitzer, New York City Council member from 1969-1991:

To the Editor:

While Senator Daniel Squadron has called attention to the fact that some parks are more equal than others, his proposed solution is like a medicine that relieves the symptoms but does not provide a cure. Why is funding for parks such a problem?  Would we expect local communities to buy new apparatus for their fire company, or a new snow plow for the sanitation department?  Yet the Parks Department not only counts on help from conservancies, it actually encourages – even spearheads – their formation (as in the current kerfuffle over Washington Square Park.)

Parks gets less than 1/2 of one percent of the city budget, even as the agency keeps acquiring more acreage. Why should broken benches, potholed ballfields and garbage-strewn lawns have to depend on trickle-down benevolence from some rich conservancy, when the City is mandated by the charter to maintain its parks? Next time there’s a round table discussion on how to solve these inequalities. let’s have some brainstorming from people with some ideas as to how to solve problems.

Carol Greitzer
New York, February 4, 2014

A former City Council Member, the writer is a co-founder of 1000+ Friends of New York City Parks

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