New York Times looks at City Parks’ Privatization

In today’s New York Times, an excellent piece by Michael Powell: Reducing some City Parks to the Status of Beggars.

A few notable excerpts but worth reading the whole piece:

“Someone should really blow the whistle for what’s happened to parks,” [Brooklyn Brewery’s Steve] Hindy notes. “People should let their elected officials know that they have cut the throats of the parks for years.”


Prospect Park occupies a middle ground. It has overseen a stunningly beautiful reconstruction of its lake side. It also rents out its Audubon Center on weekends to the wedding-bar mitzvah-birthday crowd.

Our lame duck mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, has started to turn off his charitable money shower. His foundation informed the Prospect Park Alliance that it intended to end its quarter-million dollar annual contribution. (Ms. Lloyd declined to discuss this.)

“Prospect Park is not even close to Central Park,” Mr. Hindy notes. “It’s golden apples and regular oranges.”

Those who defend privatization are candid. Ask about inequity and they talk of commodities; the emerald brilliance of Central Park draws tourists. The High Line is a brooch in the luxury transformation of Chelsea.

As for Flushing Meadows? When told that partisans hoped to transform a homely asphalt-ringed fountain into a grass-edged lake, John Alschuler Jr., co-chairman of the Friends of the High Line, offered an exasperated sigh. In his day job, he lobbies to place a U.F.O.-size professional soccer stadium in the midst of that Queens park.

Cities, he said, no longer pay for parks properly. Such exuberant hopes will not be realized in my life, he said, or that of my child. Find a corporate sponsor, he suggested.

So condescension passes as realism.

Holly Leicht of New Yorkers for Parks is a vigorous parks advocate, and would demand transparency and accountability from conservancies. But she would not upset the conservancy lords until the Parks Department is properly financed and revamped.

This feels backward. Former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton transformed a hidebound Police Department in months; why demand less of the Parks Department?

And why not toss down a challenge: John Paulson made a tremendous bundle betting that the housing market would tank disastrously and donated $100 million to Central Park, which lies in his backyard. Perhaps 50 percent of his money should go to the other parks. It’s that old notion of the public weal.

Ms. Lloyd, the president of the Prospect Park Alliance, tiptoes so carefully. “In this country, we don’t really fund public infrastructure and public spaces as we do in other countries,” she said. “It’s always a huge stretch.”

No doubt this is so. The question is whether in this densest of American cities, privatized parks serve the broadest public good.

This last line is key. And something everyone involved at Washington Square Park is grappling with as the city attempts to install a private conservancy against community wishes.

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Also, if you are not up to speed on the Great Googa Mooga debacle at Prospect Park, read Powell’s previous piece (5/17) at the Times, A Curious Cost/Benefit Analysis of a Park Fundraiser.

Also, check out my Huffington Post series if you have not as of yet:

* Privatization of the Commons in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York (Part I)

* Privatization of the Commons in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York — Part II: Who Has Control?

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