Impact of Private Conservancies on City Parks

August 1, 2013 — This list is in formation. There are more – this is just a start! But since the issues that arise when private entities rule public parks are not always clear (as often so much is hidden about these arrangements), here are some of them outlined in the media:

Less Public Access:

A Curious Cost-Benefit Analysis of a Park Fund-Raiser New York Times, May 17, 2013 (on Great Googa Mooga)

Debate Flares Over Private Funding for NY’s public parks, Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2013

Bloomberg Throws $9 Million Party in Annual Randall’s Island Land Grab, A Walk in the Park Blog, June 24, 2011

Less Transparency:

Selling and Giving Away NYC Parks, Leonard Lopate Show, WNYC (Interview with attorney Jim Walden), April 23, 2013

Walden: “Development corporations and conservancies don’t have the same transparency, visibility, sunlight that a city agency would [in theory]. … From a pure public policy perspective, as long as the private interests that are contributing to the park understand that it’s no different than making a charitable contribution, once you give the money, you’re done. [In that case] There wouldn’t be a problem. [But that’s never the case.] The problem is control. With the private money coming in to the park, there is some giveaway of control that ultimately allows a foot in the door, ultimately resulting [in] the park either changing, shrinking or going away completely.”

Comptroller Liu Returns $90M Central Park Conservancy Contract; Asks Mayor to Level Playing Field for Parks A Walk in the Park Blog, June 19, 2013

Disparities Amongst Parks Between Affluent and Less Affluent Neighborhoods:

The High Cost of Free Parks Next City, June 16, 2010

“New York has created a two-tier parks system,” complains Geoffrey Croft, president of the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates. “One for the rich, the other for the poor.”

Reducing Some City Parks to the Status of Beggars, New York Times, May 28, 2013

The question is whether in this densest of American cities, privatized parks serve the broadest public good.

Public Space Seen as Wealthy Neighbor’s Private Backyards:

Musicians Chased from Central Park, New York Post, May 28, 2011

When asked about the music crackdown, a spokesman for the Central Park Conservancy, the cash-flush nonprofit that runs the park for the city, said: “The fountain is a place for quiet reflection.”

Inequitable Rules that Favor Some Over Others:

Union Square Showdown: Holiday Market vs. Art Vendors DNAinfo, December 21, 2010

The Public Ends up Getting Less ($) and the Private Ends Up Getting More:

Shake Shack $$$: Bad for City Parks?, WNYC, September 14, 2010

Corporations Favored Over the Public (or Even What Makes Sense for the City Budget):

Losing $30M in annual fees shows city whiffed big-time on new Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, New York Daily News, July 29, 2011

Increasing commercialization:

Parks Bustle, Neighbors Fume, New York Times, September 30, 2007

“There is a lot of concern about the commercialization of the parks,” said [Community Board 5 Chair Maxine] Teitler, whose board covers an area that includes Bryant Park and the two other parks that form Midtown’s green corridor: Madison Square Park and Union Square Park.The use of the parks was the subject of a public forum held over the summer, and according to Ms. Teitler, the range of issues raised by local residents was broad: “They don’t want events that exclude other people. They don’t want noisy, loud events in the park. And they certainly don’t want commercial events that take over for more than a day or two.”

And a Recent Situation So Wrong that Encapsulates Almost All of the Above:

Towers in the Park. And stadiums, and shopping centers: This is not what Flushing Meadows Needs, New York Magazine, May 5, 2013

How exciting! If the Bloomberg administration can close the deal, a world-class soccer stadium will soon replace Central Park’s underutilized, fenced-off Reservoir. Even better, the Harlem Meer could give way to a giant mall, bringing jobs and new shopping opportunities to a neighborhood sorely in need of both. A few noisy activists object, but the city points to the growing popularity of soccer, and it has promised to find substitute parkland nearby.

The previous paragraph is a preposterous lie, but only because it substitutes Central Park for its less glamorous Queens cousin, Flushing Meadows Corona Park. That’s where a mayor who constantly invokes his green credentials is cheering on a three-pronged corporate invasion of public land. If all the various proposals come to fruition, Major League Soccer will plunk a 35,000-seat stadium on top of the Pool of Industry; the Related Companies and Sterling Equities will jointly build a 1.4 ­million–square–foot shopping center on parkland turned parking lot next to Citi Field, and the National Tennis Center will creep beyond its current borders. By the time all these incursions have been carried out, they will have sucked away more than 40 acres of your land.

My two pieces on privatization of public space (thus far) at the Huffington Post:

Privatization of the Commons in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York (Part I), April 15, 2013

Privatization of the Commons in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York – Part II: Who has Control? April 26, 2013

On Private Conservancy at Washington Square Park from this blog:

Timeline and Analysis of the Path that Led to Community Board 2’s Approval of the Washington Square Park Conservancy, June 27, 2013

Reportback: Community Board 2 Vote on Washington Square Park Conservancy – Part I July 15, 2013

Reportback: Community Board 2 Vote on Washington Sq Park Conservancy, Part II July 28, 2013

* All coverage at this blog on private conservancy at WSP can be found here.

* This blog’s coverage of privatization of public space can be found here.

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