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Op-ed: Privatizing parks is a bad idea

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The newly opened first section of Brooklyn Bridge Park and Tupper Thomas’s pending retirement from Prospect Park have shed a light on Brooklyn parks — in particular the future of how they will be funded. Unfortunately, the future of park funding does not look bright under this administration.

Despite a $3-billion surplus this year, Mayor Bloomberg’s budget allocates only a fraction — just $ 239.1 million — of the money desperately needed to hire the skilled laborers, park enforcement, qualified managers, gardeners and recreation workers among other positions that every neighborhood deserves.

This is a $40-million cut in expense funding from budget from last year. As a percentage of the city’s budget, this would represent only 0.37 percent to maintain and operate parks. It’s a historic low for the agency responsible for 14 percent of the city’s land.

For decades, the public has been told that funding is not available for our public parks. This proposed budget is an unfortunate and constant reminder of how in both good economic times and bad, public funding for parks is simply not a priority. Our elected officials refuse to allocate adequate funding. The political will simply does not exist.

Until 1960, the Parks Department regularly received 1.4 percent of the city budget or greater. However, due to a drastic shift in priorities over the last 45 years, the department’s share of the city budget from tax levy funds has rapidly declined.

With increasing regularity, parks with permanent employees are those that benefit from significant private funds or alternate funding schemes. Unwilling to accept its Charter-mandated responsibilities for the care of its parks, the city has instead turned to the private sector.

In city parks today, adequate maintenance, programming and dedicated park enforcement now depends on what ZIP code you are in, and the willingness and ability of its citizens to raise and leverage private funds. With increasing regularity, the public is being asked to shoulder the municipal responsibility of managing and maintaining what is supposed to be a basic, essential city service — services for which we already pay taxes.

The city’s increasing reliance on these public/private partnerships has resulted in a vastly unequal distribution of services. It has quickly become “a tale of two cities.” Experience with public/private partnerships over the last 20 years has proven that private subsidies to individual parks has created an enormous gap between the haves and the have-nots, while ignoring the real problem — that our parks are not funded as an essential city service.

At the opening of the first section of Brooklyn Bridge Park last month, I asked the mayor to comment on the enormous disparity between the amount of maintenance that park is receiving and others.

“In terms of disparity,” the mayor responded, “the city does not have the money to have new parks and fund them.”

The mayor is able to get away with such statements in part because the public is not holding our electeds accountable.

Unless our elected officials and the public begin to speak up the future of park funding will be a combination of decreasing municipal funds and what ever funding schemes the administration is able to get away with.

Brooklyn’s more than 4,500 acres of parkland and its more than 2-1/2 million people deserve a lot more.

Geoffrey Croft is the president and founder of NYC Park Advocates, a non-profit, non-partisan watchdog group dedicated to increasing park services and expanding open space and public recreation.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Sid from boerum hill says:
ok where should the money come from? From Schools? from Police? From Libraries? Its always nice that people say we need more money but there is only one pot that it comes from.
All the above have seen cuts this year. The other areas listed take a higher priority. If you add more parks and do not have dedicated funding, and cut the amount for parks in general, the money for the prior existing parks goes down.
Yes in the scheme of things parks gets shafted. I don't like it but would you like even less police?libraries or schools? You can't have all unless you increase the taxes... 2 2 still equals 4 not 5.
April 16, 2010, 12:29 pm
Ronnie from Sheepshead Bay says:
Exactly. It's easy to say "give more money for parks." But where is that money supposed to come from? Are parks important? Yes! Are we willing to sacrifice Police, Fire and Education or raise our taxes even more? No!
April 16, 2010, 8:32 pm
jerry from brighton beach says:
To Ronnie of Sheepshead Bay :
We have to hold our electeds on the money they are given & spend accountable to the residents that put them in office.
BP Marty Markowitz is wasting $ 64 million in a vanity project that he wants to build in Asser-Levy park. NO ONE in the community wants this boondooggle of a project, for many reasons.
Markowitz has the audacity to spend our TAX Dollars for his dream which is the community's NIGHTMARE.
All of our Parks in Brooklyn could be improved upon with this $ 64 million, but Marty has other ideas. He's spending money on this project like a drunken sailor. He has to be called out on this.
April 18, 2010, 9:15 am
chris from slope says:
maybe if the city didn't give away millions of dollars in tax breaks/subsidies/cheap land for sports stadiums
April 18, 2010, 1:16 pm
robert from brookyn says:
good editorial, need to hear more from people like him...
April 18, 2010, 2:31 pm
JEn from brooklyn says:
yes, less police, please, how much is wasted on this flood of cops in certain areas of manhattan, and tanks and helicopters, while neighborhood beat cops are a thing of the past
April 18, 2010, 2:32 pm
Bill from Cobble Hill says:
The headline of this op-ed doesn't make any sense - what is meant by "privatizing parks"? Is it a question of charging admittance? Or does the author want to eliminate the presence of food or other kinds of concessions in parks? I'm not even sure what he means by public/private partnerships - is he talking about non-profit organizations like the Central Park Conservancy? It seems silly to gripe about organizations that are making a positive contribution to the city, even if it's not in my zip code.

Other than making a case for the obvious - the fact that we should have more funding for parks and that parks in all neighborhoods should be given the same high standard of care that is proposed for Brooklyn Bridge Park, I find this op-ed piece to be a bit cynical in mixing a lack of clarity with dire and unsupported conclusions. This does not seem to me to be a constructive act of advocacy.
April 19, 2010, 1:46 am
Richard from Long Island City says:
Its being made up by Dumping as many welfare recipients into the parks dept BackToWork program, as well as 2500 more subsidized training jobs by the OHBahhMa stimulus plan....so they have plenty of bodies to cover the shortfall
April 21, 2010, 2:04 am

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