Saturday, October 27, 2012

A question of fairness

From Bloomberg:

New York devoted about $338 million, less than 0.5 percent of its $68.5 billion operating budget this year, to its 29,000- acre park system, down from $380 million. The city budget supports about 15 percent of Central Park’s $45 million annual operating costs, according to the conservancy website.

By comparison, the Chicago Park District, a semi-autonomous authority funded through dedicated property taxes, revenue from facilities such as Soldier Field and private donations, intends to spend $407 million on its 7,800-acre system, plus more than $80 million in capital improvements, said Jessica Maxey- Faulkner, a spokeswoman. Los Angeles spends $189.5 million of its $7.2 billion budget on parks.

In fiscal 2013, the city has earmarked $28.8 million for parks in Manhattan, almost double the amount in the Bronx, which has more than twice as much park acreage. The city budgeted $25.3 million for parks in Queens, $23.4 million for Brooklyn and $10.2 million for Staten Island. Staffing in city parks has declined 25 percent since 2009, to 5,744 employees.

Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a 1,255-acre expanse in Queens that was the site of the World’s Fair in 1939 and 1964, is marred by barren fields where grass once grew and shuttered recreation facilities “where the city could easily spend $100 million,” [NYC Park Advocates President Geoffrey] Croft said.

Ferry Point Park in the Bronx “now functions as a public toilet,” Croft said, after officials reduced staff, abandoned ball fields and closed public restrooms. “Without any security or supervision, men set up roulette tables for open-air gambling,” he said.

[John] Paulson’s gift “is a good thing not just for Central Park but for parks generally because it highlights how important parks are to people,” said Holly Leicht, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy organization.

“It also puts the onus on the city to make sure there’s enough money in the maintenance budget to properly maintain the 1,700 other parks that can’t draw this level of private funding,” Leicht said.

The best solution to the problem of funding all the parks would be the creation of a citywide conservancy-like institution to attract private and public funding, said Melissa Mark- Viverito, a Democrat who heads the City Council’s Parks and Recreation committee and whose Manhattan district of East Harlem includes a portion of Central Park.

“The challenge is to prevent our parks from becoming a two-tiered system where some have conservancies and some don’t,” said Mark-Viverito.

“We can’t have the city walking away from its obligation and responsibility for upkeep and maintenance,” she said. “That’s not the message we should be sending.”

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