Early this morning, a handful of city park advocates, a trio of council members, and a smattering of curious onlookers gathered on the steps of City Hall to talk parks, budget cuts and leafy green things.
“Funding for our parks must be restored,” cried City Councilmember Brad Lander, who was joined at the rally by park-loving compatriots Melissa Mark-Viverito and James Oddo.
The last few years have not been kind to the Department of Parks and Recreation, which has been the victim of a number of heavy-handed budget cuts since 2008. This year, the Parks Department faces a proposed budget cut of $33.4 million that, if approved, would lead to a cumulative loss of $62 million in funding—or 17 percent—over the last five years.
“New York City’s 2,100 parks are an irreplaceable treasure, providing places for New Yorkers to play, relax, run, bike, picnic, perform, gather, and connect to nature,” Mr. Lander wrote in a statement.
New Yorkers For Parks (NY4P) Executive Director, Holly Leicht, who helped organize the rally, said that cutting parks funding is “more serious than people realize,” because it is a “disinvestment in our parks and the city’s economic future.”
And she has a point. Grass cutting and tree trimming costs money! The Parks Department does not just spend its cash on park benches, Narnia-esque lamp posts and the occasional swan. The bulk of the funding goes towards maintenance and operations, including trimming trees, cutting off dangerous or low-hanging branches, repairing and maintaining surfaces, controlling insect populations, removing snow and cleaning up litter and bathrooms.
And weeds aren’t the only ramifications of budget cuts. The rally comes on the heels of a recent announcement that four public pools—Mayor Wagner Pool in Manhattan, Howard Pool in Brooklyn, Fort Totten Pool in Queens, and Faber Pool in Staten Island—will remain closed for the summer if money is not restored to the budget. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed pool cuts for three years in a row according to the Staten Island Advance, which also includes closing the city pools two weeks earlier than normal. If Mayor Bloomberg gets his way, and the four pools remain dry this summer, the city expects to save a total of $1.5 million.
But is it worth it?
“No, I don’t think it is,” a young mother of two, who declined to give her name, said at the rally this morning. “It’s like, I take my kids to the park all the time. They like the park. But if it’s not safe, or clean, or, you know, maintained, then what I am gonna do?”
“I had no idea this was going on,” she added.
Of course, maintenance reductions go hand in hand with maintenance staff cuts and if the park’s funding cuts are approved, up to 800 jobs are at risk, according to NY4P.
So can anything be done to prevent this? Will the city’s wealthy elite finally step forward in support of the parks? It doesn’t look good, but for the superstitious, there’s always crossing your fingers, blowing on dandelions, or plucking out ‘dem eyelashes.