If there’s one thing some self-styled progressives can’t stand, it’s success. Or, more to the point, they can’t stand the kind of success that, in their view, is the result of elitism or privilege.
Take, for example, the extraordinary turnaround of Central Park. Not so long ago, this great urban jewel was a symbol of the city’s seemingly inexorable decline. You don’t have to be particularly old to remember when the Great Lawn looked like the set of Lawrence of Arabia, when the Naumburg Bandshell was a place to avoid day or night, and when an evening jog around the reservoir was best left to the brave or well-armed.
In 1980, two advocacy groups came together to form the Central Park Conservancy. The new private organization became the park’s savior, raising millions of dollars in small and large donations to restore Central Park to its rightful place as one of the city’s treasures. The Conservancy’s effort was so successful that similar organizations sprang up to raise money for several of the city’s other major parks, including Riverside Park, Washington Square Park and Carl Schurz Park, home of Gracie Mansion.
In Mayor de Blasio’s world, this public-private success story is simply just another chapter in his fairy tale of two cities. So he has proposed taking money raised by the city’s several park conservancies and redirecting the fund to maintain smaller parks, particularly those in poorly served neighborhoods. He expects “real important contributions from the conservancies” as part of his campaign to revitalize neighborhood parks.
Here’s the problem: the conservancies, especially the Central Park Conservancy, already are making “important contributions.” The Conservancy has dispatched volunteers to revitalize parks in Harlem, in Fort Greene, and in several other neighborhoods. The group sponsors an organization called the Five Boroughs Crew, which sends gardeners out to parks around the city to help spruce up these important public spaces.
Apparently these admirable efforts reek of politically incorrect noblesse oblige to the mayor and his progressive allies. They’d much rather institute redistributionist park policies than rely on the mere good will of some of the greatest champions of open space this city has seen since the days of Frederick Law Olmsted.
The mayor is sending a clear message: “Don’t volunteer to help because the results of your effort will be redirected.” It’s the wrong message to send.