New York City has the second best parks in the country, according to the results of an annual survey released this week by the non-profit Trust for Public Land, which takes into account hard data like park access, size, services, and public investment, Gothamist reported. One factor affecting New York’s silver-medal status was its median park size, a paltry acre, which is just the way things go in a densely developed city—though as TPLer and former parks commissioner Adrian Benepe told the website, “a half-acre park cancels out a 1,000-acre park when you do medians.” And, hey, it’s true: New York has some pretty amazing parks: Central Park is an urban wonder; Prospect Park is its hipper little sister; the High Line is awesome; Forest Park is a lovely urban oasis; Freshkills Park is going to be unbelievable when it finally opens. So I can see why we’d rank so high compared to other American cities.
But at the same time, what about the health of the small parks that constitute the bulk of the system? Around the same time I read the Gothamist post, a friend posted to Facebook photographs of McKinley Park, a sort of miniature Fort Greene Park in Dyker Heights. “In the front of this jungle gym there was a curving slide that all the kids loved,” he wrote in one caption. “When it broke, they replaced it with a pole; as you can see there was already a pole two feet away.” Another (above) showed broken swings that haven’t been fixed.
In this particular instance, a member of the local councilmember’s staff saw the photo, called the parks department, and got them to promise to repair the swings. But parks across the city are in need of similar maintenance that they don’t get. The grass in a stretch of Shore Road Park south of Fort Hamilton High School is allowed to grow until it looks like Pripyat before someone finally shows up to cut it. Four public swimming pools might be closed this summer because of a shortfall in the parks department budget. Prospect Park needs to host events like the Great GoogaMooga that cause significant damage to its landscape because it needs the money. And that’s the best-funded park in Brooklyn!
State Senator Daniel Squadron has suggested we create partnerships between relatively well-funded parks like Prospect Park and their underfunded neighborhood counterparts. That might be one solution. But we also ought to get serious about funding our green spaces fully and fairly—to acknowledge that they are as fundamental to the health of our city as the sanitation department. As a city, we should feel some pride at our great parks, but we shouldn’t feel proud that we allow many others, the ones that our communities actually depend on daily for access to open space, to founder because they’re not as heavily trafficked by tourists, or not in wealthy-enough neighborhoods. We oughtn’t feel proud that we came in second; really, we ought to feel ashamed we weren’t first. By a long shot.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart