Spring fever is spreading throughout the borough with the temperatures rising and the days growing longer for residents who were pent up at home through the long COVID-19 winter.
Queens elected officials, park advocates and union leaders are calling on the city to restore massive budget cuts to the city’s Parks Department which saw its budget slashed by 14 percent during the economic tailspin caused by the shutdown.
The nearly $80 million cut was the second highest among city agencies. Now in its third year, the Play Fair Coalition includes more than 300 parks, community gardens, environment, recreation, youth development and social justice organization, and is urging a complete rollback of the budget cuts to ensure city parks across the five boroughs are safe, clean and accessible.
“One million New Yorkers lost access to their parks last year. This is a make or break moment for our city in which we must commit to prioritizing our parks as critical infrastructure,” Councilman Peter Koo, the chair of the Committee on Parks and Recreation said. “More than ever, New Yorkers are relying on open community spaces for their physical, social and emotional well-being. Yet last year, NYC Parks got hit with a crippling budget cut and park conditions deteriorated to their lowest point in 15 years. We cannot expect to do more with less. The Play Fair Coalition’s call to restore parks funding must be met with urgency and decisive action.”
The coalition’s budget platform includes $30 million for critical staff, $15 million to restore forestry contracts, $6 million for security, $4.5 million for climate change measures, $4 million for park stewardship programs, $3.4 million for community gardens citywide, $3 million to restore the Parks Opportunity Program to provide a pathway to full-time employment and $3 million for Urban Park Rangers hirings.
“NYC Parks are a critical part of our recovery from COVID-19, especially in the neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” Councilman Francisco Moya said. “The Play Fair Coalition’s call to restore funding represents having clean parks that families can safely enjoy, a space for youth to support their physical and emotional health, and jobs for New Yorkers to get back on their feet.”
Last year, despite the unprecedented challenges caused by the public health emergency, the coalition’s campaigning in-person, by phone and email, and on Zoom resulted in 300 jobs for NYC Parks workers. Last summer, the seasonal workforce of 1,700 people was not hired by NYC Parks due to the budget cuts.
“Parks and public open spaces play a crucial role in our neighborhoods, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when our communities are yearning for more outdoor space and fresh air,” Councilwoman Adrienne Adams said. “Cuts to the parks budget would have a devastating impact on maintenance staff and PEP officers, vital community stewardship programs, and crucial forestry initiatives. We urge the Mayor to avoid these cuts and restore funding needed to properly care for our valuable open spaces.”