Queens lawmaker hosts virtual rally urging city officials to restore $80 million for NYC Parks Department

Alley Pond Park (Photo courtesy of NYC Parks)

In advance of the final New York City Council Parks Committee executive budget hearing, elected officials and members of the Play Fair Coalition held a virtual rally on May 20 calling on the city to reinvest $80 million in the fiscal year 2022 parks budget. 

Councilman Peter Koo, chair of the council’s Committee on Parks and Recreation, was joined by New Yorkers for Parks, the New York League of Conservation Voters and District Council 37. The Play Fair Coalition, which includes more than 300 parks, community gardens, environment, recreation, youth development and social justice organizations from across the five boroughs, urged the city to implement its fiscal year 2022 budget platform next month.  

The coalition’s budget priorities include $40 million for the Parks Department seasonal staff budget and the creation of jobs for 100 city parks workers and 50 gardeners; $6 million to ensure parks are safe by restoring 80 parks enforcement patrol officers; and $3 million for 50 urban park rangers to connect New Yorkers with nature. 

“Last year our parks were one of the principal victims of austerity budgeting during COVID,” Koo said. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen what happens when we don’t fund our open spaces: they quickly fall into visible disrepair. The Parks Department recorded the worst citywide park conditions on record in 2020. We cannot afford to make the same mistake this year. As NYC reemerges from COVID, we must prioritize open space in the budget and give our parks agency the resources it needs to do its job.” 

The Parks Department suffered a 14 percent budget cut in 2020 that deprived the agency of $84 million for critical maintenance and operations just as park usage skyrocketed during the pandemic.

Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio released an executive budget that once again appears to neglect New York City’s urgent parks and open space needs. However, nearly every democratic mayoral candidate has expressed support for increasing the parks budget, according to the coalition.

Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, an organization whose mission is to educate, engage and empower New Yorkers to be effective advocates on behalf of the environment, said it’s no accident that green spaces are in worse conditions after the city divested $84 million from parks during a time when New Yorkers needed parks more than ever. 

“Parks are one of our most vital environmental assets and treating them as an expendable budget item instead of the essential part of the fabric of our city has consequences. NYC has been neglecting park funding for a long time. This has to be the year we change course and commit to our parks and open spaces,” Tighe said. 

In 2019, the Play Fair Coalition secured a historic $44 million increase in the expense budget of NYC Parks, the largest funding increase in nearly three decades. Last year, despite unprecedented challenges, the coalition’s campaigning in-person, by phone and email, and on Zoom resulted in 300 secured jobs for NYC Parks workers. 

Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37, the city’s largest public employee union that includes thousands of NYC park workers, said every New Yorker deserves access to safe, clean and accessible open space. To make it a reality, Garrido says, the city needs to give the Parks Department the staff and resources it needs to take care of the parks. 

“Last year’s budget deprived the agency of hundreds of parks staff — these are the essential workers who keep our parks healthy, vibrant and attractive places to visit. These are critical jobs to support critical infrastructure. Our budget has to treat them that way,” Garrido said. 

According to Adam Ganser, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, which works with communities and elected officials to promote and preserve quality open space across the city, it would be a serious mistake to wait for the city’s future leaders to make the commitment the Parks Department needs right now. 

“With upwards of $4 billion coming to NYC to support economic recovery, there is no excuse for anything less than a restoration of the pre-pandemic parks budget — though what we really need is to increase the budget,” Ganser said. “Now is the time for NYC to build an equitable, 21st-century parks system.”