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PlaNYC: There Oughta be a Park...Within a 10-Minute Walk of Every New Yorker

by Worldchanging NYC blogger, Mark Castera:
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New York is a city of parks.

I know what you're thinking: you live on a street that is more grey and brown than green and you're wondering where all of these parks are. Good question!

Amazingly, New York has over 1,700 parks, covering more than 28,000 acres of land. The problem is, many of these "parks" are small asphalt lots, sitting areas and concrete playgrounds. And where you live makes a difference: Staten Island is covered in green, while the South Bronx is starving for a little bit of parkland.

Wisely, the City has decided to tackle this problem as part of the Planyc2030 effort.

In his Earth Day "Greener, Greater New York" speech, Mayor Bloomberg said that the city will soon begin a comprehensive effort to complete underdeveloped destination parks, and to create a new (or enhance an existing) public plaza in every community. In addition, work will continue to green traffic islands and triangles through the Greenstreets program. Recreational opportunites will be enhanced by installing new "field turf" on existing asphalt fields, adding lights to existing fields throughout the city and opening school yards as public playgrounds.

There are also proposals to speed up the clean-up of the hundreds of contaminated brownfield sites that lay fallow throughout the city, and perhaps develop some of this reclaimed land as parks.

Finally, the plan calls for one million trees to be planted along streets and parking lots and in vacant lots throughout the city, and for 2,000 acres of parkland to be reforested -- steps that will help to cool the city in the summer, reduce erosion and stormwater runoff, and help clean the air.

Since the City's goal is to ensure that every New Yorker lives within a 10 minute walk of a park, these are all very good ideas, although not particularly groundbreaking. What's missing? Well, for years the City has worked to add new parks while simulataneously cutting (or slowly growing) the maintenance and operations budget of the Department of Parks and Recreation. That's right: more parks,but less people and equipment to care for them.

Hopefully, these more mundane, less sexy details will be developed in the coming months of discussion and debate of PlaNYC. After all, an open space plan that doesn't encompass good maintenance or proper funding can hardly be considered "sustainable." As the city's budget gets bigger but tighter, fresh ideas will be needed to help care for all of these new parks:

  • Is the answer public-private partnerships?
  • Do we need Park Improvement Districts to help capture revenue from nearby businesses and residents?
  • How about capturing the concession revenue generated in parks (which totals millions of dollars every year) and using that to pay for park maintenance?
  • Does a dedicated park tax make sense?
  • Or does the city simply need to make the Department of Parks and Recreation a bigger priority in the annual budget?

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