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Report: Start Planning for Better City Parks
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by Worldchanging New York local blogger, Mark Castera:

It isn't every day that a conservative, fiscally-oriented good government group focuses on New York City's parks and open spaces. So, when it happens, the powers that be tend to take notice. Such was the case recently, when the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), along with arks advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P), issued a report looking at the way that the city manages its open space inventory, and recommending ways to improve park management and conditions.

The CBC/NY4P Report, known as "Making the Most of Our Parks," is a bit of a follow-up to the 1991 report "Managing the Department of Parks and Recreation in a Period of Fiscal Stress," which played an important role in setting the open space agenda for the city as it fought its way out of a fiscal crisis. The current report recognizes that things have gotten a lot better since 1991, but that with one in eight parks currently in unacceptable condition, much more can and must be done.

The top recommendations include:

  • Allowing the Department of Parks and Recreation to keep some of the revenue it earns from concessions like all of those Ice Cream and Hot Dog Stands you see in the parks. Currently, more than $60 Million is raised but none is reinvested back into the parks! (Isn't that amazing?)

  • Develop and institutionalize an open space strategic plan which will help to guide the city's park construction and maintenance efforts over the long term.

The most disturbing news in the report was the fact that the authors found a correlation between poor communities and the condition of their parks. In other words, rich neighborhoods have better parks than poor neighborhoods. While it's true that parks in poor neighborhoods are improving faster than those in wealthy neighborhoods, that may just be because rich parks don’t have much room for improvement! CBC and NY4P agreed that eliminating this correlation should be a top priority of future park improvement efforts.

That’s where PlaNYC2030 comes in. The Mayor wants every New Yorker to be within a 10-minute walk of a park. As long as the city is focusing on that worthy goal, perhaps it’s time to start planning as well for cleaner, greener, safer parks all across the city, but especially in poor communities that tend to have few recreational opportunities. Now that would be a WorldChanging idea for New York.

You can read the entire report at

Photo via Flickr

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"The most disturbing news in the report was the fact that the authors found a correlation between poor communities and the condition of their parks."

This is because parks both reflect and reinforce the state of the communities they are in. If you put a park in a well-functioning or well-funded neighborhood (and note that those two things are not necessarily the same), it will tend to enliven the community. It becomes a functional space that is constantly occupied for a variety of uses. If you put one in a poorly functioning and decaying neighborhood, it will usually lead to further decay. It becomes a no-man's land that people are afraid to walk through and is used infrequently.

Parks are symptoms of communal problems, not causes. They accelerate whatever trends the neighborhood is experiencing--good or bad. I don't know the specifics of this plan to add more parks to NYC, but I'll try reading it when I have time. It sounds nice and more greenery is always welcome, but this plan might actually end up widening the gap in the standard of living between the rich and the poor in the city. The devil's in the details.

Posted by: Bolo on 16 Jul 07



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