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Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that his administration will funnel $150 million into five under-served city parks.
The “Anchor Parks” program includes St. Mary’s Park, in the Bronx, Astoria Park in Queens, Highbridge Park in northern Manhattan, Betsy Head Park in Brooklyn, and Freshkills Park, the former landfill, in Staten Island.
“Our administration is focused on park equity, which brings fair access to and development of parks across the city,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. The parks are considered resource hubs in communities that have not seen widespread city investment historically. At least 750,000 New Yorkers live within walking distance of the five parks, each of which will receive $30 million. The Parks Department will begin community outreach this fall to determine how to spend the money.
Additionally, Mayor de Blasio’s Community Parks Initiative has funded improvements to sixty smaller neighborhood parks, mostly focusing on playground equipment, benches, greenery, and athletic courts.
While any investment in city parks is positive, particularly as the city’s population continues to grow, decisions about where to send the money are often determined by politics, not need, according to Geoffrey Croft, president of the New York City Parks Advocates, a watchdog group.
“Our parks suffer from close to half a century of severe neglect, so the system needs approximately twenty to thirty billion dollars to deal with this horrible lack of maintenance over the decades,” said Croft.
When money does come along, it should be doled out to the parks in the worst shape. Croft offered up Sara Roosevelt Park in Chinatown as an example of a park that, despite its “dire needs,” didn’t make it on to the Mayor’s anchor list. For decades, Sara Roosevelt, which spans half a mile, has had just one public bathroom, near Hester Street. A facility on Broome Street is in need of sewage repairs. Until recently, the city has resisted opening unused bathrooms in a Parks Department storage building on Stanton Street.
And while the cash stands to make needed improvements in the five targeted parks, Croft says more attention to crime and safety in parks is needed too. NYC Parks Advocates analyzed recent NYPD crime data and found that, while overall crime levels inside city parks have increased only marginally, violent crime has increased 23 percent over the last nine months.
Still, Croft says parks on the mayor’s list like Highbridge and St. Mary’s do have pressing needs. In the 1990s, in the absence of adequate security and as a means of discouraging loitering and crime, every benches along the park’s highest, most picturesque points in St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx were removed. “It’s racism, and that’s very simply put,” said Croft. The new infusion of funds would be well spent on addressing problems of erosion in St. Mary’s and clearing dead trees and overgrown brush in Highbridge Park.