New York City’s parks and green areas not only bring the community together and give the city its unique character, but also serve as vital assets in environmental conservation. The preservation of these parks is one of NYLCV’s top priorities, and should be for NYC legislators as well. That’s why NYLCV joined New Yorkers for Parks and DC 37 to launch the Play Fair for Parks campaign. For the last few years, Play Fair has been pushing for the revitalization of these natural spaces to provide recreational opportunities for the community, improve environmental resiliency, and make the city more sustainable.
Following the budget cuts of FY 2021, the parks saw their worst conditions on record. This year, Play Fair hopes to finally see 1% of NYC’s budget allocated toward reviving these invaluable spaces. Mayor Eric Adams, Speaker Adrienne Adams, and twenty other Council Members have already committed to funding parks at 1%, and we hope to garner even more support for this crucial commitment throughout the year.
Expanding the budget for parks is the catalyst needed to achieve the necessary upgrades to our natural and recreational areas. Right now, parks only receive 0.5% of the budget, despite making up 14% of all city land. It’s time we start investing more in maintenance and operations, restoring worker and ranger employment, and increasing access to forests, wetlands, and trails to preserve our parks and ensure they will last for generations to come.
While parks serve as places for recreation and leisure amongst residents, they simultaneously provide habitats for wildlife, help mitigate climate change, and contribute to the well-being of New Yorkers. Parks are a major source of the city’s urban tree canopy. These trees provide clean air by storing carbon and removing pollutants from the atmosphere.
Trees are also critical for reducing the urban heat island effect. While street surfaces and buildings retain heat, green areas deflect radiation from the sun, thus lowering air temperatures and cutting air conditioning use amongst residents. A study in Baltimore, Maryland showed that on one of the hottest days of 2021, areas with greenery were as much as 17 degrees cooler than areas with concrete. In the fiscal year prior, Baltimore contributed 1.7% of its budget to parks and recreation.
Parks also contribute to coastal resiliency as they protect from flooding and natural disasters. Water-smart landscaping in green areas captures stormwater runoff and filters out as much as 95% of major pollutants. This reduces the risks of flooding and also ensures healthier water quality. As sea levels rise and harsher weather becomes more frequent, it is imperative that New York is equipped with the resources necessary to combat the effects of climate change.
Increased spending on parks also leads to substantial return on investment in the pockets of both residents and the city government. A 2011 study done in Seattle showed its parks alone generated nearly $20 million in tax revenue and $30 million from tourism. They also raised property values by $80 million, and saved residents $64 million in medical costs. Today, Seattle continues to allocate around 4.0% of its budget to parks each year, which amounts to about $283 million. If NYC were to have allocated 1% of this year’s budget to parks, it would’ve spent over $1 billion investing in these same opportunities, just think of how our parks would benefit and thrive from as little as 1%.
Though New York City prides itself on the quantity of parks it has, it lags behind other major cities on the quality of its amenities. In a 2020 report, research found that per every ten thousand residents, Minneapolis had 4.1 playgrounds, while New York only had 2.1. When it came to restrooms, while Chicago had 2.4 per every ten thousand residents, New York had 0.8. Minneapolis and Chicago allocate 2.3% and 3.1% of their budgets to parks, respectively. By investing more resources to maintenance staff and operations, NYC can improve the conditions of its parks to benefit its community and environment.
Play Fair for Parks is looking forward to working with legislators and administration to tackle these issues head-on, and get the city’s green spaces up to the same standard as the rest of the country. Our parks are in desperate need of care. The best way to fix this is by investing more toward their revitalization and maintenance. By committing to increase the park budget to 1%, NYC can create more jobs, combat climate change, and bring our city back to life.
By Sabrina Pangione