Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bronx Parks Deserve Their Fair Share

New York City Parks are not adequately funded and maintained at a level that is consistent throughout the city. When we look at our parks in the Bronx and compare them with Central Park or Prospect Park, it is difficult not to think we are getting the short end of the funding stick. We have a new Mayor, (will have) a new Parks Commissioner and there is no better time than now to make some changes, to shake things up some. The status quo is not working. I am hoping that the new Parks Commissioner will implement changes to start moving things in the right direction. 

The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park was founded in 1992 by Bronx residents in response to a New York Times article describing the impact of declining NYC Department of Parks and Recreation budgets for parks like Van Cortlandt that lacked wealthy benefactors. Twenty years later, the Bronx Parks Department is still not adequately funded. With the largest NYC Park, Pelham Bay, and the 3rd largest park, Van Cortlandt, the Bronx has more parkland than any other borough. But we often wonder if we are getting our fair share of the Parks Department’s budget to maintain these parks at the level that Bronxites deserve. 

Private conservancies and other public/private partnerships raise hundreds of millions of dollars to keep Central Park, the High Line, Prospect Park and a limited number of other parks in pristine condition. These private charities are thus solving, for now, their own maintenance problems. This is not a problem in and of itself except that it gives some people the false impression that the parks funding problem is solved. In the past twelve years, the City, in addition to other funding sources, also has provided hundreds of millions of dollars for capital improvements in a handful of new flagship parks, like Brooklyn Bridge Park and Governor’s Island. But for the vast majority of parks, there remain serious budget shortfalls for their maintenance. 

Bronx park support groups are doing what they can to help close the gap between the current budget allocations and what Bronx parks really need. These groups raise money to provide special events, educational and cultural programming and work with volunteers to clean up their neighborhood’s parks. Representatives pound the pavement asking their elected officials to provide capital funding to restore neglected park facilities. But given the economic demographics of the Bronx, the fundraising capacity of these organizations is limited in a way that the Central Park Conservancy is not. 

Van Cortlandt Park is 1,146 acres (yes, it’s bigger than Central Park) with the first public golf course in America, the oldest building still standing in the Bronx, numerous sporting fields, over 500 acres of forest, a freshwater lake, a nationally renowned Cross Country Course and 20 plus miles of hiking trails. However, Van Cortlandt Park will never be bordered by Central Park West and 5th Avenue. Does its location diminish its importance? Van Cortlandt Park is important to the thousands of community members who consider it their backyard and many others that visit to hike, run, swim, play and more. I urge Mayor De Blasio and the soon to be Parks Commissioner to make a greater commitment to addressing the deficiencies in Bronx Parks than prior administrations have been willing to do. We need a multifaceted approach of greater maintenance budgets and creative, alternative revenue strategies that will work outside of the most visible parks in New York’s wealthiest neighborhoods. 

This blog post was written by Christina Taylor, Executive Director of the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park

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