Park advocates call for full funding during coronavirus pandemic

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City residents took to the parks on a beautiful cool spring day Sunday, with warnings from the mayor to maintain social distancing, avoid gatherings and wear PPE. Visitors to Battery Park enjoy the breeze, while mostly wearing PPE. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Nearly a dozen New York City park nonprofits, conservancies, and elected officials gathered via Zoom to call on the city council to provide funds to keep open spaces maintenance throughout the summer. 

The groups are calling on the city invest $47 million in the Parks Department in the fiscal year 2021 budget, including protecting 340 critical maintenance and safety staff positions which are due to expire on July 1.

“These spaces are critical pieces of our democracy and centers of their community, we have come so far in cultivating these open and equitable spaces and we must ensure that we don’t lose this essential infrastructure which support the health and resilience of all New Yorkers,” said Andrea Parker from the Gowanus Canal Conservancy during a Zoom conference call on Thursday. 

With pools, beaches and other summer programs closed for the summer due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, parks, and other open green spaces will become one of the few refuges for New Yorkers cooped up at home placing more stress on park workers. 

“I don’t think that there is any moment in our lifetime when parks have been more important,” Levine, chair of the City Council Health Committee, said. “There more we learn about this virus, the more we come to see that open air environments are the safer alternative.”  

There are over 25 nonprofits who maintain and operate parks or provide programs and community services for city-owned land. According to a survey from a coalition of park advocacy groups, referred to as the ‘Park and Open Space Partners – NYC’, support nearly 50 % of parks. 

The coalition anticipates that due to staff cuts and social distancing measures will result in 39,668 lost hours of maintenance and 109,384 lost hours in plant care citywide. The loss of volunteers due to pandemic will result in a loss of 259,000 hours of project work and about 541,700 trees, shrubs, and flowers will not be planted in 2020 and over 150 acres of lawn will not be mowed or seeded. 

“Parks don’t work in a crowded city unless they have the resources for maintenance and operation and we need the city budget to reflect that,” said Councilmember Mark Levine adding that it would be a win-win if the city could match the cost of maintenance that private donors are willing to give parks.