City park advocates fight to end green space inequity

The swings at the Cyprus Hills Playground on Euclid Ave., in Brooklyn, Friday, April 25, 2014.
The swings at the Cyprus Hills Playground on Euclid Ave., in Brooklyn, Friday, April 25, 2014. Photo Credit: Manduka / Josh Withers

With more than 1,700 city parks, playground and other recreational spots in New York, it’s not surprising that some greenspaces get inadequate attention and care.

But residents and leaders say little is being done to close that inequity gap.

“There is simply not enough money for neighborhood parks,” said City Councilman Mark Levine, the Chair of the Committee on Parks & Recreation.

Last Wednesday, Levine and his fellow committee members held a hearing looking into the issue and said it is becoming a growing problem that’s affecting all New Yorkers.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to change the status quo when it came to parks funding.

“I don’t like the notion — there’s a lot of parks in our city in less advantaged neighborhoods that aren’t doing well. And the parks aren’t those clean, safe places we want them to be,” he said in a news conference in March.

amNewYork spoke to advocates and officials about parks they say need more attention and, more importantly, an influx of dollars from the city. Staten Island officials didn’t return calls for comment.

The Bronx

Claremont Park

Despite being one of the larger parks in the Bronx, Claremont has been consistently neglected in the city budget and it shows, according to community leaders.

“First and foremost, the retaining wall that surrounds the park is in desperate need of repair,” said Jose Rodriguez, district manager of Bronx Community Board 4.

The advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks had previously rated Claremont near the bottom in the city, Rodriguez said. The district manager said even a little extra money from the parks department can go a long way.

“We would like to see a repavement of the walkways throughout the park; certain equipment needs to be updated within the park,” said Rodriguez, adding the green space “is in desperate need of some pruning.”

Claremont Park is not the only public space in his district that he said is neglected. Some of the larger parks throughout the borough have received the funding needed; however many smaller parks such as Bridge Playground have been “left behind,” according to Rodriguez.

Bridge Playground, between MLK Boulevard and Undercliff Ave., has a basketball court that needs to be repaired, while neighboring Ogden Plimpton Playground “needs all new equipment,” said Rodriguez.

Ferry Point Park

“We currently have a tale of two parks,” said Kenneth Kearns, district manager of Bronx Community Board 10, referring to the “gem” of a golf course that occupies the clean and maintained east side of Ferry Point Park, and its dirtier counterpoint on the west side.

“A big problem for us is that it lacks a public restroom. We have advocated repeatedly for a public bathroom and every year we get ridiculous answers,” Kearns said.

The park is home to soccer and baseball leagues through the spring, summer, and early fall, but the district manager said the athletes have to play with inadequate facilities. “It’s packed here every weekend and there are no bathrooms,” Kearns said.


Rockaway Boardwalk

The Queens Borough Board has listed funding for the Rockaway Boardwalk, which was destroyed during Superstorm Sandy — as a top priority for its proposed Capital Projects for the fiscal year 2015. The board is seeking $15 million to speed up the construction.

“The boardwalk is the Rockaways, it’s the heart and soul of the community,” said Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska.

Gaska would also like to see funding for a number of adjacent parks lining the boardwalk, including its popular skateboard park and a number of little playgrounds.

MacNeil Park

This College Point park received a D grade, the lowest grade in the city on the New Yorkers for Parks Foundation’s most recent Report Card on Large Parks, a comprehensive list of research rating over 50 large parks in the city.

The group cited the poor conditions of MacNeil Park’s pathways and dangerous sinkholes.

City Councilman Paul Vallone proposed renovating portions of the seawall, repairing the walking path and upgrading the tot playground in the budget priorities book published by the Queens Borough Board in March.


Fort Washington Park

Colloquially referred to as Riverside Park, this uptown space still needs some work despite undergoing recent renovations, according to Councilman Mark Levine, chair of Committee on Parks and Recreation.

It needs to add bathrooms to a mile-long stretch of the park, he said.

“I think it should be a real priority for the mayor and the city to provide the full infrastructure for what is otherwise a fabulous new park space just lacking this critical new piece of infrastructure,” he said.

Levine added that the cost ” would be in the 160 [thousands].”

Highbridge Park

Home of a historic aqueduct and dramatic cliff-faces, this park has seen $98 million in capital projects throughout the years. Groups like New York Restoration Project have worked to raise money and awareness for the 119-acre park, but some insist that there is still more to be done.

“Within Highbridge, there’s a playground on 165th street that’s just an embarrassment,” said Mitch Glenn, Manhattan Community Board 12’s chair of the parks and cultural affairs committee.

Glenn added that despite the millions that have gone to revitalizing Highbridge, there is one section of the park littered with garbage and splintered wood pieces, “The floor is coming up,” he said.

The Morris Jumel Mansion within Highbridge Park is another concern, Glenn said. This historic mansion at one time housed George Washington, and Aaron Burr — but without the proper funding its future is uncertain.

“The house itself needs some work; it’s over 250 years old,” said Glenn.

The estate also needs an upgrade for handicapped visitors.

“It’s a public park and the mansion is a museum, yet people with accessibility issues can’t get in there,” he said.


Cypress Hills Playground

Enclosed within a housing development, and as large as football field, this space is top priority for elected officials in the area. Proper funding would make the playspace safer and give residents a much-needed place to enjoy the weather.

“We know that when we renovated Linden Park, the crime in that area went down to near zero,” said Joy Simmons, Chief of Staff for Council Member Inez Barron, citing working lights and an increase in foot-traffic as successes in the nearby park. Currently, the field at Cypress Hills Playground is just dirt and grass, according to Simmons.

“We hope that we can get the capital funding that is required to fix it, and what’s required to develop it,” she said.

Bensonhurst Park & the Coney Island Boardwalk

A large amount of capital has been set aside for these waterfront districts since Superstorm Sandy. But Bensonhurst Park has not seen much of it, according to City Council Member Mark Treyger.

Treyger, the chair of the recently formed Committee on Recovery and Resiliency, has been among the top advocates for funding parklands in the area since Sandy.

The Coney Island Boardwalk is in need of funding beyond recreational use, Treyger said, as it is the “first line of defense from mother nature’s fury,” according to Treyger.

“I fully appreciate that Coney Island is a destination neighborhood . . . but my main focus and priority is the families that call Coney Island home,” he added.

With Ivan Pereira