NYC parks need $5.8B over 10 years to fix aging infrastructure, report says

City parks need $5.8B over the next 10 years to make overdue repairs, according to a new report by the Center for an Urban Future.
City parks need $5.8B over the next 10 years to make overdue repairs, according to a new report by the Center for an Urban Future. Photo Credit: Ideal Properties Group

New York City’s greenspaces need some infrastructure work — and fast.

That’s the finding of a new report by the Center for an Urban Future, which examined the city’s park system and found aging drainage systems, retaining walls, bridges and cracked pathways.

The think tank said the city would need to invest at least $5.8 billion over the next 10 years to handle infrastructure problems that have already been identified.

Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, said too often vital capital projects are funded by dollars from City Council members instead of the Parks Department budget.

“That discretionary spending process favors playgrounds and more popular projects and that’s left a lack of investment in the more unglamorous needs of parks,” Bowles said. “It is not as easy to do a ribbon cutting around a drainage system.”

But flooding is a huge problem in many city parks and impacts fields, trails and playgrounds, he said.

Researchers spent a year looking at data, interviewing officials and community leaders and visiting parks.

And while the report acknowledges there is not a “full-blown maintenance crisis, serious cracks are showing.”

The average city park is 73 years old and last underwent major renovations in 1997, according to the report. More than 20 percent of bridges inside city parks have serious deterioration.

The report also points to statistics that show staffing at the agency — both full-time and seasonal — has dropped since the 1970s from more than 11,000 to about 7,600.

“As a result, the Parks Department’s day-to-day operations have largely shifted from the ‘parkie’ system — fixed post, full-time employees — to a seasonal workforce of temporary employees with limited experience,” the report notes.

In a statement late Sunday night, Parks Department officials weighed in on the report, saying “This administration has invested in strengthening the City’s parks system from top to bottom. Capital programs including the $318-million, 65-park Community Parks Initiative and the $150-million Anchor Parks project are bringing the first structural improvements in generations to sites from playgrounds to large flagship parks. Further, as the CUF report notes, Commissioner Silver’s streamlined capital process is bringing these improvements online faster.”

The report offers up several suggestions on how the city can find more money for parks maintenance. One proposed option is allowing the Parks Department to keep some fees from new concessions instead of putting the money into the city’s General Fund. It also says the city should consider creating a citywide parks conservancy to raise money for projects, as well as surcharges on green fees at golf courses and dockage fees at city-owned marinas.

“Everyone from every country around the world is playing in these parks, so thankfully it’s something that New York takes seriously,” said Fergal O’Gorman, 48, as he ate lunch in Sara Roosevelt Park on the Lower East Side. “Sometimes it’s the small things that they let go — like the bathrooms are usually a disgrace.”

(with Abigail Weinberg)

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