Open space advocates demand increased funding for NYC Parks Dept., hold rally ahead of budget hearing

NYC Parks
Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters., addresses the crowd (Photo: New Yorkers for Parks)

A coalition of parks advocates joined elected officials for a rally on the steps of city hall Wednesday to call on Mayor Eric Adams to increase funding for the NYC Parks Dept. in the 2024 budget.

Rallygoers called on Adams to honor a pledge that he made when he was running for office, which was to set aside 1% of the city budget for Parks, equating to about $1 billion. In Adams’ first budget last year, the city allocated $624 million for Parks, a record amount although well short of the $1 billion.

However, in the 2024 preliminary budget, Adams has reportedly cut Parks funding by roughly $50 million. Participants in Wednesday’s rally said the budget needs to be raised or jobs will be eliminated, including parks maintenance workers, Parks Enforcement Patrol officers and Urban Park Rangers. They note that many parks need to be repaired due to historic underfunding.

They are calling for Adams to increase the budget and follow through on his pledge.

“Mayor Adams’ commitment to 1% for Parks provides hope that we can address the problems caused by decades of severe underinvestment in NYC’s parks and create a new era for our city’s park system,” said Adam Ganser, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks, who spoke at the rally.

However, Ganser said that until the mayor makes good on his 1% promise “the Parks Department will not have the adequate resources to properly fix, maintain and improve our parks.”

The rally was held ahead of the Parks Committee budget hearing, with advocates pointing to a study released by New Yorkers for Parks that noted that New York allocates a relatively small share of its budget to parks compared to the other large cities. San Francisco spends 1.6% of its budget on parks, Los Angeles 2.9%, Chicago 4.3% and Minneapolis 5.3%.

Operating budget of Parks Departments across U.S. cities for Fiscal Year 2021 (Report: 1% for Parks)

“Having green space and public space in your community is a matter of public health,” said NYC Council Parks Committee Chair Shekar Krishnan in a statement. “Although we celebrate last year’s budget gains, we must invest more in our existing parks and the workers that steward them tirelessly, and create new public, green, restorative spaces for all New Yorkers. “

Increased funding, advocates say, would enable the Parks Dept. to add full-time staff, which would help keep the parks safe and clean; help maintain the city’s urban forest for cleaner air and stormwater management; and better connect communities.

The funding would also double the scope of direct programs that recreation centers across the city would be able to offer New Yorkers of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds.

“For too long, the Parks Dept. has gotten short shrift come budget time,” said Julie Tighe, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters. However, “if the city is serious about climate resilience, about protecting public health, about achieving equity and ensuring we have enough workers to get the job done, then now is the time for Mayor Adams and the City Council to … invest 1% of the city budget in Parks.”