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Op-ed | NYC must step up to protect parks amid financial turmoil

Cyclists wearing masks ride through Prospect Park during the ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., April 19, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

BY SUE DONOGHUE

Parks are essential to our communities, particularly during these challenging times. At Prospect Park, we have seen a significant surge of New Yorkers escaping their apartments to reconnect with nature, take a breath of fresh air and stretch their legs.

As summer quickly approaches, it is critical we focus on how we keep these treasured open spaces green and vibrant when the city and its non-profit partners are facing an uncertain financial future and potentially devastating cuts to maintenance services. This question becomes even more pressing as the weather grows warmer, and with city summer youth programs, pools, and possibly beaches closed.

This pandemic has made clear that New Yorkers treasure their parks, and this love will only grow in the weeks and months ahead. But in order for parks to continue to offer a safe place of respite, we need adequate staff to maintain our parks.

Currently, the city has proposed cuts to staffing in the FY21 city budget that will bring us back to the staffing levels of the 1970s, when the city was at the height of its financial crisis. Our parks fell into significant disrepair, and groups like Prospect Park Alliance were founded.

Today the financial landscape for nonprofits is uncertain, and without proper publicly funded staff and resources, we will see a decline in the maintenance and health of our parks and, by extension, our communities’ quality of life. 

Now is the time for all New Yorkers to make clear that our parks are essential to our city. That is why we are partnering with New Yorkers for Parks to support the Play Fair Campaign to protect and expand funding to sustain our parks.

Most of this funding — a total of $47 million — was appropriated by the City last year and we are asking for this funding to be maintained. This includes funding for City Parks Workers who maintain our parks, removing the thousands of tons of trash generated in the busy summer months; and Urban Park Rangers and Parks Enforcement Patrol staff who keep our visitors safe and protect our green spaces: from our busy recreation paths and drives to our fragile woodlands and natural areas that are habitats for many species of wildlife.

Prospect Park is truly Brooklyn’s Backyard, and this summer it will hold even more importance as our summer camp, staycation destination, and an essential respite from the concrete jungle. It is critical that we have the resources to keep our parks green and vibrant: millions of New Yorkers rely on us.

It is vital that we remember how much we rely on our open spaces and parks in times of need, and to strengthen our investment now and long after this crisis ends. 

Sue Donoghue is Park Administrator and President of the Prospect Park Alliance

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