October 6, 2022

Power People and New York City Parks

Power People and New York City Parks

Last summer my colleague at Columbia, Louise Rosen, and I took a field trip to Marine Park in Brooklyn. Marine Park was the closest neighborhood park to my childhood home in Brooklyn. Maria Caro-Dallessandro, President of the Association of Marine Parks, and Margot Perron, Park Director, gave us a wonderful tour of the park. When I was a kid, the park was an oval track that surrounded a huge expanse of ball fields. Today, that part of the park still exists, but now there is a senior center, an ecology center, and a beautiful waterway with wetlands that is literally teeming with aquatic and bird life. Once a dumping ground for abandoned cars and victims of mob violence, the area is now an incredibly beautiful, if under-appreciated, part of New York City’s natural landscape. Based on Marine Park Alliance website:

Forever Wild is an initiative created by NYC Parks to preserve and protect ecologically valuable lands in these five boroughs through local ordinances. Brooklyn’s largest park, Marine Park, has 530 acres of this protected landscape for you to explore. Nearly four miles of nature trails wind through meadows on the east side of Gretsen Creek, and more trails wind through upland forests on the west side of the creek—all with views of the salt marsh that protects the inland from damaging storms.

In spring 2023, Columbia graduate students will work with marine park officials and volunteers to help develop a strategy for the park’s continued development. A similar effort It was done for Morningside Park last spring by Columbia associate professor and New York City environmental justice leader Casey-Charles Guzman and a team of sustainability management students. I’ve lived across the street from Morningside Park since 1990, and it’s a beautiful and valuable resource, though understaffed in my neighborhood. This leads to the main point of this piece. Our parks are always underfunded. They simply cannot compete for government resources with dire needs such as homelessness, crime and child poverty. While the mayor hopes to allocate 1% of the city budget to parks, that appears to be more of an aspirational goal than an operational reality. What we need to do is increase city capital with volunteers – people power. We need to contribute our brains, if we have any, to the maintenance of our parks. Again according to Marine Park Alliance website:

Contrary to popular belief, nature does not take care of itself in an urban environment. Weeds grow, are trampled, and illegal dumping occurs. The Marine Park Alliance has regular volunteer days to pull invasive weeds and remove litter. Thousands of volunteers participate to help fight this abuse and promote biodiversity in our grasslands and wetland habitats.

Our parks need us. They need our political support, our financial assistance if we can and our manpower. Those of us who live in apartment buildings have limited access to the outdoors. Parks are everyone’s backyard. The New York City Parks and Recreation Department is underfunded relative to its responsibilities. Based on Department website:

NYC Parks stewards more than 30,000 acres of land—14 percent of New York City—including more than 5,000 individual properties. Coney Island Beach And Central Park To Community gardens And green street. We employ more than 800 sport fields And nearly 1000 Playgrounds1800 Basketball courts550 Tennis courts65 Public pools51 entertainment facilities15 Nature centers14 Golf coursesand 14 miles from beaches. We are looking after 1200 Monuments and 23 House of historical museums. We look after 600,000 Street treesand another two million in parks.

particle for direct object City budget This year, about 523 million dollars have been allocated to parks. The department has 4,260 employees, of which 3,523 are full-time city-funded positions. New York City has more green space More than any other US city, but 35 other US cities have more green space per capita than the 7,087 square feet of parkland enjoyed by New Yorkers.

The parks department and city parks need our help. While city government can and should do more, so must we all. Parks need more paid staff and that costs money. Park concessions such as restaurants, resorts, and snack bars can often generate revenue to support the parks, but care must be taken not to over commercialize the parks. An important feature of our parks is that they are free and a democratic place for all sections of the population to gather. Unlike a commercial bar, parents can bring the child to the park and not be pressured to spend money. There are no rope lines to enter the park’s attractions. This is not an argument against concessions, I am merely advocating balance and care when using park space for commercial purposes.

During the pandemic, Parks were our lifeline to normalcy. As we masked and socially distanced and wandered through locked playgrounds in that dreadful spring of 2020, leaves grew on trees and flowers bloomed throughout our parks. Nature did not know a way to wear a mask and stay away, and we could see that life goes on and will continue. Last week, Columbia student Isabella Noonen wrote a wonderful piece titled “Morningside Park and the people who love itIn Eye, Columbia University’s student magazine. Noonen observed that:

I visited Morningside Park for the second time in mid-June—a year after I moved into my apartment two blocks away. The second Saturday was Volunteer Day, when Morningside Friends Park volunteers gather at Central Turtle Pond to spend a few hours beautifying the park. Despite the early hours and cold weather, Morningside Park was full of life. Joggers ran on the tracks. Families with dogs and strollers chatted near the playground equipment. A passionate game of pickup basketball began on the adjacent courts. A ridiculous number of turtles swam in the pond. And a few dozen of us volunteers were hunkered down in a field on the 116th Street playground, picking up trash and weeds—or, in my case, desperately trying to make sure that the patches of green I was pulling were actually grass. are weeds and not native plants. . As far as I can tell I was the only Columbia student among the volunteers—ironic, since Friends of Morningside Park was actually founded in the 80s by a Columbia student, Thomas Kiel, who graduated from Columbia College in 1982.

His piece is wonderful History of Morningside Park That included Columbia’s foolish attempt in the late 1960s to build a sports club on park land. The ill-fated attempt to build that gymnasium led to student protests and eventually led to the occupation of several Columbia buildings by students and the violent eviction of those students by the NYPD. The gymnasium was never built, and in 1989 and 1990, the hole dug to create the building’s foundation became the pond that is now home to the turtles Isabella mentions in her writing.

In both Marine Park and Morningside Park, small groups of people who love their neighborhood parks have created nonprofits to mobilize their communities and friends to help their parks. The Parks Department and the city’s Parks Foundation have created partnerships for parks to help make it happen. Park support groups. The Marine Park Alliance and Friends of Morningside Park are two of nearly seventy similar organizations in New York City. The Parks Department website lists many of these organizations. Some, such as Central Park Conservancy and Friends of the High Line, are highly professional, but most are small, informal operations. All looking for and organizing volunteers (and cash) to help in the parks. New York has more than eight million people. Parks may not get 1 percent of the city’s $100 billion budget, but if 1 percent of the city’s 8.4 million people volunteered at their local park, those 84,000 people could pick up a lot of trash and a lot more. grass from them. green space. People’s power and sweat can get us started and help improve all of our parks, hopefully followed by some cash.


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