Op-Ed | Mayor Adams needs to fulfill his NYC Parks promise

A person enters Van Cortlandt Park in Riverdale on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023.
A person enters Van Cortlandt Park in Riverdale on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023.
Photo Camille Botello

Back in 2021, Mayor Adams ran on a campaign promise to increase NYC Parks’ budget to 1% of the city’s overall budget, but here we are in 2023, and the Parks Department continues to run on fumes at 0.6%. Mayor Adams must make good on his promise.

For nearly 40 years, NYC Parks has functioned on an austerity budget. As a result, they have had to do more with less: Less park enforcement, less maintenance, less money for capital improvement, less staff, less equipment and fewer vehicles. This year, Parks even has less toilet paper and fewer garbage bags!

New Yorkers must demand more. We deserve a park system that is safe, clean and equitable.

While NYC’s budget for Parks is hundreds of millions of dollars more than any other U.S. city, the budget for Parks in other large cities is 2% of the overall budget, on average. In NYC, parks make up 14% of its land mass — and yet, the budget for parks is a paltry half a percent. Simply put, it is just not enough money to run an agency of the size and scope that NYC Parks is asked to maintain. Van Cortlandt Park alone is 1,146 acres and serves nearly three million visitors a year. Yet, on an average day, our park might have two Park Enforcement Patrol officers covering the whole park.

As we gear up for another summer, permit applications are pouring in. Community members will once again look to parks to be their catch-all venue. Visitors will come to Van Cortlandt Park for celebrations like birthday parties, barbecues, weddings, baby showers as well as recreational sports like baseball, cricket and cross-country races. While those uses are invited and encouraged, other uses also dominate the park during these months, including speakers blaring late into the night and E-bikes, ATVs and motorcycles flying across our pathways. Mountains of trash will gather. People will set up encampments. Grass will need to be mowed, over and over again. Graffiti will need to be removed. The list goes on. 

We know that our NYC Parks staff will step up and take care of it all with pride, but they are stretched too thin and it simply isn’t fair. They are tired and frustrated, and so are we. NYC Parks staff need more resources to do the work the public expects and deserves.

It is vital that Councilmember Eric Dinowitz, along with the rest of the City Council, holds Mayor Adams accountable.

Committing at least 1% of the city’s budget to NYC Parks maintenance and operations would fund a year-round team of professionals, rather than relying on seasonal staff that turns over each year. These jobs need to be baselined so we are not fighting for seasonal help year after year. And Van Cortlandt Park needs its own Park Enforcement Patrol command center, ensuring that park rules are enforced so that we can all enjoy a peaceful day in the park.

Join us and support New Yorkers for Parks’ Playfair Coalition and hold Mayor Adams accountable for his still-unfulfilled campaign promise.

The Van Cortlandt Park Alliance works with the Department of Parks & Recreation to preserve, support and promote the recreational, ecological and historical value of the park.

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