Op-ed: Play Fair Now and Restore Vital Parks Funding

Pelham Bay Park
Alex Mitchell

Ever since social-distancing measures were put in place last year, parks and other greenspaces became one of the few public places where New Yorkers could enjoy nature, get fresh air, and have space to exercise and recreate.

Parks are valuable recreational assets, but they are also one of our most vital environmental resources.

Parks, gardens, playgrounds, forests, and other natural areas absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. New York City’s urban tree canopy is the city’s largest carbon sink, filtering 1,300 tons of pollutants and storing 1.2 million tons of carbon per year.

Trees also mitigate the urban heat island effect and can lower temperatures by up to nine degrees, cut air conditioning use by 30%, and reduce heating energy use by up to 50% – all of which help decrease pollution and fight climate change.

COVID illustrated how important reducing air pollution is. Respiratory illness is associated with higher levels of mortality among people of color who live in neighborhoods with poor air quality and high pollution rates, as we see all too often in the Bronx.

Greenspaces also make our communities more resilient from sea level rise and extreme weather like storms. Parks and gardens absorb rain and capture 2 billion gallons of stormwater runoff each year.

The 12th Council District of New York City is home to many beautiful parks that provide essential environmental, aesthetic, and recreation benefits to our community. Parks such as Shoelace Park, Haffen Park, Eastchester Playground, Stars and Stripes Playground, and Olinville Playground not only provide a safe space for families to build strong bonds and relationships, but also encourage mental and physical development that have long-term benefits.

Even while it serves this integral role in New York City’s fight against climate change, the NYC Parks Department receives less than 1% of the total City budget, leaving greenspaces underserved and neglected.

That’s why we joined the Play Fair coalition in calling for a restoration of $80 million to reinvest in our parks. The funding would support critical maintenance programs that keep parks in good condition including the Parks Opportunity Program, Parks Equity Initiative, and GreenThumb.  It would restore investments in tree care, conserve our urban forests and trails, support park stewardship organizations that connect communities with their local parks, and employ additional City Park Workers, Urban Park Rangers, and Community Gardeners.

Properly maintaining parks helps conserve nature and makes our city more resilient. It also helps keep invasive species away from trees and ensures that plantings have the essential nutrients they need to grow and continue to absorb carbon and pollution.

Washington is helping us get there by making funding available for the City through the American Rescue Plan Act. Now, the City must do its part by making a permanent investment in the Parks Department and working to increase it in the future. Let’s Play Fair Now.

Kevin Riley is a New York City Council Member representing District 12. Julie Tighe is President of the New York League of Conservation Voters. 

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