The efforts of local politicians to beautify their neighborhoods is easily reflected in the quality of parks. The New York Times is reporting that quality of local parks depends not on how much private donations buffer parks budgets, or even on how much the city doles out, but on how hard local councilmembers work to steer funds to the Parks Department.
The Times details the contrast between Kelly Park in Sheepshead Bay and Canarsie Park, located just five miles down the road. It’s not just a tale of two parks in neighboring council districts, but a tale of two councilmembers:
On a sun-splashed afternoon in late spring, Abigail Mastroserio, 2, scampered in the playground at Kelly Park, in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn. It was not long before she tripped on uneven cobblestones near the faded play equipment. Her mother, Melia, could not even comfort her daughter with a sip of water from the water fountain. It was broken. “This park used to look better when I was a kid,” said Ms. Mastroserio, 38, who grew up nearby.
Barely five miles away, a different scene unfolded in Canarsie Park, where young families explored a newly renovated nature trail, complete with fitness equipment, and athletes practiced on a recently installed cricket field. In an elaborate new skate park, teenagers and others careered over stair sets and ledges, and swooped on a half-pipe. “We love this place,” said James Belly, a 26-year-old skateboarder. “We’d be pleased with anything since we had nothing before. But this is something of real quality.”
According to the Times, the reason why Canarsie Park is beautiful and Kelly Park is falling apart is the difference between the priorities and political clouts of the councilmembers representing the areas. Councilman Lew Fidler, who represents the Canarsie section of Brooklyn made sure to direct $18 million for parks over his 12 years in office, with $13 million coming in the last three fiscal years alone. Michael Nelson, who represents the parts of Sheepshead Bay that cover Kelly Park, has steered a paltry $1 million over the past years in comparison.
Fidler expressed pride in his efforts to keep the Brooklyn parks in his communities beautiful.
“Because I represent the hinterlands of Brooklyn, I know that our parks are not going to be the priority that some of the chichi parks are in Downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan,” Fidler told the Times. “I made a commitment that just as the people of my district were not second-class citizens, they weren’t going to have second-class parks.”
Nelson was criticized by Julius Spiegel, the former Brooklyn borough commissioner for the Parks Department.
“It’s a pittance compared to what Lew Fidler gave, and the parks in Michael Nelson’s district show it,” Spiegel said.
Looking to address the inequality of small city parks, often brought on by inaction of local politicians, the nonprofit advocacy group “New Yorkers for Parks” has drawn up a program that calls for more financing for park maintenance, among other issues:
“Scores of neighborhood parks have not benefited from the huge influx of capital dollars that has flowed into the handful of large parks targeted by the administration for upgrades,” the platform asserts. The dependence on elected officials to finance modest capital projects — a playground renovation, a new roof on a comfort station, new paving — “creates an inefficient, inequitable and potentially politicized process,” the platform said.
New Yorkers for Parks are looking to present their platform before mayoral candidates and local community boards across the five boroughs.
Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was highly defensive on the way the city spends on parks.
“Our parks system was just rated second-best in the nation thanks to the unprecedented investments we’ve made to park improvements and development projects across the city. Of course we have to prioritize projects based on needs and goals,” Passalacqua told the Times.
Spiegel believes that more money for parks is needed in a city that has 1,700 parks.
“Compared to other boroughs, we did O.K. But there are dozens and dozens of projects that aren’t getting done. We’re O.K. at picking up the garbage. But when you scratch below the surface, there are serious infrastructure problems,” Spiegel said.