By Victoria Merlino
Framed by a picturesque summer day in Queensbridge Park Thursday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson christened 2020 as “The Year of the Parks,” a nod to the historic $43 million that parks will receive in the new city budget, in addition to its annual capital funding.
“Welcome to the year of the parks. A year when parks will be safer, greener and more accessible in every single season throughout the year,” Johnson told a cheering crowd of parks advocates.
The total marks the largest increase to the Parks Department expense budget in 23 years, and includes almost $2 million to extend New York City’s pool and beach season for an additional week. It allocates almost $20 million for park maintenance workers; a combined $9 million for additional urban rangers and parks enforcement patrol officers; and $8 million for community gardens, among other improvements.
Parks will also see a litany of infrastructure improvements across the five boroughs, with some receiving renovations like lighting upgrades, playground updates and new tree plantings.
“For too long parks have been seriously underfunded, and the New Yorkers who depend on them have had to suffer the consequences,” Johnson said.
The Center for an Urban Future released a report about the increasingly decrepit and sometimes hazardous state of the city’s parks in 2018, noting that staff were significantly underfunded and that the average city park last underwent a renovation in 1997.
Queens’ average renovation date was 1992, the oldest of the five boroughs, the report found. CUF also determined that six parks in Queens have not received a renovation in 100 years, and 31 have not had a renovation in 50 years.
CUF estimated that the city would need to spend $5.8 billion in the next decade in order to fix existing infrastructure issues.
Members of Play Fair Coalition, a group of 144 organizations — including community gardens, parks and open spaces advocates, environmental and youth groups and more — were on hand to celebrate the funding increase. Many speakers, including Johnson, highlighted New Yorkers for Parks Executive Director Lynn Kelly for helping to spearhead the movement.
Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver and Queens Councilmembers Costa Constantinides, Jimmy Van Bramer and Peter Koo were also on hand to celebrate. Koo was recently named chair of the Council’s Committee on Parks and Recreation, replacing Councilmember Barry Grodenchik, who admitted to sexually harassing a staff member for more than a year.
In the budget, $9.5 million was also included to make 150 part-time park workers full-time employees. The workers said they were unsure if money would be allocated in new budgets to continue their jobs. An additional $10 million will go toward hiring 150 more seasonal workers and gardeners.
“This is so huge. I can’t begin to tell you, ” DC 37 Local 1505 President Dilcy Benn told the crowd, her voice wavering as she began to tear up. DC 37 is the largest public employee union in the city.
“How huge this is for my workers. Because they don’t make a lot of money. And this has made an impact on their lives,” she added.