The state just released a draft revision of its Open Space Conservation Plan. The plan, which is updated every three years, lists sites that are priorities for the state to acquire and protect. In the past, the state's open space program has been criticized for neglecting low-income minority areas, particularly in New York City.
The draft plan shows some improvement in addressing the need for parks in the inner city, according to New York City open space advocates. But at the same time, opportunities for acquiring open space - in the city as well as upstate - are in jeopardy because the governor and legislature failed to agree on appropriating funds for land acquisition in this year's budget.
The state's open space program has two major sources of funding: the Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act passed in 1996, and the Environmental Protection Fund, a dedicated trust whose revenues come mostly from the state real estate transfer tax. For open space as well as other environmental programs, New York City has not received funding proportional to its population or tax contributions. Although New York City has 40 percent of the state's population and city transactions account for 44 percent of statewide revenue from the real estate transfer tax, it received just 23 percent of Bond Act/Environmental Protection funds between 1996 and 2000, according to a report by the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.
Communities of color, which tend to have the lowest amount of parkland per capita as well as the largest number of environmental burdens, have benefited the least. The lion's share of state land acquisition funds spent in New York City went to Staten Island, which has the most open space in the city. Additional money has been committed to the Hudson River and Brooklyn Bridge parks, which border more affluent areas.
The revised plan has taken a few small steps toward rectifying this inequity. It clarifies the definition of what constitutes an "under-served neighborhood," a designation that was supposed to be among the criteria used for selecting sites on the priority list. Several new inner-city projects were added to the list, but many others were not. The plan also recommends setting up a process for evaluating and protecting community gardens as open space and for transferring potential parkland between government agencies. A public workshop and hearing on the plan will be held in Long Island City on November 15. Comments may also be sent by mail or through the Department of Environmental Conservation web site through November 30.
As for funding, open space money from the Bond Act is nearly spent. In late October, Governor Pataki and the legislature deadlocked on how to spend the $150 million in the Environmental Protection Fund, and as a result, no money was appropriated for its various programs, including land acquisition. And now there is talk that the governor intends to raid the fund, though it would go about as far towards closing the state's expected several multi-billion-dollar shortfall as a child's piggy bank would in paying the rent. A state budget department spokesman said he did not have any information on this possibility.
Volunteers are planting more than a million daffodil bulbs in public spaces throughout the city in the memory of those lost in the World Trade Center attack and as a symbol of the city's renewal. When spring comes, year after year, a host of golden daffodils will bloom in the city's parks, community gardens, along its highways, and in front of firehouses, police stations, schools, and libraries. The Parks department and a number of citywide and local parks groups have organized more than 7,000 people to plant bulbs at 300 sites. Several companies as well as the City of Rotterdam and the Port Authority have donated bulbs, tools, and supplies. Planting will continue through November 18. For more information, see the web site of Partnership for Parks or call (212) 360-1357.
Anne Schwartz is a freelance writer specializing in environmental issues. Previously, she was the editor of the Audubon Activist, a news journal for environmental action published by the National Audubon Society, and an editor at The New York Botanical Garden.