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
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
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.
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