Transportation Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. https://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation 2022-05-28T01:22:58+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Joomla! - Open Source Content Management New York As Oasis: OASIS mapping, Bloomingdale W Island Toursoods, Governors 2001-04-01T06:00:00+00:00 2001-04-01T06:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/topics/102-parks/2061-new-york-as-oasis-oasis-mapping-bloomingdale-w-island-toursoods-governors Anne Schwartz aschwartz@gothamgazette.com <p>Open Space Research</p> <p>What would your neighborhood look like if vacant lots and abandoned buildings became green space? What percentage of parks does it have compared to other communities? Are there wetlands or wildlife areas that ought to be protected? For the first time, the comprehensive and detailed information needed to make these determinations is available to anyone with access to the Internet. <a href="http://www.oasisnyc.net" target="new">The New York City Open Space Information System Cooperative (OASIS)</a> has created an interactive mapping and analysis tool of New York City's open space resources. The site builds upon the new aerial photo-images of the five boroughs used in the basemap recently created by the city Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication, as well as detailed land use information on each tax parcel in New York City. It incorporates data from numerous city, state, and federal agencies, as well as community garden sites identified by the Council on the Environment for New York City.</p> <p>The site, <a href="http://www.oasisnyc.net" target="new">www.oasisnyc.net</a>, allows users to create land use maps or aerial photo views by borough, neighborhood, community board or zip code, and to zoom into those maps to see details, such as vacant lots, more closely. Zoning and ownership information can also be obtained for each parcel. The site also provides land use statistics by community board or borough. Overlays show wetlands, as well as population density and income levels from the 1990 census. More informational layers are planned, including environmental problem sites and neighborhood tree data. There are inaccuracies, which is to be expected in a project this large using not always up-to-date information from government agencies, but users can help by providing corrections and updates through a feedback link.</p> <p>OASIS was created through a collaborative effort of more than 30 government agencies, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions and private companies, led by the U.S. Forest Service. The New York Public Interest Research Group's Community Mapping Assistance Project (CMAP) is the primary architect of the web site.</p> <p><b>Bloomingdale Woods: Wetlands or Not?</b></p> <p>The effort by environmentalists on Staten Island to stop the construction of ball fields in eastern Bloomingdale Park received another setback. The environmental group, Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, believes the forested natural area has far more extensive wetlands than the state has delineated. In March, however, the group's appeal of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's decision not to map the wetlands in the park was denied by Freshwater Wetlands Appeals Board. Protectors wants to see ball fields located in other less environmentally sensitive areas, locations they also say would be a lot more practical and cost-effective than a forested, hilly park with scattered wet areas that was originally protected for its natural values. There is tremendous pressure from sports groups and local politicians to build the $12 million recreation complex to provide much-needed playing fields for youth sports in south Staten Island. A final Environmental Impact Statement on the project is due to be released in mid-April. Protectors is conducting its own wetlands mapping workshops at the park this spring. For information, contact <a href="mailto:SIProtectors@aol.com">SIProtectors@aol.com</a>.</p> <p><b>Governors Island tours</b><br /> Free walking tours of the former Coast Guard base in New York harbor are being offered this spring and summer. The tours include the island's two historic forts, which, along with 20 acres of surrounding land, were declared the country's newest national monument by President Clinton just before he left office. Last year, Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki agreed on a plan that would make the island a new public space, with educational facilities, a conference center, and parkland. But the federal General Services Administration is planning to sell the rest of island this year, unless legislation or negotiation by state to purchase the land is successful. The tours run on the following Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. - noon: May 2, July 11, August 1, and September 5. There will be a June 6 tour from 2-4 p.m. To register, email <a href="mailto:petra@rpa.org">petra@rpa.org</a>.</p> <p><b><span style="font-size: xx-small;" size="+1">Anne Sounds Off</span></b></p> <p>In a recent Op-ed piece in the New York Times, Kenneth T. Jackson, professor of history at Columbia University, discusses what New York City needs to do to capitalize on the last decade's population increase, reflected in the 2000 census. He credits a sharp decline in crime as well as the excitement and crowds - "bustling sidewalks, outdoor restaurants and funky galleries" - with bringing young professionals back into the city. Yet, he says, "if New York....is to return to the glory of its past, then average men and women must choose to remain in the city after they have children." How to get them to do that? His solution is to improve the schools, which is obviously critical. But then what? Professor Jackson leaves out something that is essential to making the city more livable. What else do people seek when they move to the suburbs? A little bit of nature, lawns and shady streets for kids to play on, ball fields and pools and tennis courts. New York City lags behind most major cities in usable park acreage and recreational facilities per capita. To keep families in the city, we need to make an investment not only in the schools, but also in our parks and playing fields. We need to bring more green into the heart of the city.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/graphics/schwartz.jpg" align="right" border="0" /><cite>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.</cite></p> <p>Open Space Research</p> <p>What would your neighborhood look like if vacant lots and abandoned buildings became green space? What percentage of parks does it have compared to other communities? Are there wetlands or wildlife areas that ought to be protected? For the first time, the comprehensive and detailed information needed to make these determinations is available to anyone with access to the Internet. <a href="http://www.oasisnyc.net" target="new">The New York City Open Space Information System Cooperative (OASIS)</a> has created an interactive mapping and analysis tool of New York City's open space resources. The site builds upon the new aerial photo-images of the five boroughs used in the basemap recently created by the city Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication, as well as detailed land use information on each tax parcel in New York City. It incorporates data from numerous city, state, and federal agencies, as well as community garden sites identified by the Council on the Environment for New York City.</p> <p>The site, <a href="http://www.oasisnyc.net" target="new">www.oasisnyc.net</a>, allows users to create land use maps or aerial photo views by borough, neighborhood, community board or zip code, and to zoom into those maps to see details, such as vacant lots, more closely. Zoning and ownership information can also be obtained for each parcel. The site also provides land use statistics by community board or borough. Overlays show wetlands, as well as population density and income levels from the 1990 census. More informational layers are planned, including environmental problem sites and neighborhood tree data. There are inaccuracies, which is to be expected in a project this large using not always up-to-date information from government agencies, but users can help by providing corrections and updates through a feedback link.</p> <p>OASIS was created through a collaborative effort of more than 30 government agencies, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions and private companies, led by the U.S. Forest Service. The New York Public Interest Research Group's Community Mapping Assistance Project (CMAP) is the primary architect of the web site.</p> <p><b>Bloomingdale Woods: Wetlands or Not?</b></p> <p>The effort by environmentalists on Staten Island to stop the construction of ball fields in eastern Bloomingdale Park received another setback. The environmental group, Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, believes the forested natural area has far more extensive wetlands than the state has delineated. In March, however, the group's appeal of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's decision not to map the wetlands in the park was denied by Freshwater Wetlands Appeals Board. Protectors wants to see ball fields located in other less environmentally sensitive areas, locations they also say would be a lot more practical and cost-effective than a forested, hilly park with scattered wet areas that was originally protected for its natural values. There is tremendous pressure from sports groups and local politicians to build the $12 million recreation complex to provide much-needed playing fields for youth sports in south Staten Island. A final Environmental Impact Statement on the project is due to be released in mid-April. Protectors is conducting its own wetlands mapping workshops at the park this spring. For information, contact <a href="mailto:SIProtectors@aol.com">SIProtectors@aol.com</a>.</p> <p><b>Governors Island tours</b><br /> Free walking tours of the former Coast Guard base in New York harbor are being offered this spring and summer. The tours include the island's two historic forts, which, along with 20 acres of surrounding land, were declared the country's newest national monument by President Clinton just before he left office. Last year, Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki agreed on a plan that would make the island a new public space, with educational facilities, a conference center, and parkland. But the federal General Services Administration is planning to sell the rest of island this year, unless legislation or negotiation by state to purchase the land is successful. The tours run on the following Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. - noon: May 2, July 11, August 1, and September 5. There will be a June 6 tour from 2-4 p.m. To register, email <a href="mailto:petra@rpa.org">petra@rpa.org</a>.</p> <p><b><span style="font-size: xx-small;" size="+1">Anne Sounds Off</span></b></p> <p>In a recent Op-ed piece in the New York Times, Kenneth T. Jackson, professor of history at Columbia University, discusses what New York City needs to do to capitalize on the last decade's population increase, reflected in the 2000 census. He credits a sharp decline in crime as well as the excitement and crowds - "bustling sidewalks, outdoor restaurants and funky galleries" - with bringing young professionals back into the city. Yet, he says, "if New York....is to return to the glory of its past, then average men and women must choose to remain in the city after they have children." How to get them to do that? His solution is to improve the schools, which is obviously critical. But then what? Professor Jackson leaves out something that is essential to making the city more livable. What else do people seek when they move to the suburbs? A little bit of nature, lawns and shady streets for kids to play on, ball fields and pools and tennis courts. New York City lags behind most major cities in usable park acreage and recreational facilities per capita. To keep families in the city, we need to make an investment not only in the schools, but also in our parks and playing fields. We need to bring more green into the heart of the city.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/graphics/schwartz.jpg" align="right" border="0" /><cite>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.</cite></p> Trends Transforming America's Urban Parks 2012-07-31T05:00:00+00:00 2012-07-31T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/topics/102-parks/1424-four-trends-urban-parks Anne Schwartz aschwartz@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/searchlight/highline2-lg.jpg" alt="highline2-lg" height="337" width="600" /></p> <p><span class="photocredit">High Line Park photo by </span><a class="photocredit" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidberkowitz/">David Berkowitz</a><span class="photocredit">, used under a Creative Commons license.</span></p> <hr /> <p>NEW YORK — The extraordinary greening of New York City over the past decade is part of&nbsp; — and inspiration for — a nationwide urban parks revival that has been growing over the past two decades.</p> <p>In a sign of the movement’s strength, some 870 people from 200 cities and 21 countries gathered earlier this month for the Greater &amp; Greener urban parks conference, co-sponsored by the City Parks Alliance and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.</p> <p>“Just about every city has one or more major park projects under way,” said Peter Harnik, director of the <a href="http://www.tpl.org/research/parks/ccpe.html">Center for City Park Excellence</a> at The Trust for Public Land, which researches park best practices and benefits, and maintains a database on U.S. city park systems.</p> <p>Driving this momentum is an evolution in the way parks are viewed:&nbsp;Once relegated to the sidelines, an amenity that could be dispensed with in tough times, parks are now seen as central to a city’s quality of life by public officials, civic leaders and citizens.</p> <p>“It feels like parks have come into the public consciousness,” said Catherine Nagel, executive director of the City Parks Alliance, the conference co-sponsor. <br />&nbsp; <br />One measure of this, she said, is the diverse roster of people who attended the conference, the fourth presented by the alliance.</p> <p>The previous events attracted mostly park professionals and advocates. But this year, there were mayors, real estate developers, health care professionals and advocates, corporations, philanthropists and landscape designers and planners.</p> <p>Further evidence of the reach of the urban parks movement is a new commitment by the National Park Service to better connect inner-city residents with its urban national parks. &nbsp;</p> <p>Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, in his keynote speech, used the occasion to announce the formalization <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/18/nyregion/city-and-federal-officials-to-manage-jamaica-bay.html%20">of a partnership between the National Park Service and the city parks department</a> to manage Jamaica Bay’s 10,000 acres of city and federal parkland.</p> <p>The concept of a park is broadening, too.</p> <p>“Parks are less isolated pockets of greenery and more a part of the urban infrastructure,” Nagel said.</p> <p>Europeans have a much more expansive view of parks “as public spaces between buildings — <a href="http://grist.org/cities/thinking-outside-the-paks-green-space-is-spreading-in-the-big-apple/.%20">the green glue that holds a city together,</a>” said Helle Søholt, co-founding partner and managing director of Gehl Architects in Copenhagen.</p> <p>But you don’t have to look further than Madison Square Park or Times Square, where pedestrian plazas have staked out turf formerly occupied by cars, to get a feel for that idea.</p> <p>Here are four trends in urban parks from this year's conference:</p> <h4>Parks as part of our health care, educational and social services system</h4> <p>With a growing body of research showing that access to outdoor open space and recreation improves physical and mental health, many sessions focused on ways parks can be designed or managed to fight obesity, improve education, and partner with social service agencies.</p> <p>“Parks are as fundamental to health and well-being as a clinic or hospital,” said Dr. Daphne Miller, of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.</p> <p>Mickey Fearn, National Park Service deputy director for communications and community assistance, said parks are spaces for spontaneous outdoor play, as well as programs that connect young people to the outdoors and nature.</p> <p>He also said they provide experiences that help young people, especially those living in disadvantaged inner city neighborhoods, succeed and participate in a “powerful way in their communities."</p> <p>As an example, he cited Rocking the Boat, the South Bronx youth organization that teaches teenagers to build boats and involves them in conservation efforts along the waterfront in “an area where they didn’t even know had water.”</p> <h4>Nontraditional ways of creating parks</h4> <p>Space for new parks is scarce in many cities and neighborhoods. New parks are being built in unlikely places: elevated rail lines, reclaimed brownfields and even long-covered rivers that are “daylighted” and restored.</p> <p>Conference participants got a look at some of New York City’s solutions for shoehorning parks into a densely built cityscape, including the park-in-progress at Staten Island’s former Fresh Kills landfill, the largest park to be built in New York City in more than 100 years, and one of the scores of schoolyards that have been transformed into student-designed community public space.</p> <h4>Parks as environmental infrastructure</h4> <p>New York City, Philadelphia, and many other cities are making a major investment in designing green roofs, streetside swales, specially engineered tree pits and other natural systems to help address its sewage overflow problems after heavy rainstorms.</p> <p>This green infrastructure soaks up and slows down runoff before it overwhelms the sewer system, while also adding more green space in the city.</p> <p>Sessions on sustainable park design for creating parks that serve as buffers for climate change and for preserving biodiversity underscored a new focus on parks as ecological systems.</p> <h4>Funding parks in an era of fiscal constraints</h4> <p>Even in a good economy, funding parks is a challenge. Finding innovative and equitable ways to pay for creating and maintaining parks was a major theme of the conference. Among the ideas explored were the establishment of conservancies and other forms of private funding, the role of developers in creating public space, partnerships with water and highway departments, and voter-approved dedicated funding.</p> <p>Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett spoke about his city’s investment of public funds for a multitude of civic and greening projects to breathe new life into a hollowed-out downtown, making it a place that attracts and keeps residents and businesses.</p> <p>Since 1993, Oklahoma City voters have passed a series of penny sales-tax initiatives, the most recent to fund a new 70-acre central park, riverfront recreation, and biking trails, among other things.</p> <p><a href="http://dirt.asla.org/2012/07/19/interview-with-oklahoma-city-mayor-mick-cornett-on-the-power-of-downtowns/">In an interview in The Dirt</a>, the blog of the American Society of Landscape Architects, he said: “We convinced people who live in the suburbs that the quality of life downtown is important….you can’t be a suburb of nothing.”</p> <p>In his keynote speech, Mayor Bloomberg also stressed the economic growth that flows from investing in urban parks.</p> <p>Speaking from a stage decorated to look like a pocket park — with the ubiquitous green portable cafĂ© tables and chairs, a bench flanked by greenery, and a bicycle — he noted the attraction of good city parks to everyone from a young person starting a career to a family raising children in the city to a business leader deciding where to locate.</p> <p>“In a tough economy, we know it’s important to keep investing in what makes a city inviting to businesses and new residents,” he said. “The time to make the investment is tough times. The city walked away from its future during the 70s. We did not do that this time.”</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/searchlight/highline2-lg.jpg" alt="highline2-lg" height="337" width="600" /></p> <p><span class="photocredit">High Line Park photo by </span><a class="photocredit" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidberkowitz/">David Berkowitz</a><span class="photocredit">, used under a Creative Commons license.</span></p> <hr /> <p>NEW YORK — The extraordinary greening of New York City over the past decade is part of&nbsp; — and inspiration for — a nationwide urban parks revival that has been growing over the past two decades.</p> <p>In a sign of the movement’s strength, some 870 people from 200 cities and 21 countries gathered earlier this month for the Greater &amp; Greener urban parks conference, co-sponsored by the City Parks Alliance and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.</p> <p>“Just about every city has one or more major park projects under way,” said Peter Harnik, director of the <a href="http://www.tpl.org/research/parks/ccpe.html">Center for City Park Excellence</a> at The Trust for Public Land, which researches park best practices and benefits, and maintains a database on U.S. city park systems.</p> <p>Driving this momentum is an evolution in the way parks are viewed:&nbsp;Once relegated to the sidelines, an amenity that could be dispensed with in tough times, parks are now seen as central to a city’s quality of life by public officials, civic leaders and citizens.</p> <p>“It feels like parks have come into the public consciousness,” said Catherine Nagel, executive director of the City Parks Alliance, the conference co-sponsor. <br />&nbsp; <br />One measure of this, she said, is the diverse roster of people who attended the conference, the fourth presented by the alliance.</p> <p>The previous events attracted mostly park professionals and advocates. But this year, there were mayors, real estate developers, health care professionals and advocates, corporations, philanthropists and landscape designers and planners.</p> <p>Further evidence of the reach of the urban parks movement is a new commitment by the National Park Service to better connect inner-city residents with its urban national parks. &nbsp;</p> <p>Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, in his keynote speech, used the occasion to announce the formalization <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/18/nyregion/city-and-federal-officials-to-manage-jamaica-bay.html%20">of a partnership between the National Park Service and the city parks department</a> to manage Jamaica Bay’s 10,000 acres of city and federal parkland.</p> <p>The concept of a park is broadening, too.</p> <p>“Parks are less isolated pockets of greenery and more a part of the urban infrastructure,” Nagel said.</p> <p>Europeans have a much more expansive view of parks “as public spaces between buildings — <a href="http://grist.org/cities/thinking-outside-the-paks-green-space-is-spreading-in-the-big-apple/.%20">the green glue that holds a city together,</a>” said Helle Søholt, co-founding partner and managing director of Gehl Architects in Copenhagen.</p> <p>But you don’t have to look further than Madison Square Park or Times Square, where pedestrian plazas have staked out turf formerly occupied by cars, to get a feel for that idea.</p> <p>Here are four trends in urban parks from this year's conference:</p> <h4>Parks as part of our health care, educational and social services system</h4> <p>With a growing body of research showing that access to outdoor open space and recreation improves physical and mental health, many sessions focused on ways parks can be designed or managed to fight obesity, improve education, and partner with social service agencies.</p> <p>“Parks are as fundamental to health and well-being as a clinic or hospital,” said Dr. Daphne Miller, of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.</p> <p>Mickey Fearn, National Park Service deputy director for communications and community assistance, said parks are spaces for spontaneous outdoor play, as well as programs that connect young people to the outdoors and nature.</p> <p>He also said they provide experiences that help young people, especially those living in disadvantaged inner city neighborhoods, succeed and participate in a “powerful way in their communities."</p> <p>As an example, he cited Rocking the Boat, the South Bronx youth organization that teaches teenagers to build boats and involves them in conservation efforts along the waterfront in “an area where they didn’t even know had water.”</p> <h4>Nontraditional ways of creating parks</h4> <p>Space for new parks is scarce in many cities and neighborhoods. New parks are being built in unlikely places: elevated rail lines, reclaimed brownfields and even long-covered rivers that are “daylighted” and restored.</p> <p>Conference participants got a look at some of New York City’s solutions for shoehorning parks into a densely built cityscape, including the park-in-progress at Staten Island’s former Fresh Kills landfill, the largest park to be built in New York City in more than 100 years, and one of the scores of schoolyards that have been transformed into student-designed community public space.</p> <h4>Parks as environmental infrastructure</h4> <p>New York City, Philadelphia, and many other cities are making a major investment in designing green roofs, streetside swales, specially engineered tree pits and other natural systems to help address its sewage overflow problems after heavy rainstorms.</p> <p>This green infrastructure soaks up and slows down runoff before it overwhelms the sewer system, while also adding more green space in the city.</p> <p>Sessions on sustainable park design for creating parks that serve as buffers for climate change and for preserving biodiversity underscored a new focus on parks as ecological systems.</p> <h4>Funding parks in an era of fiscal constraints</h4> <p>Even in a good economy, funding parks is a challenge. Finding innovative and equitable ways to pay for creating and maintaining parks was a major theme of the conference. Among the ideas explored were the establishment of conservancies and other forms of private funding, the role of developers in creating public space, partnerships with water and highway departments, and voter-approved dedicated funding.</p> <p>Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett spoke about his city’s investment of public funds for a multitude of civic and greening projects to breathe new life into a hollowed-out downtown, making it a place that attracts and keeps residents and businesses.</p> <p>Since 1993, Oklahoma City voters have passed a series of penny sales-tax initiatives, the most recent to fund a new 70-acre central park, riverfront recreation, and biking trails, among other things.</p> <p><a href="http://dirt.asla.org/2012/07/19/interview-with-oklahoma-city-mayor-mick-cornett-on-the-power-of-downtowns/">In an interview in The Dirt</a>, the blog of the American Society of Landscape Architects, he said: “We convinced people who live in the suburbs that the quality of life downtown is important….you can’t be a suburb of nothing.”</p> <p>In his keynote speech, Mayor Bloomberg also stressed the economic growth that flows from investing in urban parks.</p> <p>Speaking from a stage decorated to look like a pocket park — with the ubiquitous green portable cafĂ© tables and chairs, a bench flanked by greenery, and a bicycle — he noted the attraction of good city parks to everyone from a young person starting a career to a family raising children in the city to a business leader deciding where to locate.</p> <p>“In a tough economy, we know it’s important to keep investing in what makes a city inviting to businesses and new residents,” he said. “The time to make the investment is tough times. The city walked away from its future during the 70s. We did not do that this time.”</p> Trying to Create a More Permeable New York 2011-05-19T05:00:00+00:00 2011-05-19T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/topics/102-parks/754-trying-to-create-a-more-permeable-new-york Anne Schwartz aschwartz@gothamgazette.com <p><img class="caption" title="The city's Greenstreets program -- offering planting on small bits of land -- is part of its effort to create a greener and less impervious city (Photo: New York City Department of Parks and Recreation)." src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2011/05/system_lg.jpg" alt="green infrastructure" width="600" height="378" /></p> <p>With his 2007 sustainability blueprint, <a href="http://nytelecom.vo.llnwd.net/o15/agencies/planyc2030/pdf/full_report_2007.pdf">PlaNYC 2030</a>, Mayor Michael Bloomberg brought New York into the vanguard of American cities in acknowledging the importance of green space to the city's long-term viability. The plan set a goal of putting parkland within a 10-minute walk of every resident, transforming streets into public open space and expanding the amount of "green permeable surface."</p> <p>Although budget constraints have stalled some of the more ambitious park-building plans, the city has <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=735:despite-key-setbacks-bloomberg-plan-has-made-new-york-greener&amp;catid=67:city-homepage">made significant progress</a> toward many of these goals, particularly creating a more permeable city. This represents a sea change in the city's approach to managing stormwater pollution and could well be one of PlaNYC's most lasting effects.</p> <div class="photo_right"><img style="float: right;" src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/common/SustainabilityWatchLogo.jpg" alt="planyc" width="" height="" /></div> <p>Instead of building more tanks, tunnels and other expensive controls to prevent combined stormwater and sewage from polluting the harbor, the city is investing in green infrastructure. This approach uses advances in urban ecology and state-of-the-art hydrological modeling to create and manage a low-maintenance network of natural lands, plantings and permeable surfaces that can capture rainwater before it enters the sewer system.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/blogs/wonkster/2011/04/21/a-less-controversial-planyc/">update to PlaNYC</a> released in April details the steps the city has taken so far, as well as a number of new initiatives. A major component is the city Department of Environmental Protection's <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/stormwater/nyc_green_infrastructure_plan.shtml">Green Infrastructure Plan</a> released last fall. It proposes to invest $1.5 billion over the next 20 years in creating and maintaining green infrastructure, and to coordinate it into city road and other construction projects. According to the administration, adopting this approach would reduce overflows from the sewage system by an additional 3.8 billion gallons a year over what traditional controls could accomplish -- at a significantly lower cost.</p> <!--<div class="sidebar"> <h3>Following the Green</h3> <p>The articles so far:</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Land%20Use/20110511/12/3525">The Missing Public</a> by Alyssa Katz and Eve Baron: PlanNYC offers some outstanding proposals, but unfortunately it didn't involve the public very much in creating them.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Environment/20110511/7/3524">Sustainability Watch: Part 2</a> by Tom Angotti and Melissa Checker: With the mayor renewing his plan for a greener New York, Gotham Gazette and Hunter College launch another series of articles about creating a more environmentally friendly city.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Demographics/20110426/5/3515"> Counting Heads</a> by Andrew Beveridge: City officials squawked when the 2010 census that found growth here has slowed. New York's pride may be wounded, but the census probably got the numbers right.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/searchlight/20110422/203/3514"> A More Modest Proposal</a> by Gail Robinson: In 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled an environmental plan that called for charging people to drive in Manhattan. This tine around, he set forth a new, less-controversial agenda.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Environment/20110418/7/3511"> Going for the Green</a> by Courtney Gross: Four years after Mayor Bloomberg announced his plan for a sustainable city, is New York a more environmentally friendly city? A report on PlaNYC's wins and losses.</p> </div>--> <p>Unlike the spending on new parks, the investment in sustainable stormwater management — which is funded by water and sewer fees — includes the cost of caring for plantings and other green elements, assuring their lasting effectiveness as well as the many other benefits they bring.</p> <p>The city is under a <a href="http://www.dec.ny.gov/environmentdec/18679.html"> consent order</a> negotiated with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to reduce discharges of untreated stormwater and sewage into the harbor. Because the order specifies the construction of specific projects, the state would have to approve any green modifications to the plan. But if the state approves, the new approach could launch a wave of greening that will last long past the Bloomberg administration and make the city a national leader in innovative stormwater management.</p> <h3>The City's Stormwater Problem</h3> <p>Today it is hard to imagine Manhattan as an island of gently rolling hills and forests laced with abundant springs and streams, or to envision bears and wolves roaming Brooklyn, as the Wildlife Conservation Society’s <a href="http://welikia.org/"> Welikia project</a> has discovered in its quest to understand the city's original landscape and ecology. Except for a swath of forest running through Staten Island, shards of marshland around the harbor and other remnant natural areas, the original landscape of New York City has been largely obliterated.</p> <p>Buildings and asphalt now cover so much of the land that some 80 percent of the city's surface is impermeable. To replace the natural systems that once absorbed and filtered rainwater, over the decades engineers built a vast infrastructure to collect, store and treat the water that pours off roofs, parking lots, sidewalks and streets. In most parts of the city, this runoff, which picks up pollutants from the streets, goes into the same sewer pipes as the wastewater from toilets, dishwashers, showers and kitchen sinks.</p> <p>After investing $6 billion since 2002 in upgrading its wastewater storage and treatment plants, the city can, for the first time, handle the 1.1 billon gallons of sewage residents generate daily, and raw sewage is no longer routinely discharged into the waterways. As a result, the harbor is cleaner than it has been in more than 100 years.</p> <p>This traditional stormwater management moves water as quickly as possible off the land and holds it in tunnels and tanks until it can be treated and discharged into waterways.</p> <p>But when it rains -- and in some areas of the city all it takes is a tenth of an inch -- the volume of wastewater overwhelms the treatment plants. Every year, around 30 billion gallons of sewage mixed with polluted runoff still flow untreated into city waters in what is known as "combined sewer overflows" or CSOs. Some places along the waterways experience such overflows 40 to 50 times a year. Almost a third of the city’s 274 public access points to the waterfront are within three city blocks of a sewage outflow pipe. Because of this, the city often must shut beaches following heavy rains.</p> <p>To help address this problem, many cities in the U.S. and other countries, including <a href="http://www.governing.com/topics/energy-env/proposed-stormwater-plan-philadelphia-emphasizes-green-infrastructure.html">Philadelphia</a>, Chicago and Portland, Ore., have pioneered an ecological approach that harnesses or replicates nature’s ability to soak up and store rain water.</p> <h3>Greener City, Cleaner Harbor</h3> <p>Even before PlaNYC, New York City was using natural systems to handle stormwater in the 10,000-acre Staten Island <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/dep_projects/bluebelt.shtml"> Bluebelt</a>. By preserving streams, ponds and wetlands in 16 drainage corridors, all but one in the southern part of the borough, the Bluebelt handles nearly 36 percent of the island's stormwater -- at a savings of tens of millions of dollars compared to the cost of conventional storm sewers.</p> <p>The task could be more difficult in most other parts of the city. In these densely built areas, capturing stormwater at its source involves hundreds or thousands of small-scale installations. These include green and blue roofs, in which vegetation or flow control devices prevent water from draining off too fast; enhanced tree pits and street plantings that catch and hold runoff underground, allowing it to seep out and water the plants; manmade small wetlands in parks and along roadways; backyard rain barrels; and porous paving that allows water to soak into the earth.</p> <p>For years, suggestions that the Department of Environmental Protection consider using green infrastructure to address the runoff problem "fell on deaf ears," said Larry Levine, a senior attorney in the <a href="http://www.nrdc.org/">Natural Resources Defense Council</a>'s water program. "When the original PlaNYC came along, it was the first point at which the city really started to look seriously at these sustainable stormwater management approaches."</p> <p>PlaNYC spurred the city to make sustainable stormwater management a priority in capital projects for the first time. The plan launched an interagency task force to help agencies share best practices and work together to identify upcoming projects in areas that would benefit from green infrastructure and assess which would be most feasible and cost-effective. Many staff had been waiting a long time for this opportunity and the funding. "Immediately there was an interest from within the agencies to add green elements to their projects," said Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Farrell Sklerov.</p> <p>The Department of Environmental Protection is collaborating with the parks and transportation departments and other city agencies to build dozens of pilot projects, including green roofs, bioswales (narrow vegetated ditches that capture and filter runoff), and enhanced Greenstreets that capture stormwater runoff in addition to rainfall. Researchers are monitoring representative sites in order to make the designs, materials and plantings more effective.</p> <p>The updated PlaNYC notes that some of the pilot projects have already led to new standard designs for bioswales and enhanced tree pits that can be used in most <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/home/home.shtml">Department of Transportation</a> and <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ddc/html/home/home.shtml">Department of Design and Construction</a> road reconstruction projects.</p> <p>The city also is modifying zoning codes and creating financial incentives for incorporating green infrastructure in private development. Zoning amendments require new commercial parking lots to include interior plantings and sidewalk trees, and new developments to plant street trees and, in lower density areas, sidewalk landscaping.</p> <div class="photo"><img class="caption" title="A green roof covers the underground Paerdegat Basin Combined Sewer Overflow Retention Facility near Jamaica, Queens (Photo: New York City Department of Environmental Protection)." src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2011/05/system_lg3.jpg" alt="green roof" width="600" height="378" /></div> <div class="photo">A tax abatement implemented in 2009 provides incentives for building owners to install green roofs. While praising the idea, Levine said in a <a href="http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/llevine/new_columbia_university_study.html">recent blog post</a> that the tax break could be structured better to promote a technology that a recent study found to be “the most cost-effective of the stormwater interventions” considered in PlaNYC.</div> <p>As a next step, the city plans to tighten existing requirements for stormwater management on all new development and redevelopment projects, as well as at construction sites. It will look at ways to charge landowners for runoff, using credits as incentives for them to reduce impervious surfaces.</p> <p>Other initiatives focus on creating design guidelines for city agencies to set consistent standards for green infrastructure. The parks department has been incorporating stormwater capture into park and playground design for some time, including a wooded wetland complex in <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/B018/dailyplant/19832"> Canarsie Park</a> and the 2010 reconstruction of <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/B380/highlights/12591"> Robert Venable Park</a> in Brooklyn. The department is now developing ways to implement <a href="http://www.designtrust.org/publications/publication_11hplg.html"> the best practices</a> for designing and constructing sustainable parks that it developed with the Design Trust for Public Space.</p> <p>"The pendulum has swung, and it's not going to swing back," said parks commissioner Adrian Benepe. "The people who work for us are now part of a generation that sees sustainable design as being part and parcel of landscape design."</p> <p>PlaNYC 2.0 also promises an updated version of the Street Design Manual, which includes a chapter on using and maintaining green infrastructure, street trees and other plantings.</p> <h3>The Green Infrastructure Plan</h3> <p>Providing the underpinning for much of this is the Department of Environmental Protection's <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/stormwater/nyc_green_infrastructure_plan.shtml"> NYC Green Infrastructure Plan</a>. It calls for a combination of green infrastructure, increased capacity from fully cleaning the existing sewer system and the most cost-effective of the traditional controls specified under the consent order.</p> <p>In addition to incorporating stormwater capture into public construction projects, the plan looks to community participation. For the last two years, the department has providedgrants to private property owners, businesses, and not-for-profit organizations to develop innovative green infrastructure.</p> <div class="photo"><img class="caption" style="margin: 0px;" title="Enhanced tree pits, such as this one on Autumn Avenue in Brooklyn, hold runoff underground, allowing it to seep up and water the plants (Photo: New York City Department of Environmental Protection)." src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2011/05/system_lg2.jpg" alt="treee pit" width="600" height="378" /></div> <p>The plan aims to stop runoff from 10 percent of the city's impervious surfaces in the 13 watersheds with combined sewer overflows. In addition to saving money and reducing pollution, planting vegetation and adding green space will beautify the city and clean and cool the air. The agency estimates that implementing the Green Infrastructure Plan would provide as much as $400 million to New Yorkers in reduced energy costs, improved health and increased property values.</p> <p>"You get a tremendous bang for your buck with investment in these green infrastructure approaches, beyond what you can get from building concrete holding tanks that serve only one function," said Levine.</p> <p>In turning to green infrastructure, the <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/home/home.shtml">Department of Environmental Protection</a>is challenging long-term orthodoxy about stormwater management, said Commissioner Cas Holloway at a March community presentation in Brooklyn. "It required a huge cultural shift at the DEP," he said. "We have a lot of engineers who like building in concrete and steel and are good at it."</p> <h3>Greening After Bloomberg</h3> <p>It is impossible to predict how many of the initiatives in PlaNYC 2.0 will continue past the Bloomberg administration, especially in today's climate of fiscal constraint.</p> <p>Already, the city has slowed the timeline for creating the eight new flagship parks announced in the original PlaNYC, raising questions of how many will eventually be built.</p> <p>Protecting the city's remaining wetlands and natural areas so important for water quality, flood protection and wildlife habitat remains a challenge, given constant development pressures and a lack of funding for land conservation. So far, the city has protected just nine of the 89 properties its <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20070422/14/2156">Wetlands Transfer Task Force</a> recommended for transfer to the parks department in 2007.</p> <p>The city has already committed $187 million over the next four years to begin putting the Green Infrastructure Plan into action. The city is now seeking approval to fully implement the plan under its consent order with the state. This will require a great deal of further analysis and refinement, said Levine. "There are a lot of challenges and a lot of work for the city to fully develop this green infrastructure vision in a way that will take root citywide over the long term.”"</p> <p>The plan offers tremendous potential to codify an ecological approach to planning in the city and make it a much greener place. If the plan is approved, said Sklerov, "it will be part of the fabric of the DEP's efforts going forward."</p> <p>"Green infrastructure is the wave of the future," said Bram Gunther, chief of forestry, horticulture and natural resources group at the parks department. "That’s how any city that’s interested in sustaining itself and its public health over time has to view its urban planning."</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" hspace="6" align="right" border="0" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> <p><img class="caption" title="The city's Greenstreets program -- offering planting on small bits of land -- is part of its effort to create a greener and less impervious city (Photo: New York City Department of Parks and Recreation)." src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2011/05/system_lg.jpg" alt="green infrastructure" width="600" height="378" /></p> <p>With his 2007 sustainability blueprint, <a href="http://nytelecom.vo.llnwd.net/o15/agencies/planyc2030/pdf/full_report_2007.pdf">PlaNYC 2030</a>, Mayor Michael Bloomberg brought New York into the vanguard of American cities in acknowledging the importance of green space to the city's long-term viability. The plan set a goal of putting parkland within a 10-minute walk of every resident, transforming streets into public open space and expanding the amount of "green permeable surface."</p> <p>Although budget constraints have stalled some of the more ambitious park-building plans, the city has <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=735:despite-key-setbacks-bloomberg-plan-has-made-new-york-greener&amp;catid=67:city-homepage">made significant progress</a> toward many of these goals, particularly creating a more permeable city. This represents a sea change in the city's approach to managing stormwater pollution and could well be one of PlaNYC's most lasting effects.</p> <div class="photo_right"><img style="float: right;" src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/common/SustainabilityWatchLogo.jpg" alt="planyc" width="" height="" /></div> <p>Instead of building more tanks, tunnels and other expensive controls to prevent combined stormwater and sewage from polluting the harbor, the city is investing in green infrastructure. This approach uses advances in urban ecology and state-of-the-art hydrological modeling to create and manage a low-maintenance network of natural lands, plantings and permeable surfaces that can capture rainwater before it enters the sewer system.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/blogs/wonkster/2011/04/21/a-less-controversial-planyc/">update to PlaNYC</a> released in April details the steps the city has taken so far, as well as a number of new initiatives. A major component is the city Department of Environmental Protection's <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/stormwater/nyc_green_infrastructure_plan.shtml">Green Infrastructure Plan</a> released last fall. It proposes to invest $1.5 billion over the next 20 years in creating and maintaining green infrastructure, and to coordinate it into city road and other construction projects. According to the administration, adopting this approach would reduce overflows from the sewage system by an additional 3.8 billion gallons a year over what traditional controls could accomplish -- at a significantly lower cost.</p> <!--<div class="sidebar"> <h3>Following the Green</h3> <p>The articles so far:</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Land%20Use/20110511/12/3525">The Missing Public</a> by Alyssa Katz and Eve Baron: PlanNYC offers some outstanding proposals, but unfortunately it didn't involve the public very much in creating them.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Environment/20110511/7/3524">Sustainability Watch: Part 2</a> by Tom Angotti and Melissa Checker: With the mayor renewing his plan for a greener New York, Gotham Gazette and Hunter College launch another series of articles about creating a more environmentally friendly city.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Demographics/20110426/5/3515"> Counting Heads</a> by Andrew Beveridge: City officials squawked when the 2010 census that found growth here has slowed. New York's pride may be wounded, but the census probably got the numbers right.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/searchlight/20110422/203/3514"> A More Modest Proposal</a> by Gail Robinson: In 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled an environmental plan that called for charging people to drive in Manhattan. This tine around, he set forth a new, less-controversial agenda.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Environment/20110418/7/3511"> Going for the Green</a> by Courtney Gross: Four years after Mayor Bloomberg announced his plan for a sustainable city, is New York a more environmentally friendly city? A report on PlaNYC's wins and losses.</p> </div>--> <p>Unlike the spending on new parks, the investment in sustainable stormwater management — which is funded by water and sewer fees — includes the cost of caring for plantings and other green elements, assuring their lasting effectiveness as well as the many other benefits they bring.</p> <p>The city is under a <a href="http://www.dec.ny.gov/environmentdec/18679.html"> consent order</a> negotiated with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to reduce discharges of untreated stormwater and sewage into the harbor. Because the order specifies the construction of specific projects, the state would have to approve any green modifications to the plan. But if the state approves, the new approach could launch a wave of greening that will last long past the Bloomberg administration and make the city a national leader in innovative stormwater management.</p> <h3>The City's Stormwater Problem</h3> <p>Today it is hard to imagine Manhattan as an island of gently rolling hills and forests laced with abundant springs and streams, or to envision bears and wolves roaming Brooklyn, as the Wildlife Conservation Society’s <a href="http://welikia.org/"> Welikia project</a> has discovered in its quest to understand the city's original landscape and ecology. Except for a swath of forest running through Staten Island, shards of marshland around the harbor and other remnant natural areas, the original landscape of New York City has been largely obliterated.</p> <p>Buildings and asphalt now cover so much of the land that some 80 percent of the city's surface is impermeable. To replace the natural systems that once absorbed and filtered rainwater, over the decades engineers built a vast infrastructure to collect, store and treat the water that pours off roofs, parking lots, sidewalks and streets. In most parts of the city, this runoff, which picks up pollutants from the streets, goes into the same sewer pipes as the wastewater from toilets, dishwashers, showers and kitchen sinks.</p> <p>After investing $6 billion since 2002 in upgrading its wastewater storage and treatment plants, the city can, for the first time, handle the 1.1 billon gallons of sewage residents generate daily, and raw sewage is no longer routinely discharged into the waterways. As a result, the harbor is cleaner than it has been in more than 100 years.</p> <p>This traditional stormwater management moves water as quickly as possible off the land and holds it in tunnels and tanks until it can be treated and discharged into waterways.</p> <p>But when it rains -- and in some areas of the city all it takes is a tenth of an inch -- the volume of wastewater overwhelms the treatment plants. Every year, around 30 billion gallons of sewage mixed with polluted runoff still flow untreated into city waters in what is known as "combined sewer overflows" or CSOs. Some places along the waterways experience such overflows 40 to 50 times a year. Almost a third of the city’s 274 public access points to the waterfront are within three city blocks of a sewage outflow pipe. Because of this, the city often must shut beaches following heavy rains.</p> <p>To help address this problem, many cities in the U.S. and other countries, including <a href="http://www.governing.com/topics/energy-env/proposed-stormwater-plan-philadelphia-emphasizes-green-infrastructure.html">Philadelphia</a>, Chicago and Portland, Ore., have pioneered an ecological approach that harnesses or replicates nature’s ability to soak up and store rain water.</p> <h3>Greener City, Cleaner Harbor</h3> <p>Even before PlaNYC, New York City was using natural systems to handle stormwater in the 10,000-acre Staten Island <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/dep_projects/bluebelt.shtml"> Bluebelt</a>. By preserving streams, ponds and wetlands in 16 drainage corridors, all but one in the southern part of the borough, the Bluebelt handles nearly 36 percent of the island's stormwater -- at a savings of tens of millions of dollars compared to the cost of conventional storm sewers.</p> <p>The task could be more difficult in most other parts of the city. In these densely built areas, capturing stormwater at its source involves hundreds or thousands of small-scale installations. These include green and blue roofs, in which vegetation or flow control devices prevent water from draining off too fast; enhanced tree pits and street plantings that catch and hold runoff underground, allowing it to seep out and water the plants; manmade small wetlands in parks and along roadways; backyard rain barrels; and porous paving that allows water to soak into the earth.</p> <p>For years, suggestions that the Department of Environmental Protection consider using green infrastructure to address the runoff problem "fell on deaf ears," said Larry Levine, a senior attorney in the <a href="http://www.nrdc.org/">Natural Resources Defense Council</a>'s water program. "When the original PlaNYC came along, it was the first point at which the city really started to look seriously at these sustainable stormwater management approaches."</p> <p>PlaNYC spurred the city to make sustainable stormwater management a priority in capital projects for the first time. The plan launched an interagency task force to help agencies share best practices and work together to identify upcoming projects in areas that would benefit from green infrastructure and assess which would be most feasible and cost-effective. Many staff had been waiting a long time for this opportunity and the funding. "Immediately there was an interest from within the agencies to add green elements to their projects," said Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Farrell Sklerov.</p> <p>The Department of Environmental Protection is collaborating with the parks and transportation departments and other city agencies to build dozens of pilot projects, including green roofs, bioswales (narrow vegetated ditches that capture and filter runoff), and enhanced Greenstreets that capture stormwater runoff in addition to rainfall. Researchers are monitoring representative sites in order to make the designs, materials and plantings more effective.</p> <p>The updated PlaNYC notes that some of the pilot projects have already led to new standard designs for bioswales and enhanced tree pits that can be used in most <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/home/home.shtml">Department of Transportation</a> and <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ddc/html/home/home.shtml">Department of Design and Construction</a> road reconstruction projects.</p> <p>The city also is modifying zoning codes and creating financial incentives for incorporating green infrastructure in private development. Zoning amendments require new commercial parking lots to include interior plantings and sidewalk trees, and new developments to plant street trees and, in lower density areas, sidewalk landscaping.</p> <div class="photo"><img class="caption" title="A green roof covers the underground Paerdegat Basin Combined Sewer Overflow Retention Facility near Jamaica, Queens (Photo: New York City Department of Environmental Protection)." src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2011/05/system_lg3.jpg" alt="green roof" width="600" height="378" /></div> <div class="photo">A tax abatement implemented in 2009 provides incentives for building owners to install green roofs. While praising the idea, Levine said in a <a href="http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/llevine/new_columbia_university_study.html">recent blog post</a> that the tax break could be structured better to promote a technology that a recent study found to be “the most cost-effective of the stormwater interventions” considered in PlaNYC.</div> <p>As a next step, the city plans to tighten existing requirements for stormwater management on all new development and redevelopment projects, as well as at construction sites. It will look at ways to charge landowners for runoff, using credits as incentives for them to reduce impervious surfaces.</p> <p>Other initiatives focus on creating design guidelines for city agencies to set consistent standards for green infrastructure. The parks department has been incorporating stormwater capture into park and playground design for some time, including a wooded wetland complex in <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/B018/dailyplant/19832"> Canarsie Park</a> and the 2010 reconstruction of <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/B380/highlights/12591"> Robert Venable Park</a> in Brooklyn. The department is now developing ways to implement <a href="http://www.designtrust.org/publications/publication_11hplg.html"> the best practices</a> for designing and constructing sustainable parks that it developed with the Design Trust for Public Space.</p> <p>"The pendulum has swung, and it's not going to swing back," said parks commissioner Adrian Benepe. "The people who work for us are now part of a generation that sees sustainable design as being part and parcel of landscape design."</p> <p>PlaNYC 2.0 also promises an updated version of the Street Design Manual, which includes a chapter on using and maintaining green infrastructure, street trees and other plantings.</p> <h3>The Green Infrastructure Plan</h3> <p>Providing the underpinning for much of this is the Department of Environmental Protection's <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/stormwater/nyc_green_infrastructure_plan.shtml"> NYC Green Infrastructure Plan</a>. It calls for a combination of green infrastructure, increased capacity from fully cleaning the existing sewer system and the most cost-effective of the traditional controls specified under the consent order.</p> <p>In addition to incorporating stormwater capture into public construction projects, the plan looks to community participation. For the last two years, the department has providedgrants to private property owners, businesses, and not-for-profit organizations to develop innovative green infrastructure.</p> <div class="photo"><img class="caption" style="margin: 0px;" title="Enhanced tree pits, such as this one on Autumn Avenue in Brooklyn, hold runoff underground, allowing it to seep up and water the plants (Photo: New York City Department of Environmental Protection)." src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2011/05/system_lg2.jpg" alt="treee pit" width="600" height="378" /></div> <p>The plan aims to stop runoff from 10 percent of the city's impervious surfaces in the 13 watersheds with combined sewer overflows. In addition to saving money and reducing pollution, planting vegetation and adding green space will beautify the city and clean and cool the air. The agency estimates that implementing the Green Infrastructure Plan would provide as much as $400 million to New Yorkers in reduced energy costs, improved health and increased property values.</p> <p>"You get a tremendous bang for your buck with investment in these green infrastructure approaches, beyond what you can get from building concrete holding tanks that serve only one function," said Levine.</p> <p>In turning to green infrastructure, the <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/home/home.shtml">Department of Environmental Protection</a>is challenging long-term orthodoxy about stormwater management, said Commissioner Cas Holloway at a March community presentation in Brooklyn. "It required a huge cultural shift at the DEP," he said. "We have a lot of engineers who like building in concrete and steel and are good at it."</p> <h3>Greening After Bloomberg</h3> <p>It is impossible to predict how many of the initiatives in PlaNYC 2.0 will continue past the Bloomberg administration, especially in today's climate of fiscal constraint.</p> <p>Already, the city has slowed the timeline for creating the eight new flagship parks announced in the original PlaNYC, raising questions of how many will eventually be built.</p> <p>Protecting the city's remaining wetlands and natural areas so important for water quality, flood protection and wildlife habitat remains a challenge, given constant development pressures and a lack of funding for land conservation. So far, the city has protected just nine of the 89 properties its <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20070422/14/2156">Wetlands Transfer Task Force</a> recommended for transfer to the parks department in 2007.</p> <p>The city has already committed $187 million over the next four years to begin putting the Green Infrastructure Plan into action. The city is now seeking approval to fully implement the plan under its consent order with the state. This will require a great deal of further analysis and refinement, said Levine. "There are a lot of challenges and a lot of work for the city to fully develop this green infrastructure vision in a way that will take root citywide over the long term.”"</p> <p>The plan offers tremendous potential to codify an ecological approach to planning in the city and make it a much greener place. If the plan is approved, said Sklerov, "it will be part of the fabric of the DEP's efforts going forward."</p> <p>"Green infrastructure is the wave of the future," said Bram Gunther, chief of forestry, horticulture and natural resources group at the parks department. "That’s how any city that’s interested in sustaining itself and its public health over time has to view its urban planning."</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" hspace="6" align="right" border="0" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> With State Parks at Risk, Advocates Seek New Funding Sources 2010-12-20T05:00:00+00:00 2010-12-20T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/topics/102-parks/668-with-state-parks-at-risk-advocates-seek-new-funding-sources Anne Schwartz aschwartz@gothamgazette.com <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/12/closing_lg.jpg" alt="Riverbank State Park" height="378" width="600" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/doortoriver/">Ruthanne Reid</a></div> <div class="caption">After layoffs take effect Dec. 31, Riverbank State Park in Manhattan, the fourth most visited of New York's state parks, will lose all four of its rangers and see its hours significantly cut back.</div> </div> <p>When Gov. David Paterson threatened to <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=485:dozens-of-parks-would-close-under-patersons-budget&amp;catid=68:eye-on-albany"> close</a> 88 state parks and historic sites last spring, he unleashed a torrent of public outrage. Legislators said they received more phone calls, letters, emails and petitions on parks than on any other issue.</p> <p>The closings were <a href="http://www.cnycentral.com/news/story.aspx?list=195854&amp;id=462816">averted</a> when the Paterson administration agreed to restore $11 million to the parks budget after legislators consented to slashing the <a href="http://www.dec.ny.gov/about/57551.html"> Environmental Protection Fund</a>, which pays for land acquisition, recycling and other environmental needs. But the park system is still at risk.</p> <div class="photo_left"><a href="https://www.citizensunionfoundation.org/secure/donate/"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/appeal/dec10/donate_button.jpg" alt="" border="0px" height="" width="" /></a></div> <p>Several parks upstate are already slated for closing after the latest <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/politics&amp;id=7751374"> round of layoffs</a> that will go into effect Dec. 31. <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/93/details.aspx">Riverbank State Park</a> in Harlem is losing all four of its rangers, and hours are being significantly curtailed.</p> <p>More than a decade of declining funding for the <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/"> Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation</a> has cut its operations to the bone. Further budget reductions will inevitably lead to more closed parks and hours reduced to the point that sites will not be open when people want to visit.</p> <p>Advocates hope to build on the outpouring of grassroots support last spring to get new funding dedicated to the parks. With the state facing a huge budget gap -- and the new administration vowing not to raise taxes -- parks supporters are looking at new funding mechanisms that could help pay for parks, not just in this current crisis but for the long term.</p> <div class="photo_right"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/11/cuomo_sidebar.jpg" alt="andrew cuomo" height="" width="" /> <br class="clearfloat" /> <!--<div class="sidebar"> <h3>Confronting Cuomo</h3> <p>This is one in an occasional series about the challenges that will face the Cuomo administration when it takes office Jan. 1.</p> <p>Previously:</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Civil%20Rights/20101216/3/3434">Hot-Button Issues</a>: Same-sex marriage may top the civil rights agenda in Albany, but other concerns, including abortion rights, also loom large.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Governing/20101213/17/3430">Ending Gerry's Legacy</a>: Since the first gerrymander in 1812, legislators have drawn district lines to suits themselves. Can Andrew Cuomo change that?</p> <p><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/guilty plea by former State Sen. Leibell again highlights the sorry state of ethics in Albany. Is Gov.-elect Cuomo willing to do what it takes to change that">Rogues' Gallery</a>: The guilty plea by former State Sen. Leibell again highlights the sorry state of ethics in Albany. Is Gov.-elect Cuomo willing to do what it takes to fix things?</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Transportation/20101207/16/3425">Destination Unknown</a>: Andrew Cuomo has not said what he might do about the budget woes facing the MTA. Could congestion pricing rise again?</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/health/20101202/9/3422">Health Care Squeeze</a>: With the state spending $50 billion on Medicaid, Andrew Cuomo faces pressure to cut the program -- and opposition if he does.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Crime%20and%20Safety/20101122/4/3417"> Cuomo's Legacy</a>: As governor, Mario Cuomo vastly expanded New York's prison system. Now his son must decide whether to shut jails and take a different approach to criminal justice.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Albany/20101110/204/3409">Endangered Agency?</a> The deep cuts at the state environment department have crippled the agency, some activists charge. They hope Cuomo will turn things around, but the governor-elect has sent out mixed signals.</p> </div>--></div> <p>In his <a href="http://www.andrewcuomo.com/greenNY"> Cleaner, Greener NY</a> agenda released just before the election, Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo recognized the importance of parks to the state's economy and environment, and pledged to "work to ensure that they stay open for the benefit of all New Yorkers." He did not, though, offer any specifics other than encouraging private-public partnerships and local community involvement. It remains to be seen whether Cuomo will find a way to put one of the nation's great park systems back on a solid footing.</p> <h3>125 Years of Parks</h3> <p>When Paterson made closing the parks a symbol of the need for fiscal austerity during last year's budget negotiations, his message was "parks are a luxury we can't afford."</p> <p>Judging from the impassioned response to the prospect of closings and a rise in <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/newsroom/press-releases/release.aspx?r=821"> park attendance</a>, the public has a different view. "Parks are one of the principal public interfaces of government, where people know they get their tax dollars back," said Eric Kulleseid, a former state parks official who now directs the Alliance for New York State Parks, a group recently launched to increase both public and private support for the parks.</p> <p>New York established the first state park in the nation, creating the <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/46/details.aspx"> Niagara Reservation</a> in 1885 to protect the spectacular falls from encroaching industrialization and allow public access. The state park system now includes 178 parks and 35 historic sites. It provides every kind of outdoor recreation and preserves scenic landscapes, a diversity of plant and animal life and the state and nation's political and cultural history.</p> <p>State parks are also a key component of New York’s tourism industry. They attract 57 million visitors a year, bringing an annual economic boost of $1.9 billion and generating 20,000 jobs (not including parks employees). A <a href="http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/c6d303dc72/publication/399/">2009 study</a> by the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that every dollar invested in state parks (both operating and capital) returns $5 in economic benefits.</p> <p>In many upstate areas hard hit by the economic downturn, parks are a lifeline.</p> <p>"We're very short-sighted if we don't keep all of the parks open," said <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/?ad=4">Steve Engelbright</a>, chair of the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development.</p> <p>There are four state parks in New York City, including Riverbank State Park along the Hudson River, the fourth most visited park in the state. City residents also count on state parks for day trips to escape the summer heat and for affordable vacations. Some of the most popular parks in the system, such as <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/10/details.aspx"> Jones Beach</a> and <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/145/details.aspx"> Harriman</a>, are within easy reach of the city.</p> <h3>State of the State Parks</h3> <p>Like many other states, New York has not made its parks and historic sites a budget priority even in good times. In the decade leading up to the economic crisis, the operating budget of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservationsteadily declined even as the system added 26 new parks.</p> <p>Over the last three years, the agency took an even deeper hit. Even before the showdown over park closures last spring, repeated budget cuts had forced the agency to shorten the season and hours at 100 parks and historic sites. Since 2008, its operating budget was cut seven times, going from $195 million to less than $160 million in the current fiscal year -- an overall cut of 18 percent that surpasses the reductions in other budget areas.</p> <p>As a result, the parks agency staff dropped from 5,000 permanent and seasonal workers in 2008 to less than 3,600 in 2010, with additional positions cut as of January. The cuts strike directly at park maintenance and operation because 90 percent of the agency's staff works in the field.</p> <p>Although last spring’s budget deal restored the bare minimum of funding needed to reopen the parks for the summer, the most recent elimination of staff positions will result in the closing of some parks and facilities, and the reduction of maintenance and hours of operation at others, said Acting Commissioner Andy Beers in <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/newsroom/press-releases/release.aspx?r=831">testimony</a> at a joint hearing of the Assembly standing committees for Parks, Recreation, and Sports Development, and Oversight, Analysis, and Investigation.</p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/12/closing_lg2.jpg" alt="knox farm state park" height="" width="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sumptinelse/">Sonja McAllister</a></div> <div class="caption">On Jan. 1, the state will close Know Fram State ark near Buffalo.</div> </div> <p>As of Jan. 1, the state will shutter <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/163/details.aspx"> Knox Farm State Park</a> outside Buffalo. Two other Buffalo-area parks, <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/45/details.aspx"> Joseph Davis State Park</a> and <a href="http://nysparks.com/parks/47/details.aspx">Woodlawn Beach State Park</a>, will also close unless an agreement is reached for local governments to operate them.</p> <p>In addition to the reductions in services at Riverbank State Park, the cuts would eliminate the sole ranger at Roberto Clemente state park in the Bronx.</p> <p>Beers said that several state historic sites that close for the winter probably will not open in 2011. The agency expects to reduce days and hours of operation, facility maintenance and upkeep, and interpretive programming at some locations, and close swimming pools, nature centers and campgrounds at others, but has not yet determined which sites will be affected.</p> <p>The agency also has a $1 billion backlog of necessary repairs and infrastructure upgrades, according to its own 2010 analysis. Decades of deferred repairs to deteriorating bridges, roads and pools, and sewage, drinking water and electrical systems risk the public's health and safety and make parks less enjoyable to visit.</p> <p>When parks are closed and minimally maintained, they become vulnerable to damage from neglect and vandalism. It endangers the public, creates liabilities for the state and puts the taxpayers' financial investment at risk. Getting bathrooms, buildings, pools, trails and other facilities back in usable condition would likely cost many times the amount saved by budget cuts.</p> <h3>Searching for Solutions</h3> <p>Gearing up for the next legislative season, park advocates hope they can once again harness the enormous public support for state parks to prevent further cuts. To ensure the system’s future viability, they would like to put in place a dedicated funding source for state parks.</p> <p>In November, the Alliance for New York State Parks and <a href="http://www.ptny.org/"> Parks &amp; Trails New York</a>, the statewide advocacy group that organized the opposition to park closings last year, issued a <a href="http://www.allnysparks.org/2010report.pdf"> report</a> calling for an end to cuts and restoration of funding for park operations, an increase in capital funding and a new dedicated mechanism to secure parks funding for the future.</p> <p>"It's time to step back and think creatively about the ways to remedy the situation," said Robin Dropkin, executive director of Parks &amp; Trails New York. "A new, dedicated funding mechanism for parks seems to us the best chance to adequately support our iconic state park system, for ourselves and future generations."</p> <p>Advocates have been gathering ideas from other states in hopes of developing a funding mechanism that would work in New York. One model that bears looking at, they say, is a voluntary vehicle registration fee. Montana has a state parks fee of $4 people pay when they register a vehicle. Drivers can waive the fee by filling out an additional form, but few choose to opt out. In October, Michigan began offering residents an optional $10 annual <a href="http://www.theoaklandpress.com/articles/2010/09/24/news/doc4c9d5b2db9965528973998.txt">"recreation passport"</a> in addition to the vehicle registration fee. The passport gives free access to all state parks, recreation areas and boat launches.</p> <p>Washington, D.C. took another approach last January when it became the first place in the U.S. to establish a <a href="http://www.phoenix.edu/colleges_divisions/natural-sciences/articles/2010/12/the-environmental-impact-of-the-plastic-bag-tax.html"> plastic and paper shopping bag fee</a>. The nickel per bag fee raised $1.1 million in the first half year toward efforts to clean up the Anacostia River and dramatically curtailed plastic bag use.</p> <p>Engelbright said that he would like to see the new administration's budget presentation include supplementary revenue sources such as these. "If we did something like plastic grocery sacks at a penny apiece, and a motor vehicle registration fee and made them both declinable, it could bring in between $60 and $100 million a year," he said. "The interesting thing about the Montana model is, when they made it voluntary and kept the fee nominal, participation was somewhere north of 90 percent."</p> <p>Another way to support the parks, Engelbright said, is by encouraging the creation of highly professional nonprofit organizations supporting individual state parks. He cited the conservancies and friends groups that turned around Central Park and other New York City parks neglected during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. Cuomo placed a strong emphasis on this approach in his environmental agenda.</p> <p>Encouraging park partnerships and raising private contributions is also one of the goals of the newly formed <a href="http://www.osiny.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&amp;id=7797&amp;AddInterest=1141"> Alliance for New York State Parks</a>, which itself operates as a public-private partnership under the auspices of the nonprofit <a href="http://www.osiny.org/site/PageServer?pagename=homepage"> Open Space Institute</a>.</p> <p>Private funding can only go so far. It has become more controversial in New York City, where opponents charge that an increasing reliance on nonprofit park partners and private donations has led to reduced public access and oversight. But Kulleseid noted that the state park system always has had significant contributions from the private sector, going back to the early donations of property for parkland by prominent New York families.</p> <p>Park supporters are heartened by the Cuomo campaign pledge to keep parks open. They are waiting to see what solutions he offers.</p> <p>"I'm hopeful that the new administration takes a look at the outcry that happened last year, understands that parks are an economic driver rather than a drain, and has a different approach," said former parks commissioner Carol Ash in a television <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4RoYGFHTM0&amp;feature=player_embedded"> interview</a>. Ash resigned as commissioner in October and now serves as an advisor to the alliance.</p> <p>With the state facing years of continuing budget deficits and Cuomo determined not to raise taxes, the challenge is enormous. But in hard times, people need parks more than ever. And, as advocates point out, the state can't balance the budget with further cuts to an agency that represents just a tenth of a percent of the total budget.</p> <p>"New York has one of the finest state park systems in the country," said Kulleseid. "What we do here is going to have implications everywhere."</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" align="right" border="0" hspace="6" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/12/closing_lg.jpg" alt="Riverbank State Park" height="378" width="600" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/doortoriver/">Ruthanne Reid</a></div> <div class="caption">After layoffs take effect Dec. 31, Riverbank State Park in Manhattan, the fourth most visited of New York's state parks, will lose all four of its rangers and see its hours significantly cut back.</div> </div> <p>When Gov. David Paterson threatened to <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=485:dozens-of-parks-would-close-under-patersons-budget&amp;catid=68:eye-on-albany"> close</a> 88 state parks and historic sites last spring, he unleashed a torrent of public outrage. Legislators said they received more phone calls, letters, emails and petitions on parks than on any other issue.</p> <p>The closings were <a href="http://www.cnycentral.com/news/story.aspx?list=195854&amp;id=462816">averted</a> when the Paterson administration agreed to restore $11 million to the parks budget after legislators consented to slashing the <a href="http://www.dec.ny.gov/about/57551.html"> Environmental Protection Fund</a>, which pays for land acquisition, recycling and other environmental needs. But the park system is still at risk.</p> <div class="photo_left"><a href="https://www.citizensunionfoundation.org/secure/donate/"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/appeal/dec10/donate_button.jpg" alt="" border="0px" height="" width="" /></a></div> <p>Several parks upstate are already slated for closing after the latest <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/politics&amp;id=7751374"> round of layoffs</a> that will go into effect Dec. 31. <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/93/details.aspx">Riverbank State Park</a> in Harlem is losing all four of its rangers, and hours are being significantly curtailed.</p> <p>More than a decade of declining funding for the <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/"> Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation</a> has cut its operations to the bone. Further budget reductions will inevitably lead to more closed parks and hours reduced to the point that sites will not be open when people want to visit.</p> <p>Advocates hope to build on the outpouring of grassroots support last spring to get new funding dedicated to the parks. With the state facing a huge budget gap -- and the new administration vowing not to raise taxes -- parks supporters are looking at new funding mechanisms that could help pay for parks, not just in this current crisis but for the long term.</p> <div class="photo_right"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/11/cuomo_sidebar.jpg" alt="andrew cuomo" height="" width="" /> <br class="clearfloat" /> <!--<div class="sidebar"> <h3>Confronting Cuomo</h3> <p>This is one in an occasional series about the challenges that will face the Cuomo administration when it takes office Jan. 1.</p> <p>Previously:</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Civil%20Rights/20101216/3/3434">Hot-Button Issues</a>: Same-sex marriage may top the civil rights agenda in Albany, but other concerns, including abortion rights, also loom large.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Governing/20101213/17/3430">Ending Gerry's Legacy</a>: Since the first gerrymander in 1812, legislators have drawn district lines to suits themselves. Can Andrew Cuomo change that?</p> <p><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/guilty plea by former State Sen. Leibell again highlights the sorry state of ethics in Albany. Is Gov.-elect Cuomo willing to do what it takes to change that">Rogues' Gallery</a>: The guilty plea by former State Sen. Leibell again highlights the sorry state of ethics in Albany. Is Gov.-elect Cuomo willing to do what it takes to fix things?</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Transportation/20101207/16/3425">Destination Unknown</a>: Andrew Cuomo has not said what he might do about the budget woes facing the MTA. Could congestion pricing rise again?</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/health/20101202/9/3422">Health Care Squeeze</a>: With the state spending $50 billion on Medicaid, Andrew Cuomo faces pressure to cut the program -- and opposition if he does.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Crime%20and%20Safety/20101122/4/3417"> Cuomo's Legacy</a>: As governor, Mario Cuomo vastly expanded New York's prison system. Now his son must decide whether to shut jails and take a different approach to criminal justice.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Albany/20101110/204/3409">Endangered Agency?</a> The deep cuts at the state environment department have crippled the agency, some activists charge. They hope Cuomo will turn things around, but the governor-elect has sent out mixed signals.</p> </div>--></div> <p>In his <a href="http://www.andrewcuomo.com/greenNY"> Cleaner, Greener NY</a> agenda released just before the election, Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo recognized the importance of parks to the state's economy and environment, and pledged to "work to ensure that they stay open for the benefit of all New Yorkers." He did not, though, offer any specifics other than encouraging private-public partnerships and local community involvement. It remains to be seen whether Cuomo will find a way to put one of the nation's great park systems back on a solid footing.</p> <h3>125 Years of Parks</h3> <p>When Paterson made closing the parks a symbol of the need for fiscal austerity during last year's budget negotiations, his message was "parks are a luxury we can't afford."</p> <p>Judging from the impassioned response to the prospect of closings and a rise in <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/newsroom/press-releases/release.aspx?r=821"> park attendance</a>, the public has a different view. "Parks are one of the principal public interfaces of government, where people know they get their tax dollars back," said Eric Kulleseid, a former state parks official who now directs the Alliance for New York State Parks, a group recently launched to increase both public and private support for the parks.</p> <p>New York established the first state park in the nation, creating the <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/46/details.aspx"> Niagara Reservation</a> in 1885 to protect the spectacular falls from encroaching industrialization and allow public access. The state park system now includes 178 parks and 35 historic sites. It provides every kind of outdoor recreation and preserves scenic landscapes, a diversity of plant and animal life and the state and nation's political and cultural history.</p> <p>State parks are also a key component of New York’s tourism industry. They attract 57 million visitors a year, bringing an annual economic boost of $1.9 billion and generating 20,000 jobs (not including parks employees). A <a href="http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/c6d303dc72/publication/399/">2009 study</a> by the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that every dollar invested in state parks (both operating and capital) returns $5 in economic benefits.</p> <p>In many upstate areas hard hit by the economic downturn, parks are a lifeline.</p> <p>"We're very short-sighted if we don't keep all of the parks open," said <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/?ad=4">Steve Engelbright</a>, chair of the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development.</p> <p>There are four state parks in New York City, including Riverbank State Park along the Hudson River, the fourth most visited park in the state. City residents also count on state parks for day trips to escape the summer heat and for affordable vacations. Some of the most popular parks in the system, such as <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/10/details.aspx"> Jones Beach</a> and <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/145/details.aspx"> Harriman</a>, are within easy reach of the city.</p> <h3>State of the State Parks</h3> <p>Like many other states, New York has not made its parks and historic sites a budget priority even in good times. In the decade leading up to the economic crisis, the operating budget of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservationsteadily declined even as the system added 26 new parks.</p> <p>Over the last three years, the agency took an even deeper hit. Even before the showdown over park closures last spring, repeated budget cuts had forced the agency to shorten the season and hours at 100 parks and historic sites. Since 2008, its operating budget was cut seven times, going from $195 million to less than $160 million in the current fiscal year -- an overall cut of 18 percent that surpasses the reductions in other budget areas.</p> <p>As a result, the parks agency staff dropped from 5,000 permanent and seasonal workers in 2008 to less than 3,600 in 2010, with additional positions cut as of January. The cuts strike directly at park maintenance and operation because 90 percent of the agency's staff works in the field.</p> <p>Although last spring’s budget deal restored the bare minimum of funding needed to reopen the parks for the summer, the most recent elimination of staff positions will result in the closing of some parks and facilities, and the reduction of maintenance and hours of operation at others, said Acting Commissioner Andy Beers in <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/newsroom/press-releases/release.aspx?r=831">testimony</a> at a joint hearing of the Assembly standing committees for Parks, Recreation, and Sports Development, and Oversight, Analysis, and Investigation.</p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/12/closing_lg2.jpg" alt="knox farm state park" height="" width="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sumptinelse/">Sonja McAllister</a></div> <div class="caption">On Jan. 1, the state will close Know Fram State ark near Buffalo.</div> </div> <p>As of Jan. 1, the state will shutter <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/163/details.aspx"> Knox Farm State Park</a> outside Buffalo. Two other Buffalo-area parks, <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/45/details.aspx"> Joseph Davis State Park</a> and <a href="http://nysparks.com/parks/47/details.aspx">Woodlawn Beach State Park</a>, will also close unless an agreement is reached for local governments to operate them.</p> <p>In addition to the reductions in services at Riverbank State Park, the cuts would eliminate the sole ranger at Roberto Clemente state park in the Bronx.</p> <p>Beers said that several state historic sites that close for the winter probably will not open in 2011. The agency expects to reduce days and hours of operation, facility maintenance and upkeep, and interpretive programming at some locations, and close swimming pools, nature centers and campgrounds at others, but has not yet determined which sites will be affected.</p> <p>The agency also has a $1 billion backlog of necessary repairs and infrastructure upgrades, according to its own 2010 analysis. Decades of deferred repairs to deteriorating bridges, roads and pools, and sewage, drinking water and electrical systems risk the public's health and safety and make parks less enjoyable to visit.</p> <p>When parks are closed and minimally maintained, they become vulnerable to damage from neglect and vandalism. It endangers the public, creates liabilities for the state and puts the taxpayers' financial investment at risk. Getting bathrooms, buildings, pools, trails and other facilities back in usable condition would likely cost many times the amount saved by budget cuts.</p> <h3>Searching for Solutions</h3> <p>Gearing up for the next legislative season, park advocates hope they can once again harness the enormous public support for state parks to prevent further cuts. To ensure the system’s future viability, they would like to put in place a dedicated funding source for state parks.</p> <p>In November, the Alliance for New York State Parks and <a href="http://www.ptny.org/"> Parks &amp; Trails New York</a>, the statewide advocacy group that organized the opposition to park closings last year, issued a <a href="http://www.allnysparks.org/2010report.pdf"> report</a> calling for an end to cuts and restoration of funding for park operations, an increase in capital funding and a new dedicated mechanism to secure parks funding for the future.</p> <p>"It's time to step back and think creatively about the ways to remedy the situation," said Robin Dropkin, executive director of Parks &amp; Trails New York. "A new, dedicated funding mechanism for parks seems to us the best chance to adequately support our iconic state park system, for ourselves and future generations."</p> <p>Advocates have been gathering ideas from other states in hopes of developing a funding mechanism that would work in New York. One model that bears looking at, they say, is a voluntary vehicle registration fee. Montana has a state parks fee of $4 people pay when they register a vehicle. Drivers can waive the fee by filling out an additional form, but few choose to opt out. In October, Michigan began offering residents an optional $10 annual <a href="http://www.theoaklandpress.com/articles/2010/09/24/news/doc4c9d5b2db9965528973998.txt">"recreation passport"</a> in addition to the vehicle registration fee. The passport gives free access to all state parks, recreation areas and boat launches.</p> <p>Washington, D.C. took another approach last January when it became the first place in the U.S. to establish a <a href="http://www.phoenix.edu/colleges_divisions/natural-sciences/articles/2010/12/the-environmental-impact-of-the-plastic-bag-tax.html"> plastic and paper shopping bag fee</a>. The nickel per bag fee raised $1.1 million in the first half year toward efforts to clean up the Anacostia River and dramatically curtailed plastic bag use.</p> <p>Engelbright said that he would like to see the new administration's budget presentation include supplementary revenue sources such as these. "If we did something like plastic grocery sacks at a penny apiece, and a motor vehicle registration fee and made them both declinable, it could bring in between $60 and $100 million a year," he said. "The interesting thing about the Montana model is, when they made it voluntary and kept the fee nominal, participation was somewhere north of 90 percent."</p> <p>Another way to support the parks, Engelbright said, is by encouraging the creation of highly professional nonprofit organizations supporting individual state parks. He cited the conservancies and friends groups that turned around Central Park and other New York City parks neglected during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. Cuomo placed a strong emphasis on this approach in his environmental agenda.</p> <p>Encouraging park partnerships and raising private contributions is also one of the goals of the newly formed <a href="http://www.osiny.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&amp;id=7797&amp;AddInterest=1141"> Alliance for New York State Parks</a>, which itself operates as a public-private partnership under the auspices of the nonprofit <a href="http://www.osiny.org/site/PageServer?pagename=homepage"> Open Space Institute</a>.</p> <p>Private funding can only go so far. It has become more controversial in New York City, where opponents charge that an increasing reliance on nonprofit park partners and private donations has led to reduced public access and oversight. But Kulleseid noted that the state park system always has had significant contributions from the private sector, going back to the early donations of property for parkland by prominent New York families.</p> <p>Park supporters are heartened by the Cuomo campaign pledge to keep parks open. They are waiting to see what solutions he offers.</p> <p>"I'm hopeful that the new administration takes a look at the outcry that happened last year, understands that parks are an economic driver rather than a drain, and has a different approach," said former parks commissioner Carol Ash in a television <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4RoYGFHTM0&amp;feature=player_embedded"> interview</a>. Ash resigned as commissioner in October and now serves as an advisor to the alliance.</p> <p>With the state facing years of continuing budget deficits and Cuomo determined not to raise taxes, the challenge is enormous. But in hard times, people need parks more than ever. And, as advocates point out, the state can't balance the budget with further cuts to an agency that represents just a tenth of a percent of the total budget.</p> <p>"New York has one of the finest state park systems in the country," said Kulleseid. "What we do here is going to have implications everywhere."</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" align="right" border="0" hspace="6" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> Creating Open Space Takes Politics and Planning 2010-07-22T05:00:00+00:00 2010-07-22T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/topics/102-parks/565-creating-open-space-takes-politics-and-planning Anne Schwartz aschwartz@gothamgazette.com <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/07/politics_lg.jpg" alt="high line" width="600" height="378" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/zinetv/4072953091/">zinetv</a></div> <div class="caption">Twenty years ago who would have imagined that an abandoned rail line in lower Manhattan would become one of the city's most prized parks?</div> </div> <p>In the 1970s, who could have predicted that in 2010, New Yorkers would take yoga classes on a lush lawn in Bryant Park, enjoy a lunch break in the middle of Broadway or bike to work along the Hudson River? With the restoration of so many parks and the creation of new ones like the <a href="http://www.thehighline.org/">High Line</a> and <a href="http://www.brooklynbridgepark.org/">Brooklyn Bridge Park</a>, outdoor public spaces have become central to life in New York City in a way that hardly could have been imagined just a few decades ago.</p> <p>A similar shift has happened around the country, from Atlanta to Chicago to Portland, Ore., paralleling the reversal of cities' fortunes over the past few decades. "Parks are back on the public agenda," writes park expert Peter Harnik in his new book, <a href="http://islandpress.org/bookstore/detailsd2ee.html">Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities</a>, which explores how to take advantage of this opportunity to weave more green into the urban grid.</p> <p>Drawing on research into American city park systems by the <a href="http://www.tpl.org/tier2_pa.cfm?folder_id=3208">Center for City Park Excellence</a> at the Trust for Public Land, which he directs, Harnik shows how cities have created new parks despite formidable obstacles: lack of space; a shortage of money and conflicting priorities for spending it; disagreements over what to build and where it should go; and resistance to change by everyone from mothers wary of letting anyone other than students use school playgrounds to stormwater engineers unfamiliar with green infrastructure.</p> <p>As the Bloomberg administration begins to gather public input for updating <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/home/home.shtml"> PlaNYC 2030</a>, the city's sustainability plan, which calls for increasing open space, there are many lessons and ideas to be drawn from this optimistic book.</p> <h3>The Importance of Planning</h3> <p>According to Harnik, setting one abstract standard for how much parkland cities should have for a given population does not work for real cities. Every city needs to find its own balance between green space and the other elements that bring them to life, such as museums, theaters, restaurants, shopping and architecture. Even in crowded cities, he notes, some parks are underutilized. More important than simply opening up more space is creating the types of parks people want, in the places where they are most needed.</p> <p>The key to success is a fair, inclusive and transparent master planning process based on an assessment and analysis of current conditions, needs, benefits and public interest and willingness to pay. "It doesn’t do any good to have an open process for soliciting input if the process for making decisions is then secretive, biased or preordained," he writes. The first half of Urban Green covers in detail how a successful planning process works.</p> <p>To see park plans through to completion, a timeline and budget must be an essential part of the process, Harnik cautions. "The budget -- and even the potential opposition aroused by the budget -- is what often serves to motivate, unify and strengthen pro-park activists."</p> <p>He cites Pittsburgh, where a $20 million plan to restore <a href="http://www.pittsburghparks.org/schenley"> Schenley Park</a> gathered dust because Mayor Sophie Masloff feared opposition from voters concerned about taxes and spending, especially in light of the city's financial problems. But when the next mayor, Tom Murphy, reopened the discussion, it sparked tremendous public activity that resulted not only in an improved park, but also the formation of private partnerships and advocacy groups to support the expansion of parks and trails in the city.</p> <p>The worst economy since the Great Depression might not seem like a propitious time to build new parks. But Urban Green includes examples of successful projects costing tens of millions of dollars for which "there was no money" at the outset. Voter surveys show that people in both liberal and conservative areas are willing to pay higher taxes for parks and land conservation. In 2008, ballot measures for creating and restoring parks and preserving open space passed in Charlotte, Tampa, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, Santa Fe and scores of other cities, towns and counties.</p> <h3>Park Politics</h3> <p>Harnik emphasizes the importance of politics in creating a great urban park system -- "politics based on the muscle of grassroots supporters, the brains of sophisticated leadership, and the nerves of elected politicians who know when to stand firm and when to compromise."</p> <p>It is generally agreed that in Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who wrote the preface to this book, New York has a leader who understands the importance of parks and public space to the city's economic and environmental sustainability (and to the health and well-being of its citizens). He has made creating new open space and putting a park within 10 minutes of every resident a major goal of PlaNYC 2030.</p> <p>However laudable, though, the plan emerged largely from the top down, without the goals and ideas for parks and public space emerging from neighborhoods and reflecting their residents' needs and desires. In creating the sustainability plan, the Bloomberg administration met with more than 150 organizations and solicited public input, but it did not undertake a true master planning process.</p> <p>In an effort to help communities throughout the city fill this gap, the citywide parks advocacy group <a href="http://www.ny4p.org/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=30&amp;Itemid=297"> New Yorkers for Parks</a> recently created its own <a href="http://www.ny4p.org/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=493&amp;Itemid=214"> Open Space Index</a>, which sets flexible targets for different types of open space in neighborhoods based on extensive research and widely accepted best practices. The organization hopes that communities will use the index to determine and advocate for their own park and recreation goals, according to Cheryl Huber, deputy director of New Yorkers for Parks.</p> <p>Using the index, New Yorkers for Parks conducted a pilot study on the Lower East Side to assess current open space and recreational options. The group then met with community stakeholders to present the results, get feedback, establish priorities and develop a strategy to gain the agreed upon improvements. With funds from Councilmember <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/district/21">Julissa Ferreras</a>, the organization will use the index to guide the creation of a parks agenda in Jackson Heights, Queens.</p> <h3>Ideas from All Over</h3> <p>Finding space for parks is one of the biggest challenges in built-out urban areas where the price of rare empty lots is high. The second half of Urban Green examines numerous possible solutions to this dilemma from cities around the country including New York. The ideas range from low-tech community gardens to complex engineering projects like decking over highways and reservoirs.</p> <p>A great many of these ideas for squeezing in park access already are being put to the test in New York City as part of PlaNYC 2030 (and even before that), such as turning underused streets into public plazas, installing lighting to make playing fields usable at night, making the former <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_your_park/fresh_kills_park/html/fresh_kills_park.html">Fresh Kills landfill</a> into a park and <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/landuse/20071113/12/2345">opening schoolyards</a> to the community.</p> <p>Former industrial sites offer some of the best opportunities to create a significant amount of new parkland and revitalize city centers at the same time. "As seeds for regrowth, parks are key," Harnik writes. "But they must be reserved, designed and placed in advance of the built environment that will surround them," which, he notes, doesn't come naturally in this country -- or, one might add, in New York City. The city's development-driven culture has led to missed opportunities to create large areas of new parkland around which housing and commerce can grow.</p> <p>One example is the <a href="http://www.barclayscenter.com/about/about_atlanticyards.shtml">Atlantic Yards project</a> in Brooklyn, where an arena and 16 apartment towers are being built partly on a deck covering the Metropolitan Transportation Authority railyards. The <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20060817/14/1938">green space</a> between the apartment buildings is slated to be added last, leading many to fear it will never exist. And even if the project and its parks are completed as planned, a neighborhood with a severe shortage of parks and sports fields will end up with a slightly lower ratio of parkland to resident than it now has.</p> <p>Harnik's book inspires a momentary fantasy of what downtown Brooklyn might have looked like with a new central green space -- one that could have been funded with part of the nearly $300 million subsidy the city and state provided for the arena. A park might even have generated a greater <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/AtlanticYards091009.pdf">economic return</a> than the arena.</p> <h3>Updating the Sustainability Plan</h3> <p>On Earth Day this year, Bloomberg <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/portal/site/nycgov/menuitem.c0935b9a57bb4ef3daf2f1c701c789a0/index.jsp?pageID=mayor_press_release&amp;catID=1194&amp;doc_name=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nyc.gov%2Fhtml%2Fom%2Fhtml%2F2010a%2Fpr177-10.html&amp;cc=unused1978&amp;rc=1194&amp;ndi=1"> announced</a> that his administration would begin updating PlaNYC and invited New Yorkers to <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/home/ideas.shtml">send in their suggestions</a>. Public meetings will be held in the fall, but are not yet scheduled, said Bloomberg spokesman Jason Post.</p> <p>What's next for New York City? To preserve all of our remaining unprotected natural areas, such as <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20100217/14/3183"> Pouch Camp</a> in the heart of the Staten Island Greenbelt? Create an aerial system of parks on the rooftops? Expand and make permanent a network of <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20060717/14/1908">community gardens</a> and farms and teach children to garden in schoolyards, to bring fresh and healthy food into low-income communities? Not very likely. But, then again, what were the odds of creating a stunning park on an old rail line that adjacent property owners wanted to tear down?</p> <p>Reducing dependence on the automobile and reversing land-use patterns that consume forests and farms at an alarming rate will be essential in addressing global warming and meeting the other environmental challenges of the 21st century. Strengthening and creating compact urban cores is an important piece of the puzzle. Great park systems can help create the kind of cities people will want to live in. Urban Green shows that, when the political will is there, parks will follow. Who knows what seemingly impossible green spaces New Yorkers will be enjoying in 2030?</p> <p><em>On Tuesday, July 27, the New York City Parks Department is presenting a <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/events/2010/07/27/freshkills-park-talks-innovative-parks-for-resurgent-cities">talk</a> by author Peter Harnik on Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities. It will take place in the Arsenal in Central Park at 6 p.m.</em></p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" hspace="6" align="right" border="0" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/07/politics_lg.jpg" alt="high line" width="600" height="378" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/zinetv/4072953091/">zinetv</a></div> <div class="caption">Twenty years ago who would have imagined that an abandoned rail line in lower Manhattan would become one of the city's most prized parks?</div> </div> <p>In the 1970s, who could have predicted that in 2010, New Yorkers would take yoga classes on a lush lawn in Bryant Park, enjoy a lunch break in the middle of Broadway or bike to work along the Hudson River? With the restoration of so many parks and the creation of new ones like the <a href="http://www.thehighline.org/">High Line</a> and <a href="http://www.brooklynbridgepark.org/">Brooklyn Bridge Park</a>, outdoor public spaces have become central to life in New York City in a way that hardly could have been imagined just a few decades ago.</p> <p>A similar shift has happened around the country, from Atlanta to Chicago to Portland, Ore., paralleling the reversal of cities' fortunes over the past few decades. "Parks are back on the public agenda," writes park expert Peter Harnik in his new book, <a href="http://islandpress.org/bookstore/detailsd2ee.html">Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities</a>, which explores how to take advantage of this opportunity to weave more green into the urban grid.</p> <p>Drawing on research into American city park systems by the <a href="http://www.tpl.org/tier2_pa.cfm?folder_id=3208">Center for City Park Excellence</a> at the Trust for Public Land, which he directs, Harnik shows how cities have created new parks despite formidable obstacles: lack of space; a shortage of money and conflicting priorities for spending it; disagreements over what to build and where it should go; and resistance to change by everyone from mothers wary of letting anyone other than students use school playgrounds to stormwater engineers unfamiliar with green infrastructure.</p> <p>As the Bloomberg administration begins to gather public input for updating <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/home/home.shtml"> PlaNYC 2030</a>, the city's sustainability plan, which calls for increasing open space, there are many lessons and ideas to be drawn from this optimistic book.</p> <h3>The Importance of Planning</h3> <p>According to Harnik, setting one abstract standard for how much parkland cities should have for a given population does not work for real cities. Every city needs to find its own balance between green space and the other elements that bring them to life, such as museums, theaters, restaurants, shopping and architecture. Even in crowded cities, he notes, some parks are underutilized. More important than simply opening up more space is creating the types of parks people want, in the places where they are most needed.</p> <p>The key to success is a fair, inclusive and transparent master planning process based on an assessment and analysis of current conditions, needs, benefits and public interest and willingness to pay. "It doesn’t do any good to have an open process for soliciting input if the process for making decisions is then secretive, biased or preordained," he writes. The first half of Urban Green covers in detail how a successful planning process works.</p> <p>To see park plans through to completion, a timeline and budget must be an essential part of the process, Harnik cautions. "The budget -- and even the potential opposition aroused by the budget -- is what often serves to motivate, unify and strengthen pro-park activists."</p> <p>He cites Pittsburgh, where a $20 million plan to restore <a href="http://www.pittsburghparks.org/schenley"> Schenley Park</a> gathered dust because Mayor Sophie Masloff feared opposition from voters concerned about taxes and spending, especially in light of the city's financial problems. But when the next mayor, Tom Murphy, reopened the discussion, it sparked tremendous public activity that resulted not only in an improved park, but also the formation of private partnerships and advocacy groups to support the expansion of parks and trails in the city.</p> <p>The worst economy since the Great Depression might not seem like a propitious time to build new parks. But Urban Green includes examples of successful projects costing tens of millions of dollars for which "there was no money" at the outset. Voter surveys show that people in both liberal and conservative areas are willing to pay higher taxes for parks and land conservation. In 2008, ballot measures for creating and restoring parks and preserving open space passed in Charlotte, Tampa, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, Santa Fe and scores of other cities, towns and counties.</p> <h3>Park Politics</h3> <p>Harnik emphasizes the importance of politics in creating a great urban park system -- "politics based on the muscle of grassroots supporters, the brains of sophisticated leadership, and the nerves of elected politicians who know when to stand firm and when to compromise."</p> <p>It is generally agreed that in Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who wrote the preface to this book, New York has a leader who understands the importance of parks and public space to the city's economic and environmental sustainability (and to the health and well-being of its citizens). He has made creating new open space and putting a park within 10 minutes of every resident a major goal of PlaNYC 2030.</p> <p>However laudable, though, the plan emerged largely from the top down, without the goals and ideas for parks and public space emerging from neighborhoods and reflecting their residents' needs and desires. In creating the sustainability plan, the Bloomberg administration met with more than 150 organizations and solicited public input, but it did not undertake a true master planning process.</p> <p>In an effort to help communities throughout the city fill this gap, the citywide parks advocacy group <a href="http://www.ny4p.org/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=30&amp;Itemid=297"> New Yorkers for Parks</a> recently created its own <a href="http://www.ny4p.org/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=493&amp;Itemid=214"> Open Space Index</a>, which sets flexible targets for different types of open space in neighborhoods based on extensive research and widely accepted best practices. The organization hopes that communities will use the index to determine and advocate for their own park and recreation goals, according to Cheryl Huber, deputy director of New Yorkers for Parks.</p> <p>Using the index, New Yorkers for Parks conducted a pilot study on the Lower East Side to assess current open space and recreational options. The group then met with community stakeholders to present the results, get feedback, establish priorities and develop a strategy to gain the agreed upon improvements. With funds from Councilmember <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/district/21">Julissa Ferreras</a>, the organization will use the index to guide the creation of a parks agenda in Jackson Heights, Queens.</p> <h3>Ideas from All Over</h3> <p>Finding space for parks is one of the biggest challenges in built-out urban areas where the price of rare empty lots is high. The second half of Urban Green examines numerous possible solutions to this dilemma from cities around the country including New York. The ideas range from low-tech community gardens to complex engineering projects like decking over highways and reservoirs.</p> <p>A great many of these ideas for squeezing in park access already are being put to the test in New York City as part of PlaNYC 2030 (and even before that), such as turning underused streets into public plazas, installing lighting to make playing fields usable at night, making the former <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_your_park/fresh_kills_park/html/fresh_kills_park.html">Fresh Kills landfill</a> into a park and <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/landuse/20071113/12/2345">opening schoolyards</a> to the community.</p> <p>Former industrial sites offer some of the best opportunities to create a significant amount of new parkland and revitalize city centers at the same time. "As seeds for regrowth, parks are key," Harnik writes. "But they must be reserved, designed and placed in advance of the built environment that will surround them," which, he notes, doesn't come naturally in this country -- or, one might add, in New York City. The city's development-driven culture has led to missed opportunities to create large areas of new parkland around which housing and commerce can grow.</p> <p>One example is the <a href="http://www.barclayscenter.com/about/about_atlanticyards.shtml">Atlantic Yards project</a> in Brooklyn, where an arena and 16 apartment towers are being built partly on a deck covering the Metropolitan Transportation Authority railyards. The <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20060817/14/1938">green space</a> between the apartment buildings is slated to be added last, leading many to fear it will never exist. And even if the project and its parks are completed as planned, a neighborhood with a severe shortage of parks and sports fields will end up with a slightly lower ratio of parkland to resident than it now has.</p> <p>Harnik's book inspires a momentary fantasy of what downtown Brooklyn might have looked like with a new central green space -- one that could have been funded with part of the nearly $300 million subsidy the city and state provided for the arena. A park might even have generated a greater <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/AtlanticYards091009.pdf">economic return</a> than the arena.</p> <h3>Updating the Sustainability Plan</h3> <p>On Earth Day this year, Bloomberg <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/portal/site/nycgov/menuitem.c0935b9a57bb4ef3daf2f1c701c789a0/index.jsp?pageID=mayor_press_release&amp;catID=1194&amp;doc_name=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nyc.gov%2Fhtml%2Fom%2Fhtml%2F2010a%2Fpr177-10.html&amp;cc=unused1978&amp;rc=1194&amp;ndi=1"> announced</a> that his administration would begin updating PlaNYC and invited New Yorkers to <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/home/ideas.shtml">send in their suggestions</a>. Public meetings will be held in the fall, but are not yet scheduled, said Bloomberg spokesman Jason Post.</p> <p>What's next for New York City? To preserve all of our remaining unprotected natural areas, such as <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20100217/14/3183"> Pouch Camp</a> in the heart of the Staten Island Greenbelt? Create an aerial system of parks on the rooftops? Expand and make permanent a network of <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20060717/14/1908">community gardens</a> and farms and teach children to garden in schoolyards, to bring fresh and healthy food into low-income communities? Not very likely. But, then again, what were the odds of creating a stunning park on an old rail line that adjacent property owners wanted to tear down?</p> <p>Reducing dependence on the automobile and reversing land-use patterns that consume forests and farms at an alarming rate will be essential in addressing global warming and meeting the other environmental challenges of the 21st century. Strengthening and creating compact urban cores is an important piece of the puzzle. Great park systems can help create the kind of cities people will want to live in. Urban Green shows that, when the political will is there, parks will follow. Who knows what seemingly impossible green spaces New Yorkers will be enjoying in 2030?</p> <p><em>On Tuesday, July 27, the New York City Parks Department is presenting a <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/events/2010/07/27/freshkills-park-talks-innovative-parks-for-resurgent-cities">talk</a> by author Peter Harnik on Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities. It will take place in the Arsenal in Central Park at 6 p.m.</em></p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" hspace="6" align="right" border="0" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> Pitting Parks Against Open Space 2010-06-16T05:00:00+00:00 2010-06-16T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/topics/102-parks/542-pitting-parks-against-open-space Anne Schwartz aschwartz@gothamgazette.com <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/06/parks_lg.jpg" alt="Hudson river park" width="600" height="378" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/newyorkobserver/3893532009/">Gotham Lost and Found</a></div> <div class="caption">A view from Hudson River Park, one of several city parks that received money from the state Environmental Protection Fund.</div> </div> <p>Singling out the state parks and environment for symbolic belt-tightening, Gov. David Paterson last month pressured the state legislature into accepting steep and disproportionate cuts to conservation funding in exchange for reopening 55 shuttered parks and historic sites in time for the Memorial Day weekend.</p> <p>With the budget two months late and negotiations stalled, the governor chose an area representing less than one quarter of a percent of the total budget to launch his strategy of forcing cuts through <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=534:paterson-ups-the-pressure-for-a-budget-deal-&amp;catid=68:eye-on-albany"> temporary budget extender bills</a> needed to keep the state operating.</p> <p>In a move that has troubling implications for the future of the city and state's environment, legislators were cornered into choosing between two programs that have broad public support -- the state parks and the <a href="http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/rsilberblatt/what_is_the_environmental_prot.htm">l Environmental Protection Fund</a>, the state's main source of capital expenditures for open space and farmland preservation, parks and recreation, historic preservation, waterfront revitalization and recycling.</p> <p>"There is no free lunch," Paterson said in a press release. "If legislators want to fully fund the parks, that money must come from a real source."</p> <p>The closure of parks earlier in the spring for the first time in New York's history raised a huge outcry among constituents who are using state parks in greater numbers than ever (Memorial Day weekend visits were <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/newsroom/press-releases/release.aspx?r=794"> up 17 percent</a> from last year) and from upstate towns that depend on park-related tourism revenue.</p> <h3>Funded by the Fund</h3> <p>The Environmental Protection Fund, which gets most of its revenue from the real estate transfer tax, also has tremendous constituent support, said Assemblymember <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/?ad=011"> Robert K. Sweeney</a> of Suffolk County, who chairs the committee on environmental conservation.</p> <p>New York City has received more than $200 million from the fund over the past decade and a half to help protect some of its last tracts of open space, build parks and trails such as <a href="http://www.hudsonriverpark.org/index.asp"> Hudson River Park</a>, the <a href="http://www.brooklyngreenway.org/">Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway</a>, the <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/M208B/dailyplant/20180">Harlem River Greenway</a> and the <a href="http://www.bronxriver.org/?pg=content&amp;p=aboutus&amp;m1=1&amp;m2=3">Bronx River</a> greenway, and to restore <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=530:can-the-city-and-the-oyster-save-jamaica-bay&amp;catid=51:environment">Jamaica Bay's</a> disappearing wetlands. The Environmental Protection Fund has preserved land upstate around the city's reservoirs as well as farms that supply locally grown produce.</p> <p>Over the past several years, the state has raided the fund of $500 million of unspent money that was earmarked for pending projects. With this year's cut of 37 percent, the fund will have little money left for new efforts, including a proposed conservation easement on <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=453:famed-scout-camp-threatened-by-public-private-budget-crisis&amp;catid=51:environment">Pouch Camp</a> in the heart of the Staten Island Greenbelt. The 143-acre Boy Scout camp may be sold for development unless the funds can be found to preserve it.</p> <p>"Opening parks is great, but doing so at the expense of our other natural resources is a violation of the public's trust," said Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York <a href="http://www.nylcv.org/">League of Conservation Voters</a>.</p> <h3>Out of Context</h3> <p>Determining these two parts of the budget in a vacuum has deprived the public and legislators of the opportunity to consider priorities in the context of the larger budget and to weigh spending on parks and the environment against the economic returns and savings. Parks and conservation are often considered a luxury -- a view Paterson apparently shares -- but, to the contrary, investing in the environment has been shown to bring significant economic benefits.</p> <p>One recent <a href="http://www.njkeepitgreen.org/documents/Press_Release_06_17_09_OpenSpace_EconomicValue_001.pdf">analysis</a> from New Jersey found that every dollar invested in a bond measure for conservation would return $10 in economic benefits such as farm and fish products, outdoor recreation and ecosystem services such as flood prevention.</p> <p>Yet the state routinely allocates an amount almost equivalent to this year's entire Environmental Protection Fund appropriation to individual brick and mortar projects whose benefits flow primarily to a few large corporations or developers, such as <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/AtlanticYards091009.pdf">$104 million</a> for infrastructure for one private sports arena at Atlantic Yards and $63 million to subsidize <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/yankeesmets011409.pdf"> parking garages for the benefit of the privately owned New York Yankees</a>.</p> <p>And, like so many decisions that led the state into the current budget mess, skimping on the environment trades savings now for much higher costs in the future. It is far less expensive to protect open space around watersheds, for example, than to build the costly infrastructure needed to treat water once it's contaminated.</p> <p>By cutting appropriations for open space and farmland preservation, the state will also forfeit significant federal and local matching funds and miss out on the current <a href="http://www.stateline.org/live/details/story?contentId=488961">buyer's market</a> for land acquisition.</p> <h3>Hitting Conservation Hard</h3> <p>The final agreement on parks reached late in May sliced $78 million from last year's Environmental Protection Fund funding of $212 million. This leaves the fund with $134 million -- less than half of the $300 million per year it was supposed to reach by 2010 under the 2007 Environmental Protection Fund Enhancement Act.</p> <p>Land conservation took the largest hit. Funds for open space were reduced from $58.9 million to $17.6 million, although legislators overturned the governor's moratorium on land acquisition and kept the program alive. The agreement cut farmland preservation from $22 million to $10.7 million.</p> <p>One bright spot for parks was an increase, to $16 million from $5 million last year, for stewardship (such as restoring habitat, improving safety and rehabilitating infrastructure) and access to state parks and natural areas. This reflects Paterson's <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?newsdate=6/10/2010&amp;navigation =nextprior&amp;category=COMMENTARY&amp;storyID=900432"> position</a>that rather than acquiring new land the state should take care of what it already owns.</p> <p>The legislation, however, pared funding for municipal parks by a third, largely by decreasing spending on inner city and underserved areas and reducing appropriations to the Hudson River Park from $6 million to $3 million. "The deal benefits state parks but is pretty injurious to the municipal parks program," said Robert Moore, executive director of <a href="http://www.eany.org/"> Environmental Advocates</a>, a private watchdog group.</p> <p>Waterfront revitalization received half of the previous year's amount. Zoos, botanic gardens and aquariums, however, were spared, and remain at the same funding level as last year, $9 million.</p> <p>Legislators claimed some victories, including preventing the use of actual Environmental Protection funds for parks operating expenses as well as for $5 million of Forest Preserve payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs). Although it might seem logical to pay for these programs out of a fund for the environment, advocates say it would have set a dangerous precedent.</p> <p>"I had a terrible vision that it would be $5 million this year, $10 million the next year, and pretty soon the entire EPF would be Forest Preserve PILOTs and agency management," said Assemblymember Sweeney.</p> <p>The governor sweetened the deal for legislators who opposed cutting the fund by throwing in long-sought legislation mandating <a href="http://www.legislativegazette.com/Articles-c-2010-06-07-68344.113122_Ewaste_legislation_passes_EPF_takes_a_hit.html"> recycling of electronic equipment</a>, with $4 million in new fees dedicated to the Environmental Protection Fund.</p> <h3>The Future of the EPF</h3> <p>The <a href="http://www.dec.ny.gov/about/57551.html"> Environmental Protection Fund</a> was created to provide a reliable source of funding, in good times and bad, to protect the state's environment and public health. Legislation establishing the fund noted that "the preservation, enhancement, restoration, improvement and stewardship of the state's environment are among the government's most fundamental obligations."</p> <p>Although the Environmental Protection Fund is supposedly dedicated money for the environment, over the years the governor and legislature have treated it as a handy source of cash to plug budget holes, both through "sweeps" of unspent funds and reductions in annual appropriations.</p> <p>"Money that was supposed to be waiting in the account was removed, so it creates a backlog. It's getting to the point where we are using current year appropriations for projects initiated in past years. We are starting to look backward instead of to the future," said Jessica Ottney, director of state government relations for <a href="http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/newyork/"> The Nature Conservancy in New York</a>.</p> <p>"The ability of the Environmental Protection Fund to function properly requires a commitment on the part of both houses and the governor, and right now the governor part of the equation is missing," said Sweeney.</p> <p>Even the fund's 2008 high-water mark of $250 million fell far short of what other, less populous states have dedicated to preserving open space and creating parks per capita. Last year, New Jersey voters <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/?tabid=19257"> approved</a> a two-year $400 million conservation bond. In 2008, the citizens of Minnesota <a href="http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/news/features/amendment.html"> passed</a> a three-eighths of a cent sales tax surcharge for land and water conservation, parks and the arts that is expected to raise $290 million this year.</p> <p>The crushing budget deficit, the disarray of the state government, and this year's disproportionate cut to the Environmental Protection Fund do not bode well for New York state's parks, open space, farmland and water supplies.</p> <p>Yet, as the enormous reaction to closing the parks demonstrated, the public cares deeply about parks, open space and protecting the environment. "All the polling that we've done in New York state shows that voters understand the benefits of these funds and are consistently willing to contribute through whatever funding mechanism the polls suggest toward public investment in open space and clean water protection," said Ottney. "We've seen those be consistent throughout this economic decline."</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" hspace="6" align="right" border="0" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/06/parks_lg.jpg" alt="Hudson river park" width="600" height="378" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/newyorkobserver/3893532009/">Gotham Lost and Found</a></div> <div class="caption">A view from Hudson River Park, one of several city parks that received money from the state Environmental Protection Fund.</div> </div> <p>Singling out the state parks and environment for symbolic belt-tightening, Gov. David Paterson last month pressured the state legislature into accepting steep and disproportionate cuts to conservation funding in exchange for reopening 55 shuttered parks and historic sites in time for the Memorial Day weekend.</p> <p>With the budget two months late and negotiations stalled, the governor chose an area representing less than one quarter of a percent of the total budget to launch his strategy of forcing cuts through <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=534:paterson-ups-the-pressure-for-a-budget-deal-&amp;catid=68:eye-on-albany"> temporary budget extender bills</a> needed to keep the state operating.</p> <p>In a move that has troubling implications for the future of the city and state's environment, legislators were cornered into choosing between two programs that have broad public support -- the state parks and the <a href="http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/rsilberblatt/what_is_the_environmental_prot.htm">l Environmental Protection Fund</a>, the state's main source of capital expenditures for open space and farmland preservation, parks and recreation, historic preservation, waterfront revitalization and recycling.</p> <p>"There is no free lunch," Paterson said in a press release. "If legislators want to fully fund the parks, that money must come from a real source."</p> <p>The closure of parks earlier in the spring for the first time in New York's history raised a huge outcry among constituents who are using state parks in greater numbers than ever (Memorial Day weekend visits were <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/newsroom/press-releases/release.aspx?r=794"> up 17 percent</a> from last year) and from upstate towns that depend on park-related tourism revenue.</p> <h3>Funded by the Fund</h3> <p>The Environmental Protection Fund, which gets most of its revenue from the real estate transfer tax, also has tremendous constituent support, said Assemblymember <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/?ad=011"> Robert K. Sweeney</a> of Suffolk County, who chairs the committee on environmental conservation.</p> <p>New York City has received more than $200 million from the fund over the past decade and a half to help protect some of its last tracts of open space, build parks and trails such as <a href="http://www.hudsonriverpark.org/index.asp"> Hudson River Park</a>, the <a href="http://www.brooklyngreenway.org/">Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway</a>, the <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/M208B/dailyplant/20180">Harlem River Greenway</a> and the <a href="http://www.bronxriver.org/?pg=content&amp;p=aboutus&amp;m1=1&amp;m2=3">Bronx River</a> greenway, and to restore <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=530:can-the-city-and-the-oyster-save-jamaica-bay&amp;catid=51:environment">Jamaica Bay's</a> disappearing wetlands. The Environmental Protection Fund has preserved land upstate around the city's reservoirs as well as farms that supply locally grown produce.</p> <p>Over the past several years, the state has raided the fund of $500 million of unspent money that was earmarked for pending projects. With this year's cut of 37 percent, the fund will have little money left for new efforts, including a proposed conservation easement on <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=453:famed-scout-camp-threatened-by-public-private-budget-crisis&amp;catid=51:environment">Pouch Camp</a> in the heart of the Staten Island Greenbelt. The 143-acre Boy Scout camp may be sold for development unless the funds can be found to preserve it.</p> <p>"Opening parks is great, but doing so at the expense of our other natural resources is a violation of the public's trust," said Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York <a href="http://www.nylcv.org/">League of Conservation Voters</a>.</p> <h3>Out of Context</h3> <p>Determining these two parts of the budget in a vacuum has deprived the public and legislators of the opportunity to consider priorities in the context of the larger budget and to weigh spending on parks and the environment against the economic returns and savings. Parks and conservation are often considered a luxury -- a view Paterson apparently shares -- but, to the contrary, investing in the environment has been shown to bring significant economic benefits.</p> <p>One recent <a href="http://www.njkeepitgreen.org/documents/Press_Release_06_17_09_OpenSpace_EconomicValue_001.pdf">analysis</a> from New Jersey found that every dollar invested in a bond measure for conservation would return $10 in economic benefits such as farm and fish products, outdoor recreation and ecosystem services such as flood prevention.</p> <p>Yet the state routinely allocates an amount almost equivalent to this year's entire Environmental Protection Fund appropriation to individual brick and mortar projects whose benefits flow primarily to a few large corporations or developers, such as <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/AtlanticYards091009.pdf">$104 million</a> for infrastructure for one private sports arena at Atlantic Yards and $63 million to subsidize <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/yankeesmets011409.pdf"> parking garages for the benefit of the privately owned New York Yankees</a>.</p> <p>And, like so many decisions that led the state into the current budget mess, skimping on the environment trades savings now for much higher costs in the future. It is far less expensive to protect open space around watersheds, for example, than to build the costly infrastructure needed to treat water once it's contaminated.</p> <p>By cutting appropriations for open space and farmland preservation, the state will also forfeit significant federal and local matching funds and miss out on the current <a href="http://www.stateline.org/live/details/story?contentId=488961">buyer's market</a> for land acquisition.</p> <h3>Hitting Conservation Hard</h3> <p>The final agreement on parks reached late in May sliced $78 million from last year's Environmental Protection Fund funding of $212 million. This leaves the fund with $134 million -- less than half of the $300 million per year it was supposed to reach by 2010 under the 2007 Environmental Protection Fund Enhancement Act.</p> <p>Land conservation took the largest hit. Funds for open space were reduced from $58.9 million to $17.6 million, although legislators overturned the governor's moratorium on land acquisition and kept the program alive. The agreement cut farmland preservation from $22 million to $10.7 million.</p> <p>One bright spot for parks was an increase, to $16 million from $5 million last year, for stewardship (such as restoring habitat, improving safety and rehabilitating infrastructure) and access to state parks and natural areas. This reflects Paterson's <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?newsdate=6/10/2010&amp;navigation =nextprior&amp;category=COMMENTARY&amp;storyID=900432"> position</a>that rather than acquiring new land the state should take care of what it already owns.</p> <p>The legislation, however, pared funding for municipal parks by a third, largely by decreasing spending on inner city and underserved areas and reducing appropriations to the Hudson River Park from $6 million to $3 million. "The deal benefits state parks but is pretty injurious to the municipal parks program," said Robert Moore, executive director of <a href="http://www.eany.org/"> Environmental Advocates</a>, a private watchdog group.</p> <p>Waterfront revitalization received half of the previous year's amount. Zoos, botanic gardens and aquariums, however, were spared, and remain at the same funding level as last year, $9 million.</p> <p>Legislators claimed some victories, including preventing the use of actual Environmental Protection funds for parks operating expenses as well as for $5 million of Forest Preserve payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs). Although it might seem logical to pay for these programs out of a fund for the environment, advocates say it would have set a dangerous precedent.</p> <p>"I had a terrible vision that it would be $5 million this year, $10 million the next year, and pretty soon the entire EPF would be Forest Preserve PILOTs and agency management," said Assemblymember Sweeney.</p> <p>The governor sweetened the deal for legislators who opposed cutting the fund by throwing in long-sought legislation mandating <a href="http://www.legislativegazette.com/Articles-c-2010-06-07-68344.113122_Ewaste_legislation_passes_EPF_takes_a_hit.html"> recycling of electronic equipment</a>, with $4 million in new fees dedicated to the Environmental Protection Fund.</p> <h3>The Future of the EPF</h3> <p>The <a href="http://www.dec.ny.gov/about/57551.html"> Environmental Protection Fund</a> was created to provide a reliable source of funding, in good times and bad, to protect the state's environment and public health. Legislation establishing the fund noted that "the preservation, enhancement, restoration, improvement and stewardship of the state's environment are among the government's most fundamental obligations."</p> <p>Although the Environmental Protection Fund is supposedly dedicated money for the environment, over the years the governor and legislature have treated it as a handy source of cash to plug budget holes, both through "sweeps" of unspent funds and reductions in annual appropriations.</p> <p>"Money that was supposed to be waiting in the account was removed, so it creates a backlog. It's getting to the point where we are using current year appropriations for projects initiated in past years. We are starting to look backward instead of to the future," said Jessica Ottney, director of state government relations for <a href="http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/newyork/"> The Nature Conservancy in New York</a>.</p> <p>"The ability of the Environmental Protection Fund to function properly requires a commitment on the part of both houses and the governor, and right now the governor part of the equation is missing," said Sweeney.</p> <p>Even the fund's 2008 high-water mark of $250 million fell far short of what other, less populous states have dedicated to preserving open space and creating parks per capita. Last year, New Jersey voters <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/?tabid=19257"> approved</a> a two-year $400 million conservation bond. In 2008, the citizens of Minnesota <a href="http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/news/features/amendment.html"> passed</a> a three-eighths of a cent sales tax surcharge for land and water conservation, parks and the arts that is expected to raise $290 million this year.</p> <p>The crushing budget deficit, the disarray of the state government, and this year's disproportionate cut to the Environmental Protection Fund do not bode well for New York state's parks, open space, farmland and water supplies.</p> <p>Yet, as the enormous reaction to closing the parks demonstrated, the public cares deeply about parks, open space and protecting the environment. "All the polling that we've done in New York state shows that voters understand the benefits of these funds and are consistently willing to contribute through whatever funding mechanism the polls suggest toward public investment in open space and clean water protection," said Ottney. "We've seen those be consistent throughout this economic decline."</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" hspace="6" align="right" border="0" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> Vendor Rules Promise Less Art, More Cupcakes in City Parks 2010-04-14T05:00:00+00:00 2010-04-14T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/topics/102-parks/497-vendor-rules-promise-less-art-more-cupcakes-in-city-parks Christian Wolan boucouvalas@gothamgazette.com <p></p> <div class="photo"><img width="600" height="378" alt="street vendors" src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/04/cart_lg.jpg" /> <div class="caption">Mohammad Ali sells hot dogs Downtown.</div> </div> <p>Spring in New York means cherry blossoms in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Yankees home opener and the return of vendors to city parks. But while the cherry trees are performing as usual and the Yankees returned to the Bronx to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/sports/baseball/14yankees.html">defeat the Angels</a> yesterday, fewer vendors may peddle their wares in city parks this year.</p> <p>New <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_about/rules_and_regulations/pdf/proposed_rule_change_04_2010.pdf"> rules proposed by the </a> <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/index.php"> Department of Parks and Recreation would </a><a href="http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/05/artists-and-vendors-bristle-at-proposed-limits/">limit the number</a><a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_about/rules_and_regulations/pdf/proposed_rule_change_04_2010.pdf"> of artists</a> selling their goods in Manhattan's most popular parks. These restrictions on vending come as the city has begun auctioning park spots to food vendors and cracking down on cart and table owners who leave their goods unattended. The rules and penalties, which the city argues are needed to combat irksome and sometimes dangerous congestion, complicate the already difficult situation for thousands of men and women who sell everything from paintings to pretzels on New York's busy streets.</p> <h3>Art in the Parks</h3> <p>For decades, parks have provided a safe refuge for artists to sell their work. Stroll through Battery Park or Union Square on a weekend and you will likely see over a hundred artists displaying their work. But as the parks department proposes new rules to ease congestion, many artists will need to find a new spot or a new job.</p> <p>Unlike vendors who sell hot dogs or handbags, those who vend "expressive matter," such as books, paintings and photographs, are protected by the First Amendment. This has allowed art vendors to display their goods inside city parks, while purveyors of more mundane goods, such as hot dogs, cannot.</p> <p>The department has tried repeatedly to rid the parks of art vendors, but always lost in the courts. Its latest attempt would restrict the number of art vendors to 9 in Battery Park, 18 in Union Square, 5 on the High Line, and 49 in Central Park’s high-traffic areas. If the new regulations pass, the spots will be distributed on a first come, first serve basis, potentially pitting artist against artist.</p> <p>The department will hold a hearing on the proposal on April 23.</p> <p>"The three park locations that the proposed rules effects … have seen a dramatic increase in street vendors," Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro said. "This has caused the parks department to come up with new regulations to find a balance between vendors and visitors."</p> <p>The rule changes could mean the end of a way of life for many artists. Two years ago, Samira Deroucha lost her job tutoring French. To pay her bills, she began selling her paintings in Union Square.</p> <p>Deroucha, who emigrated from France in 2001, said the new rules would create more than just a financial loss. "Union Square is one of the only places where local artists can express themselves," she said. "The street artists market is on every single tourist guide, and it would be a loss to the city if they got rid of us."</p> <div class="photo"><img width="" height="" alt="street vendor" src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/04/cart2_lg.jpg" /> <div class="caption">Jampa Jordan sells photos in Columbus Circle. While selling of food and clothing is restricted, photos and other "expressive matter" is protected by the First Amendment. The city, though, wants to put some limits on the art vendors, as well.</div> </div> <p>"If these rules pass we're going to defy them and sue the city," said <a href="http://knol.google.com/k/selling-art-on-the-street-the-basics">Robert Lederman</a>, the president of A.R.T.I.S.T., or Artists' Response To Illegal State Tactics, an advocacy group that represents about 1,500 street artists. Lederman and fellow art vendors will protest the rule changes before the parks department’s public hearing next week.</p> <p>Castro said the law is on the city's side. The proposed rules, he said, don't "violate anyone's first amendment rights. Government has the right to place restrictions based on time, place, and manner."</p> <h3>Hold the Mustard</h3> <p>Many of the art vendors, though, suspect the limit is an attempt to privatize city parks and get vendors to bid on spots.</p> <p>Recently, the department granted <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cake-Shake/133001152748"> Cake &amp; Shake</a> a permit to sell gourmet cupcakes in front the Metropolitan Museum, an area that has been off limits to most food vendors. In return, Cake &amp; Shake <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/food/2010/04/08/2010-04-08_cupcakes_agrave_la_cart_coming_to_streets.html"> will pay</a> $108,000 to the city. The cupcake vendor also will pay $27,000 for a spot in Washington Square Park.</p> <p>For years, the city <a href="http://www.chrisbernardo.com/2009/08/parks-department-evicts-hot-dog-vendor-from-pricey-spot-near-metropolitan-museum-of-art-over-rent.html"> auctioned</a> spots around the Metropolitan Museum of Art to food vendors. The permitting more or less fell apart, though, when military veterans set up shop, saying they could sell without leasing the spot from the city. Last summer, the city <a href="http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/police-crack-down-on-food-vendors-outside-the-met/">cracked down</a>, forcing out most of the hot dog vendors.</p> <p>Now the parks department wants vendors back -- but not just any vendors. After <a href="http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/from-apex-of-hot-dog-world-even-pyramids-look-small/">reportedly saying</a> it was looking for "healthy options," the administration selected Cake &amp; Shake, a Long Island based company that sells $3 cupcakes and $5 shakes.</p> <h3>Mean Streets</h3> <p>Castro said any vendors forced off the museum steps or out of the major Manhattan parks still will be allowed to "sell their goods in other city parks and the thousands of miles of city sidewalks." Hakim Elnagar might tell him that's not as easy as it might sound.</p> <p>Standing on 42nd Street, two blocks west of Times Square, Elnagar watches as the flow of pedestrians quietly pass by his cart. In over half an hour only one person stops to ask for a pretzel.</p> <p>Elnagar left Egypt 13 years ago to find a better life for his family. As he has tried to build his business, he has found that the life of a street vendor is not easy. He and his fellow vendors must contend with rival pushcarts and local businesses, with tickets and police, and with a system of licensing that has created a black market of illegal permits.</p> <p>On Friday, Elnagar will appear in court to contest a ticket he received for vending in a bus stop. Elnagar said he will argue that the bus in question is a private tour bus that parked illegally and that his cart remains more than 100 feet away from a city bus stop.</p> <p>The stakes for Elnagar are high. The maximum penalty for such violations <a href="http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C05E4D9113EF930A1575BC0A9639C8B63">reaches $1,000</a>, a lot of money for the average street vendor, who typically brings in about $14,000 to $17,000 a year. In the past year alone, Elnagar received 17 tickets, most, he says, he did not deserve.</p> <p>"The biggest problem that vendors have is tickets," said Sean Basinski, the director of the Urban Justice Center's <a href="http://streetvendor.org/">Street Vendor Project</a>, an advocacy group that provides legal representation for street vendors. Shuffling through a large pile of tickets, which has been growing over the past two months, Basinski picks out a few he views as particularly ridiculous: a shish kabob seller who left his cart window open, a fruit vender with a moldy blueberry, and vendor whose cooler stuck out from under his table. Police officers fine these slight infractions, Basinski says, because street vendors are "easy targets."</p> <p>"The vendor probably won't speak English, probably won't complain, probably won't file a complaint and probably won't even be able to read what the ticket is for," he said.</p> <p>To combat the ticketing, the Street Vendor Project provides measuring tape and cameras while encouraging its member to take down the names and badge numbers of police officers. Basinski admits that this is sometimes easier said then done. Some police officers roll up their windows and write tickets from inside their patrol car without giving vendors a chance to get names or ask questions.</p> <p>Elnagar has contested tickets before and knows how the process works. He is confident the charges will be dropped, but even if he wins, Elnagar will still take a loss. "The captain says, 'I'm sorry for the wrong violation,' but what does sorry do for me?" he asked. "You take a day away from me, and the 50, 60, 70 dollars I make for my kids."</p> <p>"We work hard, we want a good life," he said. "We try, we try, but we get nothing,"</p> <p>To further complicate the picture, in January, the health department began to enforce its policy of removing the license sof vendors who leaves their carts unattended. Under the new policy, "Any mobile food vending unit which is found to be unattended or which a vendor has abandoned shall be considered an imminent health hazard."</p> <p>The policy has come under criticism for leaving vendors unable to answer when nature calls. On Feb. 23, street vendors <a href="http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/archives/2010/02/street_vendor_p.php">protested</a> outside the health department's offices after peanut vender Mohammed Shirajul Islam <a href="http://gothamist.com/2010/02/22/peanut_vendor_loses_permit_for_usin.php"> lost his license</a> for taking too long a bathroom break.</p> <p>According to the health department, "The department’s rules do not prevent vendors from taking short breaks, but leaving food unsupervised poses a serious health hazard as it subjects the food to possible tampering." Critics, though, claim that anyone who wants to tamper with food does not need to wait for a vendor to relieve himself, but only to walk to the salad bar at the local grocery store.</p> <h3>Crowding the Streets</h3> <p>While the vendors see themselves as small businesspeople struggling to make a living and provide a service, many brick and mortar businesses have a different view of street selling. "It's a huge problem for our commercial and retail businesses," said Joseph Timpone, the director of operations for the <a href="http://www.downtownny.com/"> Downtown Alliance</a>. "It’s a problem for pedestrians trying to get around."</p> <p>"We have areas where there is no vending allowed at all, and every day we have people setting up in the World Trade Center, a problem for the thousands who take the PATH," he said.</p> <p>Unlicensed vendors and those who ignore vending laws cause dangerous "traffic conditions," according to the Manhattan district attorney's office. On Canal Street, pedestrians often must step into the road to avoid sidewalks clogged by handbag, t-shirt, and luggage vendors.</p> <p>In 2009, the First Precinct, covering much of downtown Manhattan, arrested 810 unlicensed vendors. The Midtown North and Midtown South Precincts arrested 284, and 416 unlicensed vendors, respectively.</p> <h3>Black Market</h3> <p>In 1979, the city placed a cap on the number of licenses available, about 3,000 for food vendors and <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dca/html/licenses/094.shtml">853 for general merchandise</a>. In 2008, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiative to get healthy food into poor neighborhoods <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/searchlight/20080304/203/2454"> resulted in the approval</a> of 1,000 new "green carts" for fruit and vegetable vendors.</p> <p>There is a loophole, though. The cap has not <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dca/html/licenses/094.shtml"> applied to veterans</a> since World War II veteran Joseph Kaswan <a href="http://article//20040322/200/923"> cited a Civil War era law</a> to challenge a ban on street vendors in midtown.</p> <p>Even with that exemption, the competition for licenses remains strong. At one point the city established a waiting list for individuals wanting to obtain a vending license. So many applied, though, that the city has not accepted any new names 2002.</p> <p>With the market largely frozen, vendors who retire or move on to other occupations, continue to renew their licenses every two years for a $200 fee, and then rent them out for upward of $12,000. By some estimates, nearly two thirds of the food licenses are obtained in this way.</p> <p>The health department has taken steps to combat the practice, but some feel their efforts have not gone far enough. To encourage people to report the illicit sales, the Street Vendors Project has proposed that vendors who report illegal license brokers receive a chance to obtain their licenses legally, and become sidewalk entrepreneurs.</p> <p>Then, though, they would be on their own.</p> <p></p> <div class="photo"><img width="600" height="378" alt="street vendors" src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/04/cart_lg.jpg" /> <div class="caption">Mohammad Ali sells hot dogs Downtown.</div> </div> <p>Spring in New York means cherry blossoms in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Yankees home opener and the return of vendors to city parks. But while the cherry trees are performing as usual and the Yankees returned to the Bronx to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/sports/baseball/14yankees.html">defeat the Angels</a> yesterday, fewer vendors may peddle their wares in city parks this year.</p> <p>New <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_about/rules_and_regulations/pdf/proposed_rule_change_04_2010.pdf"> rules proposed by the </a> <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/index.php"> Department of Parks and Recreation would </a><a href="http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/05/artists-and-vendors-bristle-at-proposed-limits/">limit the number</a><a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_about/rules_and_regulations/pdf/proposed_rule_change_04_2010.pdf"> of artists</a> selling their goods in Manhattan's most popular parks. These restrictions on vending come as the city has begun auctioning park spots to food vendors and cracking down on cart and table owners who leave their goods unattended. The rules and penalties, which the city argues are needed to combat irksome and sometimes dangerous congestion, complicate the already difficult situation for thousands of men and women who sell everything from paintings to pretzels on New York's busy streets.</p> <h3>Art in the Parks</h3> <p>For decades, parks have provided a safe refuge for artists to sell their work. Stroll through Battery Park or Union Square on a weekend and you will likely see over a hundred artists displaying their work. But as the parks department proposes new rules to ease congestion, many artists will need to find a new spot or a new job.</p> <p>Unlike vendors who sell hot dogs or handbags, those who vend "expressive matter," such as books, paintings and photographs, are protected by the First Amendment. This has allowed art vendors to display their goods inside city parks, while purveyors of more mundane goods, such as hot dogs, cannot.</p> <p>The department has tried repeatedly to rid the parks of art vendors, but always lost in the courts. Its latest attempt would restrict the number of art vendors to 9 in Battery Park, 18 in Union Square, 5 on the High Line, and 49 in Central Park’s high-traffic areas. If the new regulations pass, the spots will be distributed on a first come, first serve basis, potentially pitting artist against artist.</p> <p>The department will hold a hearing on the proposal on April 23.</p> <p>"The three park locations that the proposed rules effects … have seen a dramatic increase in street vendors," Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro said. "This has caused the parks department to come up with new regulations to find a balance between vendors and visitors."</p> <p>The rule changes could mean the end of a way of life for many artists. Two years ago, Samira Deroucha lost her job tutoring French. To pay her bills, she began selling her paintings in Union Square.</p> <p>Deroucha, who emigrated from France in 2001, said the new rules would create more than just a financial loss. "Union Square is one of the only places where local artists can express themselves," she said. "The street artists market is on every single tourist guide, and it would be a loss to the city if they got rid of us."</p> <div class="photo"><img width="" height="" alt="street vendor" src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/04/cart2_lg.jpg" /> <div class="caption">Jampa Jordan sells photos in Columbus Circle. While selling of food and clothing is restricted, photos and other "expressive matter" is protected by the First Amendment. The city, though, wants to put some limits on the art vendors, as well.</div> </div> <p>"If these rules pass we're going to defy them and sue the city," said <a href="http://knol.google.com/k/selling-art-on-the-street-the-basics">Robert Lederman</a>, the president of A.R.T.I.S.T., or Artists' Response To Illegal State Tactics, an advocacy group that represents about 1,500 street artists. Lederman and fellow art vendors will protest the rule changes before the parks department’s public hearing next week.</p> <p>Castro said the law is on the city's side. The proposed rules, he said, don't "violate anyone's first amendment rights. Government has the right to place restrictions based on time, place, and manner."</p> <h3>Hold the Mustard</h3> <p>Many of the art vendors, though, suspect the limit is an attempt to privatize city parks and get vendors to bid on spots.</p> <p>Recently, the department granted <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cake-Shake/133001152748"> Cake &amp; Shake</a> a permit to sell gourmet cupcakes in front the Metropolitan Museum, an area that has been off limits to most food vendors. In return, Cake &amp; Shake <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/food/2010/04/08/2010-04-08_cupcakes_agrave_la_cart_coming_to_streets.html"> will pay</a> $108,000 to the city. The cupcake vendor also will pay $27,000 for a spot in Washington Square Park.</p> <p>For years, the city <a href="http://www.chrisbernardo.com/2009/08/parks-department-evicts-hot-dog-vendor-from-pricey-spot-near-metropolitan-museum-of-art-over-rent.html"> auctioned</a> spots around the Metropolitan Museum of Art to food vendors. The permitting more or less fell apart, though, when military veterans set up shop, saying they could sell without leasing the spot from the city. Last summer, the city <a href="http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/police-crack-down-on-food-vendors-outside-the-met/">cracked down</a>, forcing out most of the hot dog vendors.</p> <p>Now the parks department wants vendors back -- but not just any vendors. After <a href="http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/from-apex-of-hot-dog-world-even-pyramids-look-small/">reportedly saying</a> it was looking for "healthy options," the administration selected Cake &amp; Shake, a Long Island based company that sells $3 cupcakes and $5 shakes.</p> <h3>Mean Streets</h3> <p>Castro said any vendors forced off the museum steps or out of the major Manhattan parks still will be allowed to "sell their goods in other city parks and the thousands of miles of city sidewalks." Hakim Elnagar might tell him that's not as easy as it might sound.</p> <p>Standing on 42nd Street, two blocks west of Times Square, Elnagar watches as the flow of pedestrians quietly pass by his cart. In over half an hour only one person stops to ask for a pretzel.</p> <p>Elnagar left Egypt 13 years ago to find a better life for his family. As he has tried to build his business, he has found that the life of a street vendor is not easy. He and his fellow vendors must contend with rival pushcarts and local businesses, with tickets and police, and with a system of licensing that has created a black market of illegal permits.</p> <p>On Friday, Elnagar will appear in court to contest a ticket he received for vending in a bus stop. Elnagar said he will argue that the bus in question is a private tour bus that parked illegally and that his cart remains more than 100 feet away from a city bus stop.</p> <p>The stakes for Elnagar are high. The maximum penalty for such violations <a href="http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C05E4D9113EF930A1575BC0A9639C8B63">reaches $1,000</a>, a lot of money for the average street vendor, who typically brings in about $14,000 to $17,000 a year. In the past year alone, Elnagar received 17 tickets, most, he says, he did not deserve.</p> <p>"The biggest problem that vendors have is tickets," said Sean Basinski, the director of the Urban Justice Center's <a href="http://streetvendor.org/">Street Vendor Project</a>, an advocacy group that provides legal representation for street vendors. Shuffling through a large pile of tickets, which has been growing over the past two months, Basinski picks out a few he views as particularly ridiculous: a shish kabob seller who left his cart window open, a fruit vender with a moldy blueberry, and vendor whose cooler stuck out from under his table. Police officers fine these slight infractions, Basinski says, because street vendors are "easy targets."</p> <p>"The vendor probably won't speak English, probably won't complain, probably won't file a complaint and probably won't even be able to read what the ticket is for," he said.</p> <p>To combat the ticketing, the Street Vendor Project provides measuring tape and cameras while encouraging its member to take down the names and badge numbers of police officers. Basinski admits that this is sometimes easier said then done. Some police officers roll up their windows and write tickets from inside their patrol car without giving vendors a chance to get names or ask questions.</p> <p>Elnagar has contested tickets before and knows how the process works. He is confident the charges will be dropped, but even if he wins, Elnagar will still take a loss. "The captain says, 'I'm sorry for the wrong violation,' but what does sorry do for me?" he asked. "You take a day away from me, and the 50, 60, 70 dollars I make for my kids."</p> <p>"We work hard, we want a good life," he said. "We try, we try, but we get nothing,"</p> <p>To further complicate the picture, in January, the health department began to enforce its policy of removing the license sof vendors who leaves their carts unattended. Under the new policy, "Any mobile food vending unit which is found to be unattended or which a vendor has abandoned shall be considered an imminent health hazard."</p> <p>The policy has come under criticism for leaving vendors unable to answer when nature calls. On Feb. 23, street vendors <a href="http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/archives/2010/02/street_vendor_p.php">protested</a> outside the health department's offices after peanut vender Mohammed Shirajul Islam <a href="http://gothamist.com/2010/02/22/peanut_vendor_loses_permit_for_usin.php"> lost his license</a> for taking too long a bathroom break.</p> <p>According to the health department, "The department’s rules do not prevent vendors from taking short breaks, but leaving food unsupervised poses a serious health hazard as it subjects the food to possible tampering." Critics, though, claim that anyone who wants to tamper with food does not need to wait for a vendor to relieve himself, but only to walk to the salad bar at the local grocery store.</p> <h3>Crowding the Streets</h3> <p>While the vendors see themselves as small businesspeople struggling to make a living and provide a service, many brick and mortar businesses have a different view of street selling. "It's a huge problem for our commercial and retail businesses," said Joseph Timpone, the director of operations for the <a href="http://www.downtownny.com/"> Downtown Alliance</a>. "It’s a problem for pedestrians trying to get around."</p> <p>"We have areas where there is no vending allowed at all, and every day we have people setting up in the World Trade Center, a problem for the thousands who take the PATH," he said.</p> <p>Unlicensed vendors and those who ignore vending laws cause dangerous "traffic conditions," according to the Manhattan district attorney's office. On Canal Street, pedestrians often must step into the road to avoid sidewalks clogged by handbag, t-shirt, and luggage vendors.</p> <p>In 2009, the First Precinct, covering much of downtown Manhattan, arrested 810 unlicensed vendors. The Midtown North and Midtown South Precincts arrested 284, and 416 unlicensed vendors, respectively.</p> <h3>Black Market</h3> <p>In 1979, the city placed a cap on the number of licenses available, about 3,000 for food vendors and <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dca/html/licenses/094.shtml">853 for general merchandise</a>. In 2008, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiative to get healthy food into poor neighborhoods <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/searchlight/20080304/203/2454"> resulted in the approval</a> of 1,000 new "green carts" for fruit and vegetable vendors.</p> <p>There is a loophole, though. The cap has not <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dca/html/licenses/094.shtml"> applied to veterans</a> since World War II veteran Joseph Kaswan <a href="http://article//20040322/200/923"> cited a Civil War era law</a> to challenge a ban on street vendors in midtown.</p> <p>Even with that exemption, the competition for licenses remains strong. At one point the city established a waiting list for individuals wanting to obtain a vending license. So many applied, though, that the city has not accepted any new names 2002.</p> <p>With the market largely frozen, vendors who retire or move on to other occupations, continue to renew their licenses every two years for a $200 fee, and then rent them out for upward of $12,000. By some estimates, nearly two thirds of the food licenses are obtained in this way.</p> <p>The health department has taken steps to combat the practice, but some feel their efforts have not gone far enough. To encourage people to report the illicit sales, the Street Vendors Project has proposed that vendors who report illegal license brokers receive a chance to obtain their licenses legally, and become sidewalk entrepreneurs.</p> <p>Then, though, they would be on their own.</p> Dozens of Parks Would Close Under Paterson's Budget 2010-03-30T05:00:00+00:00 2010-03-30T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/topics/102-parks/485-dozens-of-parks-would-close-under-patersons-budget Anne Schwartz aschwartz@gothamgazette.com <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/03/park_lg.jpg" alt="parks, riverbank state park" width="600" height="378" /> <div class="photocredit">Anne Schwartz</div> <div class="caption">Under Gov. David Paterson's budget, Riverbank State Park in Harlem would see its hours reduced and some programs cut.</div> </div> <p>As state legislators and Gov. David Paterson negotiate next year's budget, for the first time in the state's history the possibility of closing state parks and historic sites is on the table.</p> <p>To help address a $9 billion shortfall in the budget for the coming year, Paterson is proposing a $29 million cut to the operating budget of the <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/">Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation</a>, on top of a $49 million reduction over the last two years -- a total of about 40 percent. The agency <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/newsroom/press-releases/release.aspx?r=772"> says</a> that $11.3 million of the cuts can be achieved only by <a href="http://www.ptny.org/pdfs/Press%20Release/advocacy_press/Park_Closures_leg_list.pdf">closing</a> 91 state parks and historic sites and reducing services in 40 additional locations.</p> <p>The cuts would sharply curtail hours and programs at several parks within New York City, as well close all or part of a number of parks, including <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/10/details.aspx"> Jones Beach State Park</a> and <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/127/details.aspx">Minnewaska State Park Preserve</a>, popular with city residents.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www.nysenate.gov/press-release/senate-majority-committed-saving-our-parks">Senate</a> and <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20100324/">Assembly</a> budget resolutions restore enough money to keep the parks open, for this year at least, though anything can happen when the final budget resolution is negotiated by the Senate majority leader, Assembly speaker and governor.</p> <p>That the state is even considering closing half of its 178 parks and historic sites is deeply troubling for the future of the state park system, which already has an estimated $650 million capital backlog of repair and rehabilitation projects. Its 325,000 acres include roads, dams and bridges, more than a thousand miles of trails, 5,000 buildings (including dozens of historic structures), more than 8,000 campsites, and golf courses, pools, beaches, marinas and boat launches.</p> <h3>A National Trend</h3> <p>New York is not alone. Facing crushing budget shortfalls, many governors and legislators around the country want to sweep the pocket change spent on state parks and use it toward closing budget deficits, as detailed by a recent <a href="http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nrpa/201003/index.php?startid=34">article</a> in Parks &amp; Recreation magazine. (A notable exception is Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, whose austere budget proposal keeps parks open "so that struggling New Jersey families will have an affordable, in-state place to vacation this summer.")</p> <p>Arizona already has begun <a href="http://www.pr.state.az.us/press/2010/PR_01-15-10.html">shutting down</a> state parks, striking fear into towns dependent on tourism and raising questions about <a href="http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/2010/02/21/20100221parks0221.html">securing archaeological treasures</a>. Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed eliminating nearly all of the California park system's operating support, which would have closed 80 percent of state parks, although that drastic action has been <a href="http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/nation/ap/61520922.html"> forestalled</a> for the time being.</p> <p>The prospect of shuttering New York State parks has generated outrage and set off a <a href="http://www.longislandpress.com/2010/03/05/state-parks-advocates-rally-on-l-i-across-ny/">wave of rallies</a> from Long Island to Buffalo, as residents have organized to defend their local park. According to a Siena College <a href="http://www.siena.edu/uploadedfiles/home/parents_and_community/community_page/sri/sny_poll/10%20March%2022%20SNY%20Poll%20Release%20--%20FINAL.pdf">poll</a> released March 22, voters "strongly oppose" closing the parks, by a 9-1 margin.</p> <p>"No one disagrees that we have a severe budget shortfall," said Sen. <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/albany/district/senate28">JosĂ© Serrano</a>, chair of the Senate Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation. "But if you look at the numbers, over the past years, parks have had to bear the brunt. Even in good stock markets and budget surpluses, the state never did enough to maintain the capital structure within parks and increase programs."</p> <p>It may not even be legal to close most of the parks or facilities on the list. Most of the state's parks have received grants from the federal <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20040120/14/845">Land and Water Conservation Fund</a>, a dedicated funding source for land conservation, parks and recreation. One part of the program provides matching grants for state and local projects. To protect the federal investment, the law governing state grants contains <a href="http://www.nps.gov/ncrc/programs/lwcf/protect.html"> strong protections</a> to assure that project sites remain used as intended. In response to a question on this issue by New York Democratic Rep. <a href="http://www.house.gov/hinchey/">Maurice Hinchey</a> at a recent congressional hearing, National Park Service director Jon Jarvis <a href="http://www.house.gov/list/press/ny22_hinchey/morenews/03192010stateparks.html"> confirmed</a> that parks funded in part with federal money must remain open to the public.</p> <p>Advocates fear that if parks are closed it might be years before they can be reopened. Leaving parks unstaffed and minimally maintained makes them vulnerable to damage from neglect and vandalism, putting at risk decades of public investment. Getting bathrooms, buildings, pools, trails and other facilities back in usable condition would likely cost many times the minimal amount saved by the closures.</p> <p>"Closing parks would cause more harm than any problems it would solve," said Shawn McConnell, director of the Campaign for Parks at <a href="http://www.ptny.org/">Parks &amp; Trails New York</a>, a statewide advocacy group. "Even during the Great Depression, our government did not close parks. In fact, the president felt parks were important enough to invest in and made them part of the plan to revitalize the economy and nation. That's what parks could be today."</p> <h3>Costs and Benefits of State Parks</h3> <p>Asked why the parks agency received a disproportionate cut thought even it represents a quarter of a percent of the total state budget, Matt Anderson, spokesperson for the New York State Division of the Budget, said that even small reductions add up to "an important component of our deficit reduction plan. While parks are certainly important, it doesn't have the same health and safety issues" as health care, law enforcement, prisons or other "direct care environments."</p> <p>Advocates say this view is shortsighted and ignores the importance of parks and recreational programs for public health, especially at a time when the government is trying to address increasing rates of obesity.</p> <p>Park programs can also reduce crime and other social problems. When park programs are cut, "one of the things that's lost is the potential to address jobs creation for at-risk youth," said Richard Dolesh, chief of public policy at the <a href="http://www.nrpa.org/"> National Recreation and Park Association</a>. "Park programs have been a traditional source of part-time and summer jobs. They have produced tremendous value for a minimal amount of money spent. It's healthy outdoor work that teaches basic jobs skills and instills self-discipline, self-reliance and a sense of self-confidence."</p> <p>Aside from these benefits, studies show that state parks, in New York and throughout the country, generate quantifiable economic benefits for a minimal cost.</p> <p>A <a href="http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/c6d303dc72/publication/399/">study</a> by the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts Amherst last year found that every dollar invested in state parks (both operating and capital expenses) returns $5 in economic benefits. Direct spending by the parks agency and by visitors to state parks supports up to $1.9 billion in output and sales, $440 million in employment income and 20,000 jobs.</p> <p>Analyses conducted in other states, including <a href="http://tn.gov/environment/parks/economic_impact/">Tennessee</a>, <a href="http://www.maine.gov/doc/parks/publications/EcConMEStateParksAllandCov.pdf"> Maine</a> and <a href="http://www.nj.gov/dep/dsr/economics/parks-factsheet.pdf"> New Jersey</a>, showed that the parks are vital generators of direct and indirect spending, tax revenues and jobs far in excess of the money the states spent on operating the parks.</p> <p>Last year, 56 million people visited New York State parks, an increase of 2 million over the previous year. Closing parks would wreak havoc on upstate towns that depend on tourism and further depress tax revenues.</p> <h3>The Impact on New York City</h3> <p>While the majority of parks slated for closure are upstate, New York City residents would also feel the effects of park closures and service reductions.</p> <p><a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/93/details.aspx">Riverbank State Park</a>, for example, is slated for a budget cut of $785,000 that would reduce its operating hours by 40 percent, close the outdoor swimming pool and eliminate all programs for seniors as well as musical and theatrical performances. Riverbank was used by more than 3.4 million people in 2009, making it the fourth most visited park in the state, close behind Jones Beach State Park. The Paterson budget also would close <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/86/details.aspx">Bayswater Point State Park</a> in Queens; cut operating hours at <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/140/details.aspx"> Roberto Clemente State Park</a> in the Bronx; and shut <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/166/details.aspx">Clay Pits Pond Park</a> in Staten Island two days a week. Numerous parks in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Putnam and Ulster counties that are popular day trips for city residents also would be completely or partially closed.</p> <p>Community advocates say reducing operations at Riverbank State Park would break the agreement the government made with residents to provide a park in exchange for their accepting the sewage treatment plan in their midst. <a href="http://www.cb9m.org/">Manhattan Community Board 9</a> passed a resolution opposing the cuts.</p> <p>The 28-acre park was built on top of the controversial <a href="http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/ny.html">North River Sewage Treatment Plant</a> to appease the community. Though at first dubious of the park and its high price tag, neighborhood residents have come to embrace it. In addition to providing recreation and relaxation, the park has become a nexus of the community, with sports teams, a summer camp, holiday events, senior programs, and activities and outreach for youth.</p> <p>"The state promised us an Olympic-sized pool, hockey rink, football field, running track, and all kinds of indoor gym space, the cultural center. That was the deal. We take the sewage and we get the park," said Brad Taylor, a local activist. "And now, they're saying they are going to cut back on the hours, open at 11 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. It's completely reneging on this commitment that they made, that as long as we're treating sewage for a good part of the city, we're going to have a fully operational park."</p> <p>On an unseasonably mild Friday afternoon in mid-March, the park's esplanade and winter-bleached lawns attracted mothers with strollers, children in their school uniforms, teens practicing dance routines, and various people sitting on benches soaking in the sun and the spectacular river view. Soccer and baseball games were in full swing, while the sound of hockey pucks reverberated from inside the rink.</p> <p>A couple sat a picnic table while their sons, 6 and 8, ran around on the grass. "Last year our kids came here for the swimming classes," said the father, who said his name was Amado. "They are going to close the pool and cut hours. We come today to see if we can register them for baseball. Because of the cuts they can't register anybody."</p> <p>A mother taking her two girls to the playground said, "My husband and I both run here. My kids swim in the outdoor pool. We come here on weekends. I like the park because it's so safe, and honestly, I'm worried that the cuts will reduce safety."</p> <p>Less than two years ago, at the <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/newsroom/press-releases/release.aspx?r=669">15th anniversary</a> of the park's opening, a state official said, "It's hard to imagine life in Harlem today without Riverbank State Park. … Families have come to rely on Riverbank as a place for healthy recreation, spirited competition, and inspiring arts and entertainment. It is a tremendous community asset, and we need to make sure it remains vital and accessible for many years to come." That official was Gov. Paterson.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" hspace="6" align="right" border="0" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2010/03/park_lg.jpg" alt="parks, riverbank state park" width="600" height="378" /> <div class="photocredit">Anne Schwartz</div> <div class="caption">Under Gov. David Paterson's budget, Riverbank State Park in Harlem would see its hours reduced and some programs cut.</div> </div> <p>As state legislators and Gov. David Paterson negotiate next year's budget, for the first time in the state's history the possibility of closing state parks and historic sites is on the table.</p> <p>To help address a $9 billion shortfall in the budget for the coming year, Paterson is proposing a $29 million cut to the operating budget of the <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/">Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation</a>, on top of a $49 million reduction over the last two years -- a total of about 40 percent. The agency <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/newsroom/press-releases/release.aspx?r=772"> says</a> that $11.3 million of the cuts can be achieved only by <a href="http://www.ptny.org/pdfs/Press%20Release/advocacy_press/Park_Closures_leg_list.pdf">closing</a> 91 state parks and historic sites and reducing services in 40 additional locations.</p> <p>The cuts would sharply curtail hours and programs at several parks within New York City, as well close all or part of a number of parks, including <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/10/details.aspx"> Jones Beach State Park</a> and <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/127/details.aspx">Minnewaska State Park Preserve</a>, popular with city residents.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www.nysenate.gov/press-release/senate-majority-committed-saving-our-parks">Senate</a> and <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20100324/">Assembly</a> budget resolutions restore enough money to keep the parks open, for this year at least, though anything can happen when the final budget resolution is negotiated by the Senate majority leader, Assembly speaker and governor.</p> <p>That the state is even considering closing half of its 178 parks and historic sites is deeply troubling for the future of the state park system, which already has an estimated $650 million capital backlog of repair and rehabilitation projects. Its 325,000 acres include roads, dams and bridges, more than a thousand miles of trails, 5,000 buildings (including dozens of historic structures), more than 8,000 campsites, and golf courses, pools, beaches, marinas and boat launches.</p> <h3>A National Trend</h3> <p>New York is not alone. Facing crushing budget shortfalls, many governors and legislators around the country want to sweep the pocket change spent on state parks and use it toward closing budget deficits, as detailed by a recent <a href="http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nrpa/201003/index.php?startid=34">article</a> in Parks &amp; Recreation magazine. (A notable exception is Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, whose austere budget proposal keeps parks open "so that struggling New Jersey families will have an affordable, in-state place to vacation this summer.")</p> <p>Arizona already has begun <a href="http://www.pr.state.az.us/press/2010/PR_01-15-10.html">shutting down</a> state parks, striking fear into towns dependent on tourism and raising questions about <a href="http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/2010/02/21/20100221parks0221.html">securing archaeological treasures</a>. Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed eliminating nearly all of the California park system's operating support, which would have closed 80 percent of state parks, although that drastic action has been <a href="http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/nation/ap/61520922.html"> forestalled</a> for the time being.</p> <p>The prospect of shuttering New York State parks has generated outrage and set off a <a href="http://www.longislandpress.com/2010/03/05/state-parks-advocates-rally-on-l-i-across-ny/">wave of rallies</a> from Long Island to Buffalo, as residents have organized to defend their local park. According to a Siena College <a href="http://www.siena.edu/uploadedfiles/home/parents_and_community/community_page/sri/sny_poll/10%20March%2022%20SNY%20Poll%20Release%20--%20FINAL.pdf">poll</a> released March 22, voters "strongly oppose" closing the parks, by a 9-1 margin.</p> <p>"No one disagrees that we have a severe budget shortfall," said Sen. <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/albany/district/senate28">JosĂ© Serrano</a>, chair of the Senate Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation. "But if you look at the numbers, over the past years, parks have had to bear the brunt. Even in good stock markets and budget surpluses, the state never did enough to maintain the capital structure within parks and increase programs."</p> <p>It may not even be legal to close most of the parks or facilities on the list. Most of the state's parks have received grants from the federal <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20040120/14/845">Land and Water Conservation Fund</a>, a dedicated funding source for land conservation, parks and recreation. One part of the program provides matching grants for state and local projects. To protect the federal investment, the law governing state grants contains <a href="http://www.nps.gov/ncrc/programs/lwcf/protect.html"> strong protections</a> to assure that project sites remain used as intended. In response to a question on this issue by New York Democratic Rep. <a href="http://www.house.gov/hinchey/">Maurice Hinchey</a> at a recent congressional hearing, National Park Service director Jon Jarvis <a href="http://www.house.gov/list/press/ny22_hinchey/morenews/03192010stateparks.html"> confirmed</a> that parks funded in part with federal money must remain open to the public.</p> <p>Advocates fear that if parks are closed it might be years before they can be reopened. Leaving parks unstaffed and minimally maintained makes them vulnerable to damage from neglect and vandalism, putting at risk decades of public investment. Getting bathrooms, buildings, pools, trails and other facilities back in usable condition would likely cost many times the minimal amount saved by the closures.</p> <p>"Closing parks would cause more harm than any problems it would solve," said Shawn McConnell, director of the Campaign for Parks at <a href="http://www.ptny.org/">Parks &amp; Trails New York</a>, a statewide advocacy group. "Even during the Great Depression, our government did not close parks. In fact, the president felt parks were important enough to invest in and made them part of the plan to revitalize the economy and nation. That's what parks could be today."</p> <h3>Costs and Benefits of State Parks</h3> <p>Asked why the parks agency received a disproportionate cut thought even it represents a quarter of a percent of the total state budget, Matt Anderson, spokesperson for the New York State Division of the Budget, said that even small reductions add up to "an important component of our deficit reduction plan. While parks are certainly important, it doesn't have the same health and safety issues" as health care, law enforcement, prisons or other "direct care environments."</p> <p>Advocates say this view is shortsighted and ignores the importance of parks and recreational programs for public health, especially at a time when the government is trying to address increasing rates of obesity.</p> <p>Park programs can also reduce crime and other social problems. When park programs are cut, "one of the things that's lost is the potential to address jobs creation for at-risk youth," said Richard Dolesh, chief of public policy at the <a href="http://www.nrpa.org/"> National Recreation and Park Association</a>. "Park programs have been a traditional source of part-time and summer jobs. They have produced tremendous value for a minimal amount of money spent. It's healthy outdoor work that teaches basic jobs skills and instills self-discipline, self-reliance and a sense of self-confidence."</p> <p>Aside from these benefits, studies show that state parks, in New York and throughout the country, generate quantifiable economic benefits for a minimal cost.</p> <p>A <a href="http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/c6d303dc72/publication/399/">study</a> by the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts Amherst last year found that every dollar invested in state parks (both operating and capital expenses) returns $5 in economic benefits. Direct spending by the parks agency and by visitors to state parks supports up to $1.9 billion in output and sales, $440 million in employment income and 20,000 jobs.</p> <p>Analyses conducted in other states, including <a href="http://tn.gov/environment/parks/economic_impact/">Tennessee</a>, <a href="http://www.maine.gov/doc/parks/publications/EcConMEStateParksAllandCov.pdf"> Maine</a> and <a href="http://www.nj.gov/dep/dsr/economics/parks-factsheet.pdf"> New Jersey</a>, showed that the parks are vital generators of direct and indirect spending, tax revenues and jobs far in excess of the money the states spent on operating the parks.</p> <p>Last year, 56 million people visited New York State parks, an increase of 2 million over the previous year. Closing parks would wreak havoc on upstate towns that depend on tourism and further depress tax revenues.</p> <h3>The Impact on New York City</h3> <p>While the majority of parks slated for closure are upstate, New York City residents would also feel the effects of park closures and service reductions.</p> <p><a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/93/details.aspx">Riverbank State Park</a>, for example, is slated for a budget cut of $785,000 that would reduce its operating hours by 40 percent, close the outdoor swimming pool and eliminate all programs for seniors as well as musical and theatrical performances. Riverbank was used by more than 3.4 million people in 2009, making it the fourth most visited park in the state, close behind Jones Beach State Park. The Paterson budget also would close <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/86/details.aspx">Bayswater Point State Park</a> in Queens; cut operating hours at <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/140/details.aspx"> Roberto Clemente State Park</a> in the Bronx; and shut <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/166/details.aspx">Clay Pits Pond Park</a> in Staten Island two days a week. Numerous parks in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Putnam and Ulster counties that are popular day trips for city residents also would be completely or partially closed.</p> <p>Community advocates say reducing operations at Riverbank State Park would break the agreement the government made with residents to provide a park in exchange for their accepting the sewage treatment plan in their midst. <a href="http://www.cb9m.org/">Manhattan Community Board 9</a> passed a resolution opposing the cuts.</p> <p>The 28-acre park was built on top of the controversial <a href="http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/ny.html">North River Sewage Treatment Plant</a> to appease the community. Though at first dubious of the park and its high price tag, neighborhood residents have come to embrace it. In addition to providing recreation and relaxation, the park has become a nexus of the community, with sports teams, a summer camp, holiday events, senior programs, and activities and outreach for youth.</p> <p>"The state promised us an Olympic-sized pool, hockey rink, football field, running track, and all kinds of indoor gym space, the cultural center. That was the deal. We take the sewage and we get the park," said Brad Taylor, a local activist. "And now, they're saying they are going to cut back on the hours, open at 11 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. It's completely reneging on this commitment that they made, that as long as we're treating sewage for a good part of the city, we're going to have a fully operational park."</p> <p>On an unseasonably mild Friday afternoon in mid-March, the park's esplanade and winter-bleached lawns attracted mothers with strollers, children in their school uniforms, teens practicing dance routines, and various people sitting on benches soaking in the sun and the spectacular river view. Soccer and baseball games were in full swing, while the sound of hockey pucks reverberated from inside the rink.</p> <p>A couple sat a picnic table while their sons, 6 and 8, ran around on the grass. "Last year our kids came here for the swimming classes," said the father, who said his name was Amado. "They are going to close the pool and cut hours. We come today to see if we can register them for baseball. Because of the cuts they can't register anybody."</p> <p>A mother taking her two girls to the playground said, "My husband and I both run here. My kids swim in the outdoor pool. We come here on weekends. I like the park because it's so safe, and honestly, I'm worried that the cuts will reduce safety."</p> <p>Less than two years ago, at the <a href="http://nysparks.state.ny.us/newsroom/press-releases/release.aspx?r=669">15th anniversary</a> of the park's opening, a state official said, "It's hard to imagine life in Harlem today without Riverbank State Park. … Families have come to rely on Riverbank as a place for healthy recreation, spirited competition, and inspiring arts and entertainment. It is a tremendous community asset, and we need to make sure it remains vital and accessible for many years to come." That official was Gov. Paterson.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" hspace="6" align="right" border="0" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> Washington Considers Funding Parks to Rebuild Cities 2009-11-30T05:00:00+00:00 2009-11-30T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/topics/102-parks/397-washington-considers-funding-parks-to-rebuild-cities Anne Schwartz aschwartz@gothamgazette.com <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/12/publicspace.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo from nyc.gov</div> </div> <p>Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would provide federal funding for urban parks and recreation for the first time in eight years.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h3734/show"> Urban Revitalization and Livable Communities Act</a> (H.R. 3734), introduced by Rep. <a href="http://www.sires.house.gov/"> Albio Sires</a> of New Jersey, reflects the current thinking that parks and recreation are integral to broader efforts to rebuild the economic and social fabric of cities.</p> <p>At the same time, the Obama administration has created a partnership among federal agencies to promote urban sustainability and Congress is considering a <a href="http://blumenauer.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=1559&amp;Itemid=167"> number of bills</a> to promote smart growth, bicycling, walking, mass transit, green infrastructure, historic restoration and the reduction of carbon emissions. Together, these initiatives signal new level of federal interest in improving the quality of life in cities.</p> <p>"We need to look at the ways in which we can improve and enhance the communities where we all live, work, learn and play to truly address national issues such as climate change, water conservation and obesity," said Stacey Pine, chief government affairs officer at the <a href="http://www.nrpa.org/"> National Recreation and Parks Association</a>. The association, a national not-for-profit dedicated to advancing park, recreation and conservation efforts, played a key role in developing the Livable Communities Act. It is lobbying to move the bill through Congress, together with other members of the Urban Park Coalition, which includes national planning, bicycling, conservation, sports, health, youth and other organizations.</p> <h3>The Ripple Effects</h3> <p>Over the past few decades, the restoration and creation of parks has helped spark a revival of cities around the country. In New York City, fixing up parks, beginning in the 1980s with <a href="http://www.centralparknyc.org/site/PageServer">Central Park</a>, and building new open spaces, such as the <a href="http://www.thehighline.org/"> High Line</a> and <a href="http://www.hudsonriverpark.org/index.asp"> Hudson River Park</a>, has transformed neighborhood after neighborhood and boosted the city’s economy as a whole.</p> <p>As numerous <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=250:good-parks-are-good-for-the-economy&amp;catid=58:parks"> studies</a> have shown, well-maintained and used parks increase real estate values in the surrounding area and generate tourism and other economic activity. Access to parks and recreation also improves the physical and mental health of residents, lowers crime, connects children to nature and brings neighbors together. By cooling and filtering the air, absorbing stormwater runoff and providing habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife, parks and natural areas make a city more environmentally sustainable.</p> <p>"There should be mechanisms that encourage cities to think about their park needs in the broadest possible terms of city revitalization, and not just a park here and there," said Peter Harnik, director of the <a href="http://www.tpl.org/tier2_pa.cfm?folder_id=3208"> Center for City Park Excellence</a> at The Trust for Public Land. "I think we’re on the cusp of some major changes. Some of the new parks, like <a href="http://www.millenniumpark.org/"> Millennium Park</a> in Chicago, or refurbished parks like Central Park, are really giving impetus to this kind of thinking."</p> <h3>Federal Help</h3> <p>Beginning in the 1970s, two <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article//20040120/14/845"> federal programs</a> administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior provided funding that made possible many significant state and local park projects as well as inner-city park rehabilitation, maintenance and recreation programs: the <a href="http://www.nps.gov/lwcf/"> Land and Water Conservation Fund</a> and the <a href="http://www.nps.gov/uprr/"> Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program</a>.</p> <p>But spending from the two funds has almost never reached the level authorized: $900 million a year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and $725 million over five years for Urban Park and Recreation Recovery. Over the last eight years, Congress appropriated just a fraction of the amount authorized for the land and water fund. The urban park recovery program has not received any funding at all since 2002.</p> <p>In early November, Sens. <a href="http://bingaman.senate.gov/"> Jeff Bingaman</a> of New Mexico and <a href="http://baucus.senate.gov/"> Max Baucus</a> of Montana introduced legislation to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Park and recreation advocates are working to find congressional support to update and broaden the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program and authorize new funding.</p> <p>The Urban Revitalization and Livable Communities Act ties funding for parks and recreation infrastructure to revitalizing communities, improving public health, reducing crime and promoting economic development. The bill authorizes spending $445 million over 10 years in grants to states, local governments and community-based non-profits to rehabilitate existing parks and recreational facilities and construct new ones. The Department of Housing and Urban Development would administer the program.</p> <p>Rep. <a href="http://www.house.gov/towns/"> Edolphus Towns</a>, whose district in Brooklyn could serve as a prime example of how a lack of park and recreational options exacerbates a host of social ills, including crime and obesity-related health problems, was one of the original co-sponsors of the bill. He said in an email, "For many urban areas that suffer from deteriorating community facilities, limited green spaces and juvenile delinquency, this bill helps to develop a widely needed recreational infrastructure."</p> <p>The legislation has 89 co-sponsors so far, with support from both parties. It has the backing of the TriCaucus, made up of members of the Black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific American caucuses, as well as the recently revived <a href="http://blumenauer.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=1561&amp;Itemid=1"> Livable Communities Task Force</a> of the Democratic Caucus. The task force, chaired by the leading smart growth proponent in Congress, Rep. <a href="http://blumenauer.house.gov/"> Earl Blumenauer</a> of Oregon, aims to develop a legislative agenda to address how federal policies can support local efforts to improve citizens' quality of life in areas such as transportation investments, tax incentives and environmental protection.</p> <p>Last spring, the Obama administration announced a new <a href="http://www.dot.gov/affairs/dot3209.htm"> Partnership for Sustainable Communities</a> between the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development departments, since joined by the <a href="http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/partnership/index.html"> Environmental Protection Agency</a>. The partnership aims to coordinate federal support for sustainable growth and integrate transportation, housing and land use planning.</p> <p>Federal funding for urban parks and recreation is all the more important given the financial straits of the states and cities. Tying parks to a whole slew of related initiatives to make cities more livable and economically viable is a good strategy for parks supporters. And improving and increasing the number of places where children can play outdoors, get involved in sports and experience nature and where city-dwellers can exercise, meet their neighbors and get a breath of fresh air is a good strategy for renewing America’s cities.</p> <p><cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/12/publicspace.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo from nyc.gov</div> </div> <p>Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would provide federal funding for urban parks and recreation for the first time in eight years.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h3734/show"> Urban Revitalization and Livable Communities Act</a> (H.R. 3734), introduced by Rep. <a href="http://www.sires.house.gov/"> Albio Sires</a> of New Jersey, reflects the current thinking that parks and recreation are integral to broader efforts to rebuild the economic and social fabric of cities.</p> <p>At the same time, the Obama administration has created a partnership among federal agencies to promote urban sustainability and Congress is considering a <a href="http://blumenauer.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=1559&amp;Itemid=167"> number of bills</a> to promote smart growth, bicycling, walking, mass transit, green infrastructure, historic restoration and the reduction of carbon emissions. Together, these initiatives signal new level of federal interest in improving the quality of life in cities.</p> <p>"We need to look at the ways in which we can improve and enhance the communities where we all live, work, learn and play to truly address national issues such as climate change, water conservation and obesity," said Stacey Pine, chief government affairs officer at the <a href="http://www.nrpa.org/"> National Recreation and Parks Association</a>. The association, a national not-for-profit dedicated to advancing park, recreation and conservation efforts, played a key role in developing the Livable Communities Act. It is lobbying to move the bill through Congress, together with other members of the Urban Park Coalition, which includes national planning, bicycling, conservation, sports, health, youth and other organizations.</p> <h3>The Ripple Effects</h3> <p>Over the past few decades, the restoration and creation of parks has helped spark a revival of cities around the country. In New York City, fixing up parks, beginning in the 1980s with <a href="http://www.centralparknyc.org/site/PageServer">Central Park</a>, and building new open spaces, such as the <a href="http://www.thehighline.org/"> High Line</a> and <a href="http://www.hudsonriverpark.org/index.asp"> Hudson River Park</a>, has transformed neighborhood after neighborhood and boosted the city’s economy as a whole.</p> <p>As numerous <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=250:good-parks-are-good-for-the-economy&amp;catid=58:parks"> studies</a> have shown, well-maintained and used parks increase real estate values in the surrounding area and generate tourism and other economic activity. Access to parks and recreation also improves the physical and mental health of residents, lowers crime, connects children to nature and brings neighbors together. By cooling and filtering the air, absorbing stormwater runoff and providing habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife, parks and natural areas make a city more environmentally sustainable.</p> <p>"There should be mechanisms that encourage cities to think about their park needs in the broadest possible terms of city revitalization, and not just a park here and there," said Peter Harnik, director of the <a href="http://www.tpl.org/tier2_pa.cfm?folder_id=3208"> Center for City Park Excellence</a> at The Trust for Public Land. "I think we’re on the cusp of some major changes. Some of the new parks, like <a href="http://www.millenniumpark.org/"> Millennium Park</a> in Chicago, or refurbished parks like Central Park, are really giving impetus to this kind of thinking."</p> <h3>Federal Help</h3> <p>Beginning in the 1970s, two <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article//20040120/14/845"> federal programs</a> administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior provided funding that made possible many significant state and local park projects as well as inner-city park rehabilitation, maintenance and recreation programs: the <a href="http://www.nps.gov/lwcf/"> Land and Water Conservation Fund</a> and the <a href="http://www.nps.gov/uprr/"> Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program</a>.</p> <p>But spending from the two funds has almost never reached the level authorized: $900 million a year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and $725 million over five years for Urban Park and Recreation Recovery. Over the last eight years, Congress appropriated just a fraction of the amount authorized for the land and water fund. The urban park recovery program has not received any funding at all since 2002.</p> <p>In early November, Sens. <a href="http://bingaman.senate.gov/"> Jeff Bingaman</a> of New Mexico and <a href="http://baucus.senate.gov/"> Max Baucus</a> of Montana introduced legislation to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Park and recreation advocates are working to find congressional support to update and broaden the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program and authorize new funding.</p> <p>The Urban Revitalization and Livable Communities Act ties funding for parks and recreation infrastructure to revitalizing communities, improving public health, reducing crime and promoting economic development. The bill authorizes spending $445 million over 10 years in grants to states, local governments and community-based non-profits to rehabilitate existing parks and recreational facilities and construct new ones. The Department of Housing and Urban Development would administer the program.</p> <p>Rep. <a href="http://www.house.gov/towns/"> Edolphus Towns</a>, whose district in Brooklyn could serve as a prime example of how a lack of park and recreational options exacerbates a host of social ills, including crime and obesity-related health problems, was one of the original co-sponsors of the bill. He said in an email, "For many urban areas that suffer from deteriorating community facilities, limited green spaces and juvenile delinquency, this bill helps to develop a widely needed recreational infrastructure."</p> <p>The legislation has 89 co-sponsors so far, with support from both parties. It has the backing of the TriCaucus, made up of members of the Black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific American caucuses, as well as the recently revived <a href="http://blumenauer.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=1561&amp;Itemid=1"> Livable Communities Task Force</a> of the Democratic Caucus. The task force, chaired by the leading smart growth proponent in Congress, Rep. <a href="http://blumenauer.house.gov/"> Earl Blumenauer</a> of Oregon, aims to develop a legislative agenda to address how federal policies can support local efforts to improve citizens' quality of life in areas such as transportation investments, tax incentives and environmental protection.</p> <p>Last spring, the Obama administration announced a new <a href="http://www.dot.gov/affairs/dot3209.htm"> Partnership for Sustainable Communities</a> between the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development departments, since joined by the <a href="http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/partnership/index.html"> Environmental Protection Agency</a>. The partnership aims to coordinate federal support for sustainable growth and integrate transportation, housing and land use planning.</p> <p>Federal funding for urban parks and recreation is all the more important given the financial straits of the states and cities. Tying parks to a whole slew of related initiatives to make cities more livable and economically viable is a good strategy for parks supporters. And improving and increasing the number of places where children can play outdoors, get involved in sports and experience nature and where city-dwellers can exercise, meet their neighbors and get a breath of fresh air is a good strategy for renewing America’s cities.</p> <p><cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> A Top-Down Program Creates More Parks 2009-10-22T05:00:00+00:00 2009-10-22T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/topics/102-parks/354-a-top-down-program-creates-more-parks Anne Schwartz aschwartz@gothamgazette.com <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/10/freshkillspark.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Image from <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_your_park/fresh_kills_park/html/freshkills_park_photo_gallery.html#schmulPark" target="new">NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation</a></div> <div class="caption">A rendering of the North Park Bird Observation Tower, <br />one of many proposed projects in the Fresh Kills park project.</div> </div> <!--<div class="sidebar"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/10/bloombergrecord_sm.jpg" alt="" /> <p>This is one in a series, to run between now and Election Day, examining Mayor Michael Bloomberg's record in key areas. For more on the mayor's eight years see:</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Public%20Finance/20091021/8/3061"> Bloomberg as Budget Master</a>: Reflecting a changing economy, the mayor's fiscal policies have changed while the city has gone from bust to boom and back again.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Voting/20091019/17/3058">Businessman, Billionaire, Reformer?</a>: Michael Bloomberg's handling of issues involving elections and governance raises the question: Is he above politics or a politician whose wealth lets him play the game in a different way?</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/fea/20091019/202/3057">The Health Mayor?</a> While the administration has garnered attention for restricting smoking and trying to get New Yorkers to eat well, its actions on health policy go far beyond that.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Crime/20091014/4/3052">Bloomberg and the Police</a>: Crime has hit new lows under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but experts wonder if he deserves the credit and some critics charge that new police practices infringe on the rights of New Yorkers.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/fea/20091013/202/3049">A Calmer, Yet Still Segregated City</a>: In eight years in office, Bloomberg has quieted the racially charged atmosphere of the Giuliani years but done little to address housing disparities and other divisions that remain.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/issueoftheweek/20091005/200/3045">Affordable Housing Not Included</a>: A key part of the mayor's plan to provide moderately priced housing has collided with the collapse in real estate.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/iotw/20090824/200/2999">The 63rd Senator</a>: The mayor won the school control battle and some funding fights too. Has he finally figured out how to get his way in the state capitol?</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/iotw/20080825/200/2619"> Reshaping the City: Who's Being Heard -- and Why?</a> To meet the post-industrial age, the Bloomberg administration has rezoned one sixth of New York's land.</p> </div>--> <p>When I started writing this column in 1999, during the Giuliani administration, the city treated parks as an expendable frill. The parks department always seemed to be at the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20010601/14/629"> end of the line</a> when operating funds were handed out, continuing a decline in maintenance funding and fulltime staff that began several decades earlier. Even as an urban parks renaissance was taking root nationwide, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sought to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/environment/jun.02.shtml"> auction off</a> the community gardens reclaimed from the rubble of the 1970s and took the first steps to have the High Line <a href="http://thealtamira.com/blog/architechture/new-york-high-line-sky-park/" target="new">torn down</a>.</p> <p>Mayor Michael Bloomberg came into office in 2002 with a very different view of the role of parks. He had served on the board of the <a href="http://www.centralparknyc.org/site/PageNavigator/aboutcon_cpc" target="new">Central Park Conservancy</a> and understood how open space and greenery can improve a city's quality of life and therefore boost its economy and the health and well-being of its citizens.</p> <p>Soon after taking office, Bloomberg stayed the High Line's execution and joined former City Council Speaker Gifford Miller in supporting the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20041124/14/1193">creation of a park</a> on the defunct elevated railway line. He negotiated a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20060717/14/1908"> legal settlement</a> with former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer that transferred nearly 200 community gardens on city land to the parks department and created a review process to determine the fate of dozens of others. He <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/cityhallpark/pressrelease/19927" target="new">opened City Hall Park</a> to the public, and in his first State of the City address <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20031017/14/561"> announced</a> that he intended to complete the longstanding plan for a recreational path circling Manhattan.</p> <p>Now, as he runs for a third term, Bloomberg has staked part of his legacy on the creation of new parks, greenways and other open space, much of which he spelled out in his 2006 economic and environmental sustainability blueprint, <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/home/home.shtml" target="new">PlaNYC 2030</a>.</p> <p>"We are in the middle of our largest parks expansion since the 1930s," he said in an email statement. "In the last eight years, we've added more than 500 acres of new parkland to the city. We have focused on them so intently because they teach our children about the outdoors, clean the air we breathe, encourage exercise, increase property values and boost tourism."</p> <p>Yet for all its strengths, the Bloomberg record on parks is not unblemished, from the perspective of park advocates. The mayor has set troubling precedents by alienating public parkland. His autocratic style has resulted in a number of projects being imposed over the objection of the affected communities. Maintenance and funding issues remain, especially for outer-borough parks and sports fields. Critics also charge that the Bloomberg administration has gone too far in relying on private and commercial sources of funding for parks, resulting in privatization of and reduced access to our most public of spaces.</p> <h3>The Mayor Giveth...</h3> <p>With the expenditure of $1.1 billion in capital dollars over the past eight years, as well as funding from federal, state and private sources, the Bloomberg administration has presided over a dramatic transformation of the waterfront into parks and greenways. It has launched more than a thousand park improvement projects and added new parkland in all five boroughs, from tiny <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_your_park/trees_greenstreets.html" target="new"> Greenstreets</a> in traffic intersections to the first sections of parkland being created from the former <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_your_park/fresh_kills_park/html/fresh_kills_park.html" target="new">Fresh Kills landfill</a>. Bloomberg's transportation department, under commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn, has carved out new public space from the streets and created miles of new bicycle lanes.</p> <p>PlaNYC sets forth additional greening and open space goals, although the timeline for reaching them has been stretched out because of the recession. It aims to plant a million new trees; the <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_newsroom/press_releases/press_releases.php?id=20875" target="new">one-quarter mark</a> was reached this month. Other goals include the creation of <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/plan/land_open-space-destination-parks.shtml" target="new">eight new destination parks</a>; expanding the <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/plan/land_open-space-green.shtml" target="new"> greening of the streets</a>; creating or enhancing a <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/plan/land_open-space-public-plaza.shtml" target="new"> public plaza</a> in every community; and exploring natural solutions for <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/plan/water_quality.shtml" target="new"> managing stormwater runoff</a>, including protecting wetlands.</p> <p>To help meet the PlaNYC goal of having a park within a 10-minute walk of every resident, the administration aims to open 266 schoolyards after school and on weekends. So far, it has <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_about/planyc/playgrounds.html" target="new"> opened 69 yards</a> that do not need capital improvements and 20 renovated sites. It is working with the <a href="http://www.tpl.org/tier3_cd.cfm?content_item_id=22208&amp;folder_id=631" target="new"> Trust for Public Land</a> and the education department to turn more than 150 additional schoolyards into community parks.</p> <h3>…And The Mayor Taketh Away</h3> <p>At the same time that the Bloomberg administration has invested heavily in increasing the amount of parkland and open space, it bears responsibility for taking away major amounts of parkland over vociferous community opposition in two cases: the building of a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20090126/14/2808"> filtration plant</a> underneath 28 acres of Van Cortlandt Park and the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20090413/14/2884">construction</a> of the new Yankee Stadium and four parking garages on 25 acres of Macombs Dam and Mullaly parks. Both projects are in low-income, minority communities.</p> <p>These parkland alienations set a disturbing precedent. The one at Yankee Stadium has been seen as especially troublesome because the community parkland went to a private, for-profit company: the New York Yankees. Instead of the large, centrally located park ringed by mature trees that it once enjoyed, the community will get parks and playing fields scattered around the neighborhood farther from where people live. In both cases, the creation of the replacement parkland has fallen far behind schedule, depriving the community of parkland for years.</p> <p>To bolster its bragging rights, the Bloomberg administration counts the Yankee parkland that has been completed so far toward its total acreage of new parkland. But it has not subtracted the parkland now buried under the Yankee's new mausoleum.</p> <p>Of the record $600 million the administration has spent on parks construction in the Bronx, $200 million has gone so far to replace the parkland displaced by the stadium -- taxpayer dollars that went to save the Yankees the inconvenience of having to play a season away from their home stadium. Another $243 million being spent in the Bronx is in mitigation for the alienation of Van Cortlandt Park.</p> <p>The city missed an opportunity to compel the Yankees to contribute to the upkeep of the replacement parks, said Christian DiPalermo, executive director of the parks advocacy group <a href="http://www.ny4p.org/" target="new"> New Yorkers for Parks</a>. "Our biggest concern is that, although it looks great when you open the parkland, in the future, with maintenance needs not being met, it will deteriorate," he said.</p> <h3>No Public Option</h3> <p>Some of the harshest criticism of Bloomberg's approach to parks involves what many residents see as his tendency to develop projects and designs without first creating a consensus in the community and then pushing them through over the opposition of the local community boards. "The biggest complaint we hear is that there is a lack of community-based planning and consultations," said Geoffrey Croft, president of the watchdog group <a href="http://nycparkadvocates.org/" target="new"> NYC Park Advocates</a>.</p> <p>Bloomberg's top-down corporate style and impatience for the slow and messy process of public consultation is no secret. While discussing parent involvement in larger school issues recently, he <a href="http://www.thevillager.com/villager_337/onlysomeschool.html" target="new">told</a>The Villager, "You would never build Central Park, you would never build anything, if you always had nothing but community involvement."</p> <p>DiPalermo gives the Bloomberg credit for opening the door to advocates in the beginning stages of PlaNYC. "Clearly, under Giuliani, that door was locked tight if not hermetically sealed," he said. "We would like to see, if Bloomberg is elected to a third term, that he takes the next step and brings in more interaction on the local level."</p> <p>Lack of public involvement was evident in the negotiations with Bronx politicians resulting in the alienation of parkland for Yankee Stadium. The necessary state legislation was pushed through so quickly that people in the community never had a chance to alter the outcome. In addition, the administration has faced opposition and lawsuits from residents who say that the community input was an afterthought in a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/fea/20060807/202/1926"> redesign of Washington Square Park</a>, a plan to put a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2008/04/30/2008-04-30_mayor_bloombergs_union_square_park_resta.html" target="new"> restaurant</a> in Union Square Park, and the <a href="http://newyork.timeout.com/articles/features/5712/battleground-brooklyn-bridge-park"> changing</a> of a community-developed plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park to include luxury high-rises.</p> <p>In Washington Square, opponents of the redesign said it would affect the park's long tradition as a social gathering place and impromptu performance space. Parks commissioner Adrian Benepe said, "Anything you do in New York City is controversial. We didn't kick anyone out. All of the uses continue, but it's just in the context of a much more beautiful park."</p> <p>Critics say, however, that many of park plans that have been developed under Bloomberg, like those for Williamsburg or Brooklyn Bridge Park, are essentially esplanades around private housing and discourage public access. "These parks are for passing through and looking at, and maybe if you can afford a fancy dinner there," said Judi Francis, president of the <a href="http://parkdefense.org/" target="new">Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund</a>. The group is fighting the city's plan to build condominiums inside the park to generate revenue for its upkeep, as required by the city-state agreement creating the park.</p> <h3>The Funding Conundrum</h3> <p>City appropriations for parks maintenance, consistently one of the <a href="http://ibo.nyc.ny.us/cgi-park/?p=42" target="new">top service priorities</a> for community boards, increased during the Bloomberg years until the economic crash last year, but has never come close to the 1 percent of the overall budget park advocates have been calling for since Bloomberg first ran for mayor in 2001. Most parks without private funding still do not have on-site staff to care for them.</p> <p>"The big difference from the parks-world perspective is that parks have been treated as an essential service," said DiPalermo. "Bloomberg brought respect back to the delivery of park services, increasing funds when he could and when he had to cut, cut proportionally to the other agencies."</p> <p>In addition to traditional philanthropy and private partners, Bloomberg has encouraged corporate donations, concessions, the sale of naming rights, and funding mechanisms that link commercial development with the maintenance of public parks.</p> <p>Conservancies and other partner groups offer many advantages. For one, these organizations can often be more flexible and innovative than government agencies, as has been the case with the Central Park Conservancy, which developed a highly effective zone management system that has become a model for park systems around the country.</p> <p>Some park advocates, however, find the Bloomberg administration's increasing reliance on private funding problematic, saying that it erodes the public nature of parks. A case in point, they say, is the 2007 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20070129/14/2088"> deal</a> with the <a href="http://www.risf.org/" target="new"> Randall's Island Sports Foundation</a> in which a group of private schools agreed to spend nearly $90 million over 30 years to renovate and maintain fields on the island in exchange for near-exclusive use after school hours. The deal generated tremendous outrage, but was eventually approved with small modifications, including funding for a shuttle service from East Harlem.</p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/10/randallsisle.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo (cc) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/78199564@N00/1566524676/" target="new">Bricolage</a></div> <div class="caption">A view of Manhattan from Randall's Island.</div> </div> <p>"We should always have a maximum amount of transparency for public-private partnerships," said DiPalermo. "We believe it is time to create some general principles and a framework for these partnerships to operate efficiently and effectively, but most important, that the parks remain open to the public.</p> <h3>Looking to the Future</h3> <p>Bloomberg has overseen the largest capital investment in the park system in decades, with more to come if the goals of PlaNYC are realized. "We haven't seen a major official do so much for parks since Robert Moses," said DiPalermo.</p> <p>The city's parks needed restoring after decades of deferred maintenance. It is much more economical to care for parks infrastructure and plantings on a regular basis than to let them deteriorate to the point where they require major renovation.</p> <p>Parks, though, compete with other essential services for funding, while fixed costs like pensions and debt service consume an ever-larger chunk of the budget. Although the operating budget for the parks department increased in actual dollars during Bloomberg's tenure (until the recent economic crisis), it is still just under 0.5 percent of the total city budget The greatest challenge going forward will be how to maintain the green empire Bloomberg has done so much to renew and expand, especially in this difficult economic climate.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" hspace="6" align="right" border="0" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/10/freshkillspark.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Image from <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_your_park/fresh_kills_park/html/freshkills_park_photo_gallery.html#schmulPark" target="new">NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation</a></div> <div class="caption">A rendering of the North Park Bird Observation Tower, <br />one of many proposed projects in the Fresh Kills park project.</div> </div> <!--<div class="sidebar"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/10/bloombergrecord_sm.jpg" alt="" /> <p>This is one in a series, to run between now and Election Day, examining Mayor Michael Bloomberg's record in key areas. For more on the mayor's eight years see:</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Public%20Finance/20091021/8/3061"> Bloomberg as Budget Master</a>: Reflecting a changing economy, the mayor's fiscal policies have changed while the city has gone from bust to boom and back again.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Voting/20091019/17/3058">Businessman, Billionaire, Reformer?</a>: Michael Bloomberg's handling of issues involving elections and governance raises the question: Is he above politics or a politician whose wealth lets him play the game in a different way?</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/fea/20091019/202/3057">The Health Mayor?</a> While the administration has garnered attention for restricting smoking and trying to get New Yorkers to eat well, its actions on health policy go far beyond that.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Crime/20091014/4/3052">Bloomberg and the Police</a>: Crime has hit new lows under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but experts wonder if he deserves the credit and some critics charge that new police practices infringe on the rights of New Yorkers.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/fea/20091013/202/3049">A Calmer, Yet Still Segregated City</a>: In eight years in office, Bloomberg has quieted the racially charged atmosphere of the Giuliani years but done little to address housing disparities and other divisions that remain.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/issueoftheweek/20091005/200/3045">Affordable Housing Not Included</a>: A key part of the mayor's plan to provide moderately priced housing has collided with the collapse in real estate.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/iotw/20090824/200/2999">The 63rd Senator</a>: The mayor won the school control battle and some funding fights too. Has he finally figured out how to get his way in the state capitol?</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/iotw/20080825/200/2619"> Reshaping the City: Who's Being Heard -- and Why?</a> To meet the post-industrial age, the Bloomberg administration has rezoned one sixth of New York's land.</p> </div>--> <p>When I started writing this column in 1999, during the Giuliani administration, the city treated parks as an expendable frill. The parks department always seemed to be at the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20010601/14/629"> end of the line</a> when operating funds were handed out, continuing a decline in maintenance funding and fulltime staff that began several decades earlier. Even as an urban parks renaissance was taking root nationwide, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sought to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/environment/jun.02.shtml"> auction off</a> the community gardens reclaimed from the rubble of the 1970s and took the first steps to have the High Line <a href="http://thealtamira.com/blog/architechture/new-york-high-line-sky-park/" target="new">torn down</a>.</p> <p>Mayor Michael Bloomberg came into office in 2002 with a very different view of the role of parks. He had served on the board of the <a href="http://www.centralparknyc.org/site/PageNavigator/aboutcon_cpc" target="new">Central Park Conservancy</a> and understood how open space and greenery can improve a city's quality of life and therefore boost its economy and the health and well-being of its citizens.</p> <p>Soon after taking office, Bloomberg stayed the High Line's execution and joined former City Council Speaker Gifford Miller in supporting the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20041124/14/1193">creation of a park</a> on the defunct elevated railway line. He negotiated a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20060717/14/1908"> legal settlement</a> with former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer that transferred nearly 200 community gardens on city land to the parks department and created a review process to determine the fate of dozens of others. He <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/cityhallpark/pressrelease/19927" target="new">opened City Hall Park</a> to the public, and in his first State of the City address <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20031017/14/561"> announced</a> that he intended to complete the longstanding plan for a recreational path circling Manhattan.</p> <p>Now, as he runs for a third term, Bloomberg has staked part of his legacy on the creation of new parks, greenways and other open space, much of which he spelled out in his 2006 economic and environmental sustainability blueprint, <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/home/home.shtml" target="new">PlaNYC 2030</a>.</p> <p>"We are in the middle of our largest parks expansion since the 1930s," he said in an email statement. "In the last eight years, we've added more than 500 acres of new parkland to the city. We have focused on them so intently because they teach our children about the outdoors, clean the air we breathe, encourage exercise, increase property values and boost tourism."</p> <p>Yet for all its strengths, the Bloomberg record on parks is not unblemished, from the perspective of park advocates. The mayor has set troubling precedents by alienating public parkland. His autocratic style has resulted in a number of projects being imposed over the objection of the affected communities. Maintenance and funding issues remain, especially for outer-borough parks and sports fields. Critics also charge that the Bloomberg administration has gone too far in relying on private and commercial sources of funding for parks, resulting in privatization of and reduced access to our most public of spaces.</p> <h3>The Mayor Giveth...</h3> <p>With the expenditure of $1.1 billion in capital dollars over the past eight years, as well as funding from federal, state and private sources, the Bloomberg administration has presided over a dramatic transformation of the waterfront into parks and greenways. It has launched more than a thousand park improvement projects and added new parkland in all five boroughs, from tiny <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_your_park/trees_greenstreets.html" target="new"> Greenstreets</a> in traffic intersections to the first sections of parkland being created from the former <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_your_park/fresh_kills_park/html/fresh_kills_park.html" target="new">Fresh Kills landfill</a>. Bloomberg's transportation department, under commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn, has carved out new public space from the streets and created miles of new bicycle lanes.</p> <p>PlaNYC sets forth additional greening and open space goals, although the timeline for reaching them has been stretched out because of the recession. It aims to plant a million new trees; the <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_newsroom/press_releases/press_releases.php?id=20875" target="new">one-quarter mark</a> was reached this month. Other goals include the creation of <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/plan/land_open-space-destination-parks.shtml" target="new">eight new destination parks</a>; expanding the <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/plan/land_open-space-green.shtml" target="new"> greening of the streets</a>; creating or enhancing a <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/plan/land_open-space-public-plaza.shtml" target="new"> public plaza</a> in every community; and exploring natural solutions for <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/html/plan/water_quality.shtml" target="new"> managing stormwater runoff</a>, including protecting wetlands.</p> <p>To help meet the PlaNYC goal of having a park within a 10-minute walk of every resident, the administration aims to open 266 schoolyards after school and on weekends. So far, it has <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_about/planyc/playgrounds.html" target="new"> opened 69 yards</a> that do not need capital improvements and 20 renovated sites. It is working with the <a href="http://www.tpl.org/tier3_cd.cfm?content_item_id=22208&amp;folder_id=631" target="new"> Trust for Public Land</a> and the education department to turn more than 150 additional schoolyards into community parks.</p> <h3>…And The Mayor Taketh Away</h3> <p>At the same time that the Bloomberg administration has invested heavily in increasing the amount of parkland and open space, it bears responsibility for taking away major amounts of parkland over vociferous community opposition in two cases: the building of a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20090126/14/2808"> filtration plant</a> underneath 28 acres of Van Cortlandt Park and the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20090413/14/2884">construction</a> of the new Yankee Stadium and four parking garages on 25 acres of Macombs Dam and Mullaly parks. Both projects are in low-income, minority communities.</p> <p>These parkland alienations set a disturbing precedent. The one at Yankee Stadium has been seen as especially troublesome because the community parkland went to a private, for-profit company: the New York Yankees. Instead of the large, centrally located park ringed by mature trees that it once enjoyed, the community will get parks and playing fields scattered around the neighborhood farther from where people live. In both cases, the creation of the replacement parkland has fallen far behind schedule, depriving the community of parkland for years.</p> <p>To bolster its bragging rights, the Bloomberg administration counts the Yankee parkland that has been completed so far toward its total acreage of new parkland. But it has not subtracted the parkland now buried under the Yankee's new mausoleum.</p> <p>Of the record $600 million the administration has spent on parks construction in the Bronx, $200 million has gone so far to replace the parkland displaced by the stadium -- taxpayer dollars that went to save the Yankees the inconvenience of having to play a season away from their home stadium. Another $243 million being spent in the Bronx is in mitigation for the alienation of Van Cortlandt Park.</p> <p>The city missed an opportunity to compel the Yankees to contribute to the upkeep of the replacement parks, said Christian DiPalermo, executive director of the parks advocacy group <a href="http://www.ny4p.org/" target="new"> New Yorkers for Parks</a>. "Our biggest concern is that, although it looks great when you open the parkland, in the future, with maintenance needs not being met, it will deteriorate," he said.</p> <h3>No Public Option</h3> <p>Some of the harshest criticism of Bloomberg's approach to parks involves what many residents see as his tendency to develop projects and designs without first creating a consensus in the community and then pushing them through over the opposition of the local community boards. "The biggest complaint we hear is that there is a lack of community-based planning and consultations," said Geoffrey Croft, president of the watchdog group <a href="http://nycparkadvocates.org/" target="new"> NYC Park Advocates</a>.</p> <p>Bloomberg's top-down corporate style and impatience for the slow and messy process of public consultation is no secret. While discussing parent involvement in larger school issues recently, he <a href="http://www.thevillager.com/villager_337/onlysomeschool.html" target="new">told</a>The Villager, "You would never build Central Park, you would never build anything, if you always had nothing but community involvement."</p> <p>DiPalermo gives the Bloomberg credit for opening the door to advocates in the beginning stages of PlaNYC. "Clearly, under Giuliani, that door was locked tight if not hermetically sealed," he said. "We would like to see, if Bloomberg is elected to a third term, that he takes the next step and brings in more interaction on the local level."</p> <p>Lack of public involvement was evident in the negotiations with Bronx politicians resulting in the alienation of parkland for Yankee Stadium. The necessary state legislation was pushed through so quickly that people in the community never had a chance to alter the outcome. In addition, the administration has faced opposition and lawsuits from residents who say that the community input was an afterthought in a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/fea/20060807/202/1926"> redesign of Washington Square Park</a>, a plan to put a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2008/04/30/2008-04-30_mayor_bloombergs_union_square_park_resta.html" target="new"> restaurant</a> in Union Square Park, and the <a href="http://newyork.timeout.com/articles/features/5712/battleground-brooklyn-bridge-park"> changing</a> of a community-developed plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park to include luxury high-rises.</p> <p>In Washington Square, opponents of the redesign said it would affect the park's long tradition as a social gathering place and impromptu performance space. Parks commissioner Adrian Benepe said, "Anything you do in New York City is controversial. We didn't kick anyone out. All of the uses continue, but it's just in the context of a much more beautiful park."</p> <p>Critics say, however, that many of park plans that have been developed under Bloomberg, like those for Williamsburg or Brooklyn Bridge Park, are essentially esplanades around private housing and discourage public access. "These parks are for passing through and looking at, and maybe if you can afford a fancy dinner there," said Judi Francis, president of the <a href="http://parkdefense.org/" target="new">Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund</a>. The group is fighting the city's plan to build condominiums inside the park to generate revenue for its upkeep, as required by the city-state agreement creating the park.</p> <h3>The Funding Conundrum</h3> <p>City appropriations for parks maintenance, consistently one of the <a href="http://ibo.nyc.ny.us/cgi-park/?p=42" target="new">top service priorities</a> for community boards, increased during the Bloomberg years until the economic crash last year, but has never come close to the 1 percent of the overall budget park advocates have been calling for since Bloomberg first ran for mayor in 2001. Most parks without private funding still do not have on-site staff to care for them.</p> <p>"The big difference from the parks-world perspective is that parks have been treated as an essential service," said DiPalermo. "Bloomberg brought respect back to the delivery of park services, increasing funds when he could and when he had to cut, cut proportionally to the other agencies."</p> <p>In addition to traditional philanthropy and private partners, Bloomberg has encouraged corporate donations, concessions, the sale of naming rights, and funding mechanisms that link commercial development with the maintenance of public parks.</p> <p>Conservancies and other partner groups offer many advantages. For one, these organizations can often be more flexible and innovative than government agencies, as has been the case with the Central Park Conservancy, which developed a highly effective zone management system that has become a model for park systems around the country.</p> <p>Some park advocates, however, find the Bloomberg administration's increasing reliance on private funding problematic, saying that it erodes the public nature of parks. A case in point, they say, is the 2007 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20070129/14/2088"> deal</a> with the <a href="http://www.risf.org/" target="new"> Randall's Island Sports Foundation</a> in which a group of private schools agreed to spend nearly $90 million over 30 years to renovate and maintain fields on the island in exchange for near-exclusive use after school hours. The deal generated tremendous outrage, but was eventually approved with small modifications, including funding for a shuttle service from East Harlem.</p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/10/randallsisle.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo (cc) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/78199564@N00/1566524676/" target="new">Bricolage</a></div> <div class="caption">A view of Manhattan from Randall's Island.</div> </div> <p>"We should always have a maximum amount of transparency for public-private partnerships," said DiPalermo. "We believe it is time to create some general principles and a framework for these partnerships to operate efficiently and effectively, but most important, that the parks remain open to the public.</p> <h3>Looking to the Future</h3> <p>Bloomberg has overseen the largest capital investment in the park system in decades, with more to come if the goals of PlaNYC are realized. "We haven't seen a major official do so much for parks since Robert Moses," said DiPalermo.</p> <p>The city's parks needed restoring after decades of deferred maintenance. It is much more economical to care for parks infrastructure and plantings on a regular basis than to let them deteriorate to the point where they require major renovation.</p> <p>Parks, though, compete with other essential services for funding, while fixed costs like pensions and debt service consume an ever-larger chunk of the budget. Although the operating budget for the parks department increased in actual dollars during Bloomberg's tenure (until the recent economic crisis), it is still just under 0.5 percent of the total city budget The greatest challenge going forward will be how to maintain the green empire Bloomberg has done so much to renew and expand, especially in this difficult economic climate.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" hspace="6" align="right" border="0" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> Staycationing in the City Parks 2009-09-28T05:00:00+00:00 2009-09-28T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/topics/102-parks/335-staycationing-in-the-city-parks Anne Schwartz aschwartz@gothamgazette.com <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/09/govdutch.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo (cc) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/88365008@N00/3937324266/" target="new">superk8nyc</a></div> <div class="caption">A Dutch 'pirate' at the New Island festival on Governor's Island this September</div> </div> <p>On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, some friends and I went bicycling on <a href="http://www.govisland.com/" target="new">Governors Island</a>. We pedaled around and through the small island, along the harbor and past shady lawns and historic buildings. Taking a break at a bright red picnic table at the island's southwestern end, we watched a spectacle starring a massive ocean liner, dozens of smaller craft, the Statue of Liberty and a pod of rapidly crawling swimmers.</p> <p>We had plenty of company. In some places, the new promenade around the island was so thick with parents and children, tourists and groups of twenty-somethings that we had to stop and walk our bicycles through.</p> <p>As of Labor Day weekend, more than <a href="http://www.govisland.com/Press_Room/09-08-09visitors.asp" target="new">180,000 people</a> had come to the island, nearly double the 100,000 who had visited by that time the previous year. To be sure, some of the increase can be attributed to a growing awareness of Governors Island, an increase in ferry service, new amenities like the Water Taxi Beach, and an active schedule of exhibits and events.</p> <p>But for many city residents like me, it seems that a visit to a park became a mini-vacation in the city, a budget alternative to a weekend in the country or a house at the beach. The New York City parks department does not measure park use, except to estimate beach attendance. But preliminary numbers from some park organizations that do track it showed a dramatic jump this summer in the number of people visiting parks and participating in park activities, despite the second rainiest June and July on record.</p> <p>The increase in park use indicates that well-maintained and actively programmed public outdoor spaces, so important to city dwellers' quality of life, are even more crucial in a recession. By providing beautiful and interesting destinations for tourists and making a visit to the city more pleasant, parks also give a boost to the city's economy during hard times.</p> <h3>Fresh Spaces</h3> <p>Luckily for New Yorkers, this recessionary summer coincided with the availability of new and newly discovered public spaces, including the <a href="http://www.thehighline.org/about/park-information" target="new">High Line</a>, <a href="http://www.govisland.com/Default.asp" target="new">Governors Island</a> and the <a href="http://www.onearth.org/node/1188" target="new">instant transformation</a> of Broadway at Times and Herald squares into open space with the alchemy of paint, planters and movable tables and chairs. (A notable exception to this trend was in the South Bronx, where <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=187:yankee-stadium-is-opening-but-not-the-parks-&amp;catid=58:parks" target="new">Yankee Stadium</a> sits atop a former community park and running track, while residents waiting for the replacement parks got an interim synthetic-turf rooftop track and soccer field whose temperature <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/bronx/2009/08/18/2009-08-18_macombs_park_turf_too_hot_for_them_to_handle_critics_thermometer_hits_150_degree.html" target="new">measured</a> 150 degrees during the August heat wave.)</p> <p>People also flocked to free events and programs in parks all around the city, from concerts in Springfield Park in Queens to teen art classes in <a href="http://www.bpcparks.org/bpcp/home/index.php" target="new">the parks</a> at Battery Park City to the parks department's <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_things_to_do/programs/ap_learn_to_swim.html"> Learn to Swim program</a>at three dozen pools citywide, which had a 25 percent increase in enrollment.</p> <p>The free sports, arts and education programs run by the <a href="http://www.cityparksfoundation.org/" target="new">City Parks Foundation</a> in underserved neighborhoods had a significant increase in the number of participants, said Nora Lanning, director of marketing and communication.</p> <p>The number of children involved in the track program, offered in 37 parks, had grown steadily by about 5 to 7 percent a year over the previous three years, she said, but this summer, the program saw a 27 percent jump in participants. Anticipating the increase, the foundation added afternoon sessions to meet the demand. The year-end track meet, held at Icahn Stadium on Randalls Island, usually brings in 1,200 kids, but had 2,000 this year, said Lanning.</p> <p>The foundation's free concert program had a 17 percent increase in attendance, attracting not just neighborhood residents but also young people from all over the city, she said, attributing much of the increase to the recession: "When concert tickets are $60, people are willing to travel 50 minutes or an hour to see the same artists for free."</p> <h3>Park by Park</h3> <p>Although the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy offered more free nature education programs, such as seining for marine life in the East River and bird watching, than in the past, classes at the waterfront park filled quickly, and waiting lists had to be established. "We easily could have offered twice as many programs for families and children than we were able to," said acting executive director Nancy Webster.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www.bpcparks.org/bpcp/home/index.php" target="new">Battery Park City Parks Conservancy</a> noted a 20 percent increase in participation in its many activities for adults, families and children, including drawing, tai chi and fishing, according to Battery Park City Authority spokeswoman Leticia Remauro.</p> <p>Bryant Park takes a daily count of visitors, but the full tab won't be available for several months, said park spokesman Joe Carella. Anecdotal evidence indicates more people coming to the carousel, Monday night movies and other events, but the only numbers available so far are for the outdoor library called the <a href="http://www.bryantpark.org/amenities/readingroom.php" target="new">Reading Room</a>, he said. With 53,000 visitors so far, up from just over 38,000 last year, it appears to be heading for record attendance. "Whether it has anything to do with the current economy is speculative," he said, "but one thing we know is that use has been increasing."</p> <p><a href="http://www.prospectpark.org/" target="new">Prospect Park</a> has also seen a rise in visitors, Prospect Park Alliance spokesman Eugene Patron wrote in an email, though it is difficult to quantify because it has so many entrances. But the <a href="http://www.prospectpark.org/visit/history/historic_places/h_lefferts"> Lefferts Historic House</a> and the <a href="http://www.prospectpark.org/audubon" target="new">Prospect Park Audubon Center</a> does count visitors and saw a significant rise, he said. In June and July '09, for example, 18,184 people visited the Audubon Center, compared with 13,334 the year before; at the Lefferts house, visits increased from 7,387 to 10,608 during the same period.</p> <p>The trend was visible nationwide as well. A poll <a href="http://www.tpl.org/tier3_cd.cfm?content_item_id=23098&amp;folder_id=3208" target="new">conducted</a> in July for The Trust for Public Land found that one fifth of American park users have increased their visits to local parks and playgrounds during the recession and a third of families with children have upped their park use.</p> <p>"The poll results indicate both a strong, consistent use of local parks and playgrounds and a renewed recognition of their value in tight economic times," said Peter Harnik, director of the <a href="http://www.tpl.org/tier2_pa.cfm?folder_id=3208" target="new">Center for City Park Excellence</a> at The Trust for Public Land. "This poll underscores the importance of maintaining and enhancing parks and playgrounds in cities, even during tough times."</p> <p><cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> <p><em>When first published, this story said the Bryant Park carousel was free. It actually costs $2.</em></p> <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/09/govdutch.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo (cc) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/88365008@N00/3937324266/" target="new">superk8nyc</a></div> <div class="caption">A Dutch 'pirate' at the New Island festival on Governor's Island this September</div> </div> <p>On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, some friends and I went bicycling on <a href="http://www.govisland.com/" target="new">Governors Island</a>. We pedaled around and through the small island, along the harbor and past shady lawns and historic buildings. Taking a break at a bright red picnic table at the island's southwestern end, we watched a spectacle starring a massive ocean liner, dozens of smaller craft, the Statue of Liberty and a pod of rapidly crawling swimmers.</p> <p>We had plenty of company. In some places, the new promenade around the island was so thick with parents and children, tourists and groups of twenty-somethings that we had to stop and walk our bicycles through.</p> <p>As of Labor Day weekend, more than <a href="http://www.govisland.com/Press_Room/09-08-09visitors.asp" target="new">180,000 people</a> had come to the island, nearly double the 100,000 who had visited by that time the previous year. To be sure, some of the increase can be attributed to a growing awareness of Governors Island, an increase in ferry service, new amenities like the Water Taxi Beach, and an active schedule of exhibits and events.</p> <p>But for many city residents like me, it seems that a visit to a park became a mini-vacation in the city, a budget alternative to a weekend in the country or a house at the beach. The New York City parks department does not measure park use, except to estimate beach attendance. But preliminary numbers from some park organizations that do track it showed a dramatic jump this summer in the number of people visiting parks and participating in park activities, despite the second rainiest June and July on record.</p> <p>The increase in park use indicates that well-maintained and actively programmed public outdoor spaces, so important to city dwellers' quality of life, are even more crucial in a recession. By providing beautiful and interesting destinations for tourists and making a visit to the city more pleasant, parks also give a boost to the city's economy during hard times.</p> <h3>Fresh Spaces</h3> <p>Luckily for New Yorkers, this recessionary summer coincided with the availability of new and newly discovered public spaces, including the <a href="http://www.thehighline.org/about/park-information" target="new">High Line</a>, <a href="http://www.govisland.com/Default.asp" target="new">Governors Island</a> and the <a href="http://www.onearth.org/node/1188" target="new">instant transformation</a> of Broadway at Times and Herald squares into open space with the alchemy of paint, planters and movable tables and chairs. (A notable exception to this trend was in the South Bronx, where <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=187:yankee-stadium-is-opening-but-not-the-parks-&amp;catid=58:parks" target="new">Yankee Stadium</a> sits atop a former community park and running track, while residents waiting for the replacement parks got an interim synthetic-turf rooftop track and soccer field whose temperature <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/bronx/2009/08/18/2009-08-18_macombs_park_turf_too_hot_for_them_to_handle_critics_thermometer_hits_150_degree.html" target="new">measured</a> 150 degrees during the August heat wave.)</p> <p>People also flocked to free events and programs in parks all around the city, from concerts in Springfield Park in Queens to teen art classes in <a href="http://www.bpcparks.org/bpcp/home/index.php" target="new">the parks</a> at Battery Park City to the parks department's <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_things_to_do/programs/ap_learn_to_swim.html"> Learn to Swim program</a>at three dozen pools citywide, which had a 25 percent increase in enrollment.</p> <p>The free sports, arts and education programs run by the <a href="http://www.cityparksfoundation.org/" target="new">City Parks Foundation</a> in underserved neighborhoods had a significant increase in the number of participants, said Nora Lanning, director of marketing and communication.</p> <p>The number of children involved in the track program, offered in 37 parks, had grown steadily by about 5 to 7 percent a year over the previous three years, she said, but this summer, the program saw a 27 percent jump in participants. Anticipating the increase, the foundation added afternoon sessions to meet the demand. The year-end track meet, held at Icahn Stadium on Randalls Island, usually brings in 1,200 kids, but had 2,000 this year, said Lanning.</p> <p>The foundation's free concert program had a 17 percent increase in attendance, attracting not just neighborhood residents but also young people from all over the city, she said, attributing much of the increase to the recession: "When concert tickets are $60, people are willing to travel 50 minutes or an hour to see the same artists for free."</p> <h3>Park by Park</h3> <p>Although the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy offered more free nature education programs, such as seining for marine life in the East River and bird watching, than in the past, classes at the waterfront park filled quickly, and waiting lists had to be established. "We easily could have offered twice as many programs for families and children than we were able to," said acting executive director Nancy Webster.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www.bpcparks.org/bpcp/home/index.php" target="new">Battery Park City Parks Conservancy</a> noted a 20 percent increase in participation in its many activities for adults, families and children, including drawing, tai chi and fishing, according to Battery Park City Authority spokeswoman Leticia Remauro.</p> <p>Bryant Park takes a daily count of visitors, but the full tab won't be available for several months, said park spokesman Joe Carella. Anecdotal evidence indicates more people coming to the carousel, Monday night movies and other events, but the only numbers available so far are for the outdoor library called the <a href="http://www.bryantpark.org/amenities/readingroom.php" target="new">Reading Room</a>, he said. With 53,000 visitors so far, up from just over 38,000 last year, it appears to be heading for record attendance. "Whether it has anything to do with the current economy is speculative," he said, "but one thing we know is that use has been increasing."</p> <p><a href="http://www.prospectpark.org/" target="new">Prospect Park</a> has also seen a rise in visitors, Prospect Park Alliance spokesman Eugene Patron wrote in an email, though it is difficult to quantify because it has so many entrances. But the <a href="http://www.prospectpark.org/visit/history/historic_places/h_lefferts"> Lefferts Historic House</a> and the <a href="http://www.prospectpark.org/audubon" target="new">Prospect Park Audubon Center</a> does count visitors and saw a significant rise, he said. In June and July '09, for example, 18,184 people visited the Audubon Center, compared with 13,334 the year before; at the Lefferts house, visits increased from 7,387 to 10,608 during the same period.</p> <p>The trend was visible nationwide as well. A poll <a href="http://www.tpl.org/tier3_cd.cfm?content_item_id=23098&amp;folder_id=3208" target="new">conducted</a> in July for The Trust for Public Land found that one fifth of American park users have increased their visits to local parks and playgrounds during the recession and a third of families with children have upped their park use.</p> <p>"The poll results indicate both a strong, consistent use of local parks and playgrounds and a renewed recognition of their value in tight economic times," said Peter Harnik, director of the <a href="http://www.tpl.org/tier2_pa.cfm?folder_id=3208" target="new">Center for City Park Excellence</a> at The Trust for Public Land. "This poll underscores the importance of maintaining and enhancing parks and playgrounds in cities, even during tough times."</p> <p><cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> <p><em>When first published, this story said the Bryant Park carousel was free. It actually costs $2.</em></p> A Public-slash-Private Park 2009-08-11T05:00:00+00:00 2009-08-11T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/topics/102-parks/283-a-public-slash-private-park Alex Kane koloski@gothamgazette.com <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/08/randallsballfield.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo (c) Geoffrey Croft</div> <div class="caption">One of the new ball fields on Randall's Island. By the end of construction, which the parks department estimates will be in 2011, Randall's Island will have 66 new or improved ball fields.</div> </div> <p>When State Supreme Court Judge Shirley Kornreich annulled <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/01/nyregion/01randalls.html?_r=2&amp;scp=1&amp;sq=randall's%20island&amp;st=cse" target="new">a concession</a> agreement between the <a href="http://risf.org/" target="new">Randall's Island Sports Foundation</a>, the <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/" target="new">Department of Parks and Recreation</a> and a consortium of 20 private schools last winter, Geoffrey Croft, one of the plaintiffs, was pleased.</p> <div style="float: right; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 10px; width: 300px;"><hr size="1" width="300" /><strong> Gotham Gazette on the Waterfront <br /> <br /> <img style="margin-bottom: 8px;" src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/08/onthewaterfront.jpg" alt="" border="0" /> <br /> </strong> <small> .........................<br /> <strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/Parks/20090810/14/2984">Neglected National Parkland </a></strong> <br />Our parks columnist explores the national parkland along the New York Harbor -- an area most New Yorkers have never heard of. <br /> .........................<br /> <img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/Transportation/20090812/16/2985">Tunnel Vision</a></strong> <br />After three tries, a new Mass Transit Tunnel linking New Jersey and New York has broken ground. But advocates question whether this proposal will really ease traffic under the Hudson. <br /> .........................<br /> <img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong> <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/fea/20090810/202/2982">Communities Drowned Out</a></strong> <br /> As planners and developers eye the water's edge, are grassroots and community advocates losing their say?<br /> .........................<br /> <img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/issueoftheweek/20090810/200/2983">Waiting to Wade</a></strong> More people are taking to the water, but has our access really improved? Check out this and more in Gotham Gazette's series on all things waterfront. </small> <br /><hr size="1" width="300" /></div> <p>"We felt good about it," Croft, the president of the watchdog group <a href="http://nycparkadvocates.org/" target="new">NYC Parks Advocates</a>, said. He says he thought the ruling would "make sure that the community is at least informed about the project. We also thought that the construction would stop."</p> <p>However, construction went on, and in June the city signed off on a new, and some say better, deal. The new deal has reduced the amount of fields reserved for private school use -- a major criticism of the city's first plan -- from <a href="http://blogs.journalism.cuny.edu/lindsaylazarski/2009/05/21/new-field-concessions-at-randalls-island-same-community-response/" target="new">two-thirds to half</a>.</p> <p>But Croft and other critics of the plan, scheduled to go into effect this September, continue to contend that community input from East Harlem and the South Bronx, low-income areas that surround the East River island, has been sorely lacking. Opponents of the concession plan say that none of the members of the sports foundation's board, which runs the island in partnership with the city, live in East Harlem or the South Bronx, and that some members of the board have or had children enrolled in some of the private schools that were part of the concession.</p> <p>The old accord called for the private schools to pay $2.6 million annually to the Randall's Island Sports Foundation in exchange for the use of two-thirds of the 66 new or improved athletic fields, currently under construction. Under the new agreement, the private schools will pay $2.2 million for the use of 50 percent of the fields. The sports foundation keeps $400,000 from the private school money, and the rest goes to the city.</p> <p>While the new concession agreement has won over some critics, other community activists continue to voice opposition.</p> <p>"Children in [East Harlem] and the South Bronx... have [high] asthma rates, there's no quality food supermarkets, so we have the fast food, so we have diabetes and obesity," said Marina Ortiz, a critic of the concession and president and founder of <a href="http://eastharlempreservation.org/index.html" target="new">East Harlem Preservation</a>. "People need access to parkland to combat these health issues, and we also have a right. And we're being denied that right, and it's unfair."</p> <h3>A Private Solution</h3> <p>Opponents charge that the Bloomberg administration and the sports foundation are favoring private schools over the surrounding communities, and that the concession amounts to privatizing the island. Critics also say the city has stymied community involvement in the planning process by bypassing the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.</p> <p>About 80 percent of the <a href="http://risf.org/sportsfields.htm" target="new">construction on the island</a> is completed, and the remainder should be done by 2011, according to estimates by the Department of Parks and Recreation. While the parks department has slated $61.5 million for the field construction, the total cost of the project skyrockets to $190 million, according to the Independent Budget Office. The Economic Development Corporation has committed $115 million for the project's infrastructure through 2010.</p> <p>The latest accord has not placated critics. "It's the exact same deal. They've lowered the percentage to 50, [but] they're just trying to do an end-run," around the court order, Croft said.</p> <p>Ortiz agrees.</p> <p>"Ramps are being built from various sections of the [RFK Bridge]...to accommodate this commuter park they've designed," she said. "It's not about local access. It's great, everyone should be able to come to Randall's Island, but that means everyone."</p> <p>At stake is who, when and how much students and community residents get to use the fields on <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/randallsislandpark" target="new">Randall's Island</a>. The island is a vast 273-acre piece of land that sits on the East River and is surrounded by the communities of East Harlem, the South Bronx, and Astoria, Queens. It's sprinkled with facilities from tennis and golf centers, which you have to pay to use, to a homeless shelter, ball fields and more.</p> <p>The dispute is a classic example of the debate over the proper use of private groups and money that finance public parks. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20070129/14/2088" target="new">Public-private partnerships</a>, like the one between the sports foundation and the parks department, are seen as one solution to pump money into an underfunded budget for city parks. In the midst of a fiscal crisis, the Bloomberg administration recently slashed <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=250:good-parks-are-good-for-the-economy&amp;catid=58:parks" target="new">$13 million from parks maintenance</a>, making the cuts to parks since 2007 a total of $24 million. However, at the same time, private money has helped to plug holes in the dearth of public money for parks.</p> <p>"Public-private partnerships that invest in our communities are always appreciated, but especially now, during a fiscal crisis," Phillip Abramson, a spokesman for the parks department, wrote in an e-mail.</p> <p>The reliance on private money, though, fuels charges of <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2009/03/10/2009-03-10_reject_bloombergs_paytoplay_arrogance.html" target="new">"pay to play"</a> schemes and undue private influence on public and open space.</p> <h3>The City's Position</h3> <p>On the other hand, the city and the sports foundation say the new deal will widen access and create thousands of hours of additional playing time.</p> <p>Recent testimony given by Richard Davis, the chair of the sports foundation, in front of the Office of Contract Services' <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/mocs/html/programs/franchise_concession_review.shtml" target="new">Franchise and Concession Review Committee</a>, applauded the deal.</p> <p>The agreement will give "scores of new first class fields used by all our kids, a greater ability to meet the extensive needs for weekend fields and, for the first time, very meaningful after school use by public school kids," Davis said.</p> <p>The latest deal has won over some past dissenters, like <a href="http://www.mbpo.org/" target="new">Manhattan Borough President</a> Scott Stringer, who originally voted against the deal with the private schools.</p> <p>In an opinion piece for the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario, Stringer wrote, "This new agreement is designed to ensure that the people of the South Bronx and East Harlem have real and meaningful access to all of the Island’s resources."</p> <p>Stringer also applauded the $100,000 that was secured for 10 sports teams from public schools, and the fact that the teams will be transported with shuttle buses from 125th Street to the island. A spokeswoman for Stringer says that Stringer’s office gave $75,000 for transportation.</p> <p>The new agreement will create opportunities for healthy activity, "especially for residents of East Harlem and the South Bronx," said Aimee Boden, executive director of the Randall's Island Sports Foundation. The foundation is working "to bring community people out to the park, and to advise them every step of the way," Boden said.</p> <p>When asked about criticism over the amount of community engagement within the plan for Randall's Island, Boden said the sports foundation has been working with local community boards and residents, and pointed to the existence of a task force on Randall's Island that includes local representatives.</p> <h3>Another Day in Court</h3> <p>A new lawsuit, with many of the same plaintiffs, including Croft and Ortiz, was filed in late May, using largely the same arguments.</p> <p>The crux of the legal argument against the concession agreement is that the city needs to go through a review process known as the <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/luproc/ulpro.shtml" target="new">Uniform Land Use Review Procedure</a> because the deal amounted to a "major concession." One of the criteria for determining whether a concession is major is if the concession involves more than 30,000 square feet of open use. The plaintiffs say the parks plan involves more than that. The procedure requires the plan to be submitted first to the community board, and then the borough president, the City Planning Commission and the City Council.</p> <p>When Kornreich ruled on the original agreement, she wrote, "the court disagrees with this strained interpretation of the concession, an interpretation designed to evade ULURP review."</p> <p>The city argues that the new concession is not a "major concession" because the new sports fields continue an existing use that existed for the past two years, which is an exception to having to go through the land use procedure. The plan has only gone through the Franchise and Concession Review Committee, where a majority of that committee's members are appointed by the Bloomberg administration, which supports the deal. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is an "honorary trustee" to the board of the Randall's Island Sports Foundation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The committee has approved the concession agreements, both the annulled one and the newest incarnation.</p> <p>"Obviously this is another effort at evading [the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure]," said Gavin Kearney, environmental justice director for New York <a href="http://www.nylpi.org/" target="new">Lawyers for the Public Interest</a>. "Basically, it's the same thing with cosmetic changes, and they're basically trying to avoid the letter and the spirit of the court's ruling," he said.</p> <p>Also at issue, critics say, is an inadequate environmental review process.</p> <p>The parks department labeled the ongoing 209-acre construction at Randall's Island a "Type I" action--meaning that actions on the island would have a significant impact on the environment and may require a full environmental review process.</p> <p>But the department filed a <a href="http://nycgovparks.org/sub_about/parks_divisions/capital/parks/randallsisland.html" target="new">"negative declaration,"</a> and argued that construction will not have a big impact on the environmental quality of the island.</p> <p>Kearney disagrees, and accused the parks department of a "cursory" look at the impact the construction will have.</p> <p>"We don't think that they have adequately evaluated the impacts and we don't think they have adequately addressed how they're going to mitigate the impacts," he said.</p> <p>In an e-mail, Abramson of the parks department wrote, "The petitioners' claims are without merit... Based on [our] study, we reasonably concluded that the Randall's Island project has no potential to create adverse impacts."</p> <p>Kearney remains confident that the plaintiffs will get a favorable ruling.</p> <p>"I think we're pretty confident that the court will see this for what it is, which is basically another effort to get around the city's legal requirements."</p> <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/08/randallsballfield.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photo (c) Geoffrey Croft</div> <div class="caption">One of the new ball fields on Randall's Island. By the end of construction, which the parks department estimates will be in 2011, Randall's Island will have 66 new or improved ball fields.</div> </div> <p>When State Supreme Court Judge Shirley Kornreich annulled <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/01/nyregion/01randalls.html?_r=2&amp;scp=1&amp;sq=randall's%20island&amp;st=cse" target="new">a concession</a> agreement between the <a href="http://risf.org/" target="new">Randall's Island Sports Foundation</a>, the <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/" target="new">Department of Parks and Recreation</a> and a consortium of 20 private schools last winter, Geoffrey Croft, one of the plaintiffs, was pleased.</p> <div style="float: right; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 10px; width: 300px;"><hr size="1" width="300" /><strong> Gotham Gazette on the Waterfront <br /> <br /> <img style="margin-bottom: 8px;" src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/08/onthewaterfront.jpg" alt="" border="0" /> <br /> </strong> <small> .........................<br /> <strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/Parks/20090810/14/2984">Neglected National Parkland </a></strong> <br />Our parks columnist explores the national parkland along the New York Harbor -- an area most New Yorkers have never heard of. <br /> .........................<br /> <img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/Transportation/20090812/16/2985">Tunnel Vision</a></strong> <br />After three tries, a new Mass Transit Tunnel linking New Jersey and New York has broken ground. But advocates question whether this proposal will really ease traffic under the Hudson. <br /> .........................<br /> <img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong> <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/fea/20090810/202/2982">Communities Drowned Out</a></strong> <br /> As planners and developers eye the water's edge, are grassroots and community advocates losing their say?<br /> .........................<br /> <img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/issueoftheweek/20090810/200/2983">Waiting to Wade</a></strong> More people are taking to the water, but has our access really improved? Check out this and more in Gotham Gazette's series on all things waterfront. </small> <br /><hr size="1" width="300" /></div> <p>"We felt good about it," Croft, the president of the watchdog group <a href="http://nycparkadvocates.org/" target="new">NYC Parks Advocates</a>, said. He says he thought the ruling would "make sure that the community is at least informed about the project. We also thought that the construction would stop."</p> <p>However, construction went on, and in June the city signed off on a new, and some say better, deal. The new deal has reduced the amount of fields reserved for private school use -- a major criticism of the city's first plan -- from <a href="http://blogs.journalism.cuny.edu/lindsaylazarski/2009/05/21/new-field-concessions-at-randalls-island-same-community-response/" target="new">two-thirds to half</a>.</p> <p>But Croft and other critics of the plan, scheduled to go into effect this September, continue to contend that community input from East Harlem and the South Bronx, low-income areas that surround the East River island, has been sorely lacking. Opponents of the concession plan say that none of the members of the sports foundation's board, which runs the island in partnership with the city, live in East Harlem or the South Bronx, and that some members of the board have or had children enrolled in some of the private schools that were part of the concession.</p> <p>The old accord called for the private schools to pay $2.6 million annually to the Randall's Island Sports Foundation in exchange for the use of two-thirds of the 66 new or improved athletic fields, currently under construction. Under the new agreement, the private schools will pay $2.2 million for the use of 50 percent of the fields. The sports foundation keeps $400,000 from the private school money, and the rest goes to the city.</p> <p>While the new concession agreement has won over some critics, other community activists continue to voice opposition.</p> <p>"Children in [East Harlem] and the South Bronx... have [high] asthma rates, there's no quality food supermarkets, so we have the fast food, so we have diabetes and obesity," said Marina Ortiz, a critic of the concession and president and founder of <a href="http://eastharlempreservation.org/index.html" target="new">East Harlem Preservation</a>. "People need access to parkland to combat these health issues, and we also have a right. And we're being denied that right, and it's unfair."</p> <h3>A Private Solution</h3> <p>Opponents charge that the Bloomberg administration and the sports foundation are favoring private schools over the surrounding communities, and that the concession amounts to privatizing the island. Critics also say the city has stymied community involvement in the planning process by bypassing the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.</p> <p>About 80 percent of the <a href="http://risf.org/sportsfields.htm" target="new">construction on the island</a> is completed, and the remainder should be done by 2011, according to estimates by the Department of Parks and Recreation. While the parks department has slated $61.5 million for the field construction, the total cost of the project skyrockets to $190 million, according to the Independent Budget Office. The Economic Development Corporation has committed $115 million for the project's infrastructure through 2010.</p> <p>The latest accord has not placated critics. "It's the exact same deal. They've lowered the percentage to 50, [but] they're just trying to do an end-run," around the court order, Croft said.</p> <p>Ortiz agrees.</p> <p>"Ramps are being built from various sections of the [RFK Bridge]...to accommodate this commuter park they've designed," she said. "It's not about local access. It's great, everyone should be able to come to Randall's Island, but that means everyone."</p> <p>At stake is who, when and how much students and community residents get to use the fields on <a href="http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/randallsislandpark" target="new">Randall's Island</a>. The island is a vast 273-acre piece of land that sits on the East River and is surrounded by the communities of East Harlem, the South Bronx, and Astoria, Queens. It's sprinkled with facilities from tennis and golf centers, which you have to pay to use, to a homeless shelter, ball fields and more.</p> <p>The dispute is a classic example of the debate over the proper use of private groups and money that finance public parks. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20070129/14/2088" target="new">Public-private partnerships</a>, like the one between the sports foundation and the parks department, are seen as one solution to pump money into an underfunded budget for city parks. In the midst of a fiscal crisis, the Bloomberg administration recently slashed <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=250:good-parks-are-good-for-the-economy&amp;catid=58:parks" target="new">$13 million from parks maintenance</a>, making the cuts to parks since 2007 a total of $24 million. However, at the same time, private money has helped to plug holes in the dearth of public money for parks.</p> <p>"Public-private partnerships that invest in our communities are always appreciated, but especially now, during a fiscal crisis," Phillip Abramson, a spokesman for the parks department, wrote in an e-mail.</p> <p>The reliance on private money, though, fuels charges of <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2009/03/10/2009-03-10_reject_bloombergs_paytoplay_arrogance.html" target="new">"pay to play"</a> schemes and undue private influence on public and open space.</p> <h3>The City's Position</h3> <p>On the other hand, the city and the sports foundation say the new deal will widen access and create thousands of hours of additional playing time.</p> <p>Recent testimony given by Richard Davis, the chair of the sports foundation, in front of the Office of Contract Services' <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/mocs/html/programs/franchise_concession_review.shtml" target="new">Franchise and Concession Review Committee</a>, applauded the deal.</p> <p>The agreement will give "scores of new first class fields used by all our kids, a greater ability to meet the extensive needs for weekend fields and, for the first time, very meaningful after school use by public school kids," Davis said.</p> <p>The latest deal has won over some past dissenters, like <a href="http://www.mbpo.org/" target="new">Manhattan Borough President</a> Scott Stringer, who originally voted against the deal with the private schools.</p> <p>In an opinion piece for the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario, Stringer wrote, "This new agreement is designed to ensure that the people of the South Bronx and East Harlem have real and meaningful access to all of the Island’s resources."</p> <p>Stringer also applauded the $100,000 that was secured for 10 sports teams from public schools, and the fact that the teams will be transported with shuttle buses from 125th Street to the island. A spokeswoman for Stringer says that Stringer’s office gave $75,000 for transportation.</p> <p>The new agreement will create opportunities for healthy activity, "especially for residents of East Harlem and the South Bronx," said Aimee Boden, executive director of the Randall's Island Sports Foundation. The foundation is working "to bring community people out to the park, and to advise them every step of the way," Boden said.</p> <p>When asked about criticism over the amount of community engagement within the plan for Randall's Island, Boden said the sports foundation has been working with local community boards and residents, and pointed to the existence of a task force on Randall's Island that includes local representatives.</p> <h3>Another Day in Court</h3> <p>A new lawsuit, with many of the same plaintiffs, including Croft and Ortiz, was filed in late May, using largely the same arguments.</p> <p>The crux of the legal argument against the concession agreement is that the city needs to go through a review process known as the <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/luproc/ulpro.shtml" target="new">Uniform Land Use Review Procedure</a> because the deal amounted to a "major concession." One of the criteria for determining whether a concession is major is if the concession involves more than 30,000 square feet of open use. The plaintiffs say the parks plan involves more than that. The procedure requires the plan to be submitted first to the community board, and then the borough president, the City Planning Commission and the City Council.</p> <p>When Kornreich ruled on the original agreement, she wrote, "the court disagrees with this strained interpretation of the concession, an interpretation designed to evade ULURP review."</p> <p>The city argues that the new concession is not a "major concession" because the new sports fields continue an existing use that existed for the past two years, which is an exception to having to go through the land use procedure. The plan has only gone through the Franchise and Concession Review Committee, where a majority of that committee's members are appointed by the Bloomberg administration, which supports the deal. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is an "honorary trustee" to the board of the Randall's Island Sports Foundation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The committee has approved the concession agreements, both the annulled one and the newest incarnation.</p> <p>"Obviously this is another effort at evading [the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure]," said Gavin Kearney, environmental justice director for New York <a href="http://www.nylpi.org/" target="new">Lawyers for the Public Interest</a>. "Basically, it's the same thing with cosmetic changes, and they're basically trying to avoid the letter and the spirit of the court's ruling," he said.</p> <p>Also at issue, critics say, is an inadequate environmental review process.</p> <p>The parks department labeled the ongoing 209-acre construction at Randall's Island a "Type I" action--meaning that actions on the island would have a significant impact on the environment and may require a full environmental review process.</p> <p>But the department filed a <a href="http://nycgovparks.org/sub_about/parks_divisions/capital/parks/randallsisland.html" target="new">"negative declaration,"</a> and argued that construction will not have a big impact on the environmental quality of the island.</p> <p>Kearney disagrees, and accused the parks department of a "cursory" look at the impact the construction will have.</p> <p>"We don't think that they have adequately evaluated the impacts and we don't think they have adequately addressed how they're going to mitigate the impacts," he said.</p> <p>In an e-mail, Abramson of the parks department wrote, "The petitioners' claims are without merit... Based on [our] study, we reasonably concluded that the Randall's Island project has no potential to create adverse impacts."</p> <p>Kearney remains confident that the plaintiffs will get a favorable ruling.</p> <p>"I think we're pretty confident that the court will see this for what it is, which is basically another effort to get around the city's legal requirements."</p> National Parkland Not on Radar 2009-08-10T05:00:00+00:00 2009-08-10T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/topics/102-parks/280-national-parkland-not-on-radar Anne Schwartz aschwartz@gothamgazette.com <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/08/waterfrontparks.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photos (c) U.S. National Park Service</div> <div class="caption">Photos from the Jamaica Bay unit of Gateway National Recreation Area</div> </div> <p>When my 19-year-old daughter and her friends are looking for something to do, they often head for the water. They walk in the park along the Hudson River, go to concerts on a pier, watch movies in Brooklyn Bridge Park or take a ferry to the beach.</p> <div style="float: right; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 10px; width: 300px;"><hr size="1" width="300" /><strong> Gotham Gazette on the Waterfront <br /> <br /> <img style="margin-bottom: 8px;" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/graphics/2009/08/onthewaterfront.jpg" alt="" border="0" /> <br /> </strong> <small> .........................<br /> <img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/Waterfront/20090811/18/2986">A Public-slash-Private Park</a></strong> <br />The city has created a new plan for the ball fields on Randall's Island. Critics, though, are calling foul.<br /> .........................<br /> <img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/Transportation/20090812/16/2985">Tunnel Vision</a></strong> <br />After three tries, a new Mass Transit Tunnel linking New Jersey and New York has broken ground. But advocates question whether this proposal will really ease traffic under the Hudson. <br /> .........................<br /> <img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong> <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/fea/20090810/202/2982">Communities Drowned Out</a></strong> <br /> As planners and developers eye the water's edge, are grassroots and community advocates losing their say?<br /> .........................<br /> <img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/issueoftheweek/20090810/200/2983">Waiting to Wade</a></strong> More people are taking to the water, but has our access really improved? Check out this and more in Gotham Gazette's series on all things waterfront. </small> <br /><hr size="1" width="300" /></div> <p>None of this would have been possible twenty or even ten years ago. Over the past two decades, parks have been built and restored around the Manhattan shoreline, along the Bronx River, on the downtown Brooklyn waterfront and on Governors Island, bringing people to the water and redefining the experience of visiting and living in New York City. These changes were illustrated this summer on Governors Island, where expanded ferry service and a new <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/arts/17governors.html" target="new">promenade</a>, picnic area, and Water Taxi Beach drew more than 100,000 visitors through July -- nearly twice as much as the entire summer of 2007.</p> <p>While city and state parks have been the focus of this reinvention of the waterfront, much more can be done to the vast acreage of parks under national jurisdiction. Known together as the <a href="http://www.nps.gov/npnh" target="new">National Parks of New York Harbor</a>, these parks offer a tremendous opportunity to integrate the harbor into the life of the city and provide an urban park experience on the level of a Yellowstone or Yosemite.</p> <p>"There are sites of great renown and beauty, such as the Statue of Liberty, and there are sites that have not come close to realizing their potential and are certainly not the iconic parks that the public deserves," said Alexander Brash, northeast regional director of the <a href="http://www.npca.org" target="new">National Parks and Conservation Association</a>, a national parks advocacy group.</p> <h3>The Harbor Parks</h3> <p>Few New Yorkers are aware that the <a href="http://www.nps.gov/index.htm" target="new">National Park Service</a> is the largest single landholder in the harbor, having jurisdiction over 26,000 acres of parkland, wetlands and water, nearly the size of the entire city park system. Most of this acreage is within the three <a href="http://www.nps.gov/gate/" target="new">Gateway National Recreation Area</a> units, spanning the Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and northern New Jersey shores.</p> <p>A 2006 <a href="http://www.npca.org/northeast/pdf/Gateway_Zogby_Poll_Results_full.pdf" target="new">poll</a> found that nearly half of New York area residents don't know about and have never visited Gateway. Even so, in 2006, Gateway was the fifth most visited park in the national park system.</p> <p>New York Harbor is a great estuarine ecosystem and a key stopover on the avian <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_Flyway" target="new">Atlantic Flyway</a>. It has also played a starring role in the history of the country, as the site of the first U.S. government, a great commercial port, a nexus of military defense and the portal for waves of immigration.</p> <p>The harbor's 10 national parks and monuments, which include 23 unique sites, were grouped together in 2002 as the <a href="http://www.nps.gov/npnh" target="new">National Parks of New York Harbor</a>. "Sitting on a boat, or from Governors Island, you can see the sites together and understand America in a different way," said Robert Pirani, the director of environmental programs at the <a href="http://www.rpa.org/" target="new">Regional Plan Association</a>.</p> <p>Among the harbor park sites are <a href="http://www.nps.gov/elis/" target="new">Ellis Island</a>, <a href="http://www.nps.gov/feha/" target="new">Federal Hall</a>, Castle Williams and Fort Jay on <a href="http://www.nps.gov/gois/historyculture/index.htm" target="new">Governors Island</a>, as well as <a href="http://www.nps.gov/gegr/" target="new">Grant's Tomb</a> and the city's newest national memorial, the <a href="http://www.nps.gov/afbg/" target="new">African Burial Ground</a> in Manhattan.</p> <p>The vast acreage of <a href="http://www.nps.gov/gate/" target="new">Gateway National Recreation Area</a> includes wetlands, waters, forests and meadows that provide important habitat for birds, fish and shellfish, as well sandy beaches, sports fields, forts, lighthouses and airplane hangars. The 9,000-acre <a href="http://www.brooklynbirdclub.org/jamaica.htm" target="new">Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge</a> is the largest bird sanctuary in the eastern United States.</p> <h3>Gateway’s Missed Potential</h3> <p>When Congress established Gateway in 1972 as one of the National Park System's first urban national recreation areas (the other being Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco), it authorized $92 million to restore the collection of shoreline properties that had many different prior uses and were in various states of disrepair. Gateway, though, never got the initial funding -- equivalent to $1.2 billion in today's dollars.</p> <p>The park's 1979 general management plan envisioned an "opportunity to demonstrate that abused resources can be renewed," and a park offering "millions of Americans a chance to have national park adventures and experiences virtually at their own doorsteps." But the long underfunded national park system was never given the money to restore Gateway's landscapes, renovate many of its structures, build extensive new recreational facilities and provide adequate visitor services.</p> <p>In addition, public transportation to and within the far-flung sites was never put in place, preventing Gateway from becoming the urban recreational, natural and historical destination it was meant to be. "The whole point of Gateway was to be of service to people living in cities who don't have cars," said Brash.</p> <p>A 2007 <a href="http://www.npca.org/stateoftheparks/gateway/Gateway_CSOTP_NPCA.pdf" target="new">report card</a> by the National Parks and Conservation Association found Gateway's natural and cultural resources in poor condition. Degraded habitat, derelict buildings and impermeable asphalt remain throughout the park. Wetlands and other habitats once teeming with wildlife are damaged by pollution from former landfills, runoff from commercial areas, treated wastewater from city sewage plants and sewage overflows during storms. The wetlands in Jamaica Bay are <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/02/nyregion/02marsh.html" target="new">disappearing</a> at an alarming rate, and the sea level's rise due to global warming will affect the entire park's shoreline.</p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/08/flyin.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photos (c) U.S. National Park Service</div> <div class="caption">Historic aircraft "fly-in" to Floyd Bennett Field</div> </div> <p>Floyd Bennett Field, the city's first municipal airport and former a U.S. naval air station, comprises 20 percent of Gateway's land mass, but it has never been renovated to fulfill its potential as the "gateway to Gateway." Runways still cover the landscape. The former control tower and terminal was converted to a visitor center, but much of the interior is crumbling and off-limits to the public. Along with recreation such as bird watching in the grasslands, flying model airplanes and community gardening, the park serves for other city uses, such as training city police and sanitation drivers.</p> <h3>A Harbor Vision</h3> <p>Recent efforts have begun to make Gateway the great urban national park many hoped it would become. Creating a vision and gaining the necessary funding, advocates say, will require the collaboration of agencies at the city, state and federal levels, as well as with the many organizations concerned with the park and harbor.</p> <div class="photo_right"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/08/envisioninggateway.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="caption">A finalist from the design competition, <a href="http://www.npca.org/gateway/finalists.html" target="new">Envisioning Gateway</a></div> </div> <p>In 2007, the National Parks and Conservation Association partnered with the <a href="http://www.vanalen.org/" target="new">Van Alen Institute</a> and Columbia University to hold a design competition, titled <a href="http://www.npca.org/gateway/finalists.html" target="new">Envisioning Gateway</a>. "The idea was not that the winner of the contest would be the one producing the final design for the park, but rather to raise the bar on what the park could and should be," said Brash.</p> <p>The National Parks Service is working on a new <a href="http://www.nps.gov/gate/parkmgmt/gmp.htm" target="new">general management</a> plan for Gateway. It has hosted <a href="http://www.nps.gov/gate/parkmgmt/2009-open-house-schedule.htm" target="new">open houses</a> throughout the summer, and there will be five more open houses in September.</p> <p>Some park advocates are concerned, however, that the process of creating a new plan would recreate the wheel and risk further delay. Advocates the original 1979 management plan to be made available to the public online along with all of the other pertinent information, such as maps, scientific data and documents relating to the development of the new plan.</p> <p>The original plan should be used as a foundation of the new plan, "so we're not doing zero-based planning," said Dave Lutz, executive director of <a href="http://www.treebranch.com/friends_of_gateway.htm" target="new">Friends of Gateway</a> and a participant for several decades in efforts to protect, improve and create access to the recreation area. "Let's look at what's there and decide what we like, what we don't like; what we can do, what we can't do."</p> <p>Other organizations have focused on the harbor parks as a whole and on improving access and making the harbor a new destination for visitors and residents. The <a href="http://www.nyharborparks.org/conservancy" target="new">New York Harbor Parks Conservancy</a> was established in 2002 as a nonprofit partner for the city's national parks. Among its goals are to develop waterborne transportation to make the harbor and its islands more accessible and to raise awareness about the historical and cultural significance of the public spaces around the harbor. The conservancy has created several guided harbor tours and is working to increase public access through ferries and buses to the far-flung sites.</p> <p>New York's congressional delegation has secured some funding for several transit-related projects, including new ferry docks and research for bus-tram service linking Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Jacob Riis Park to the subway.</p> <p>Focusing on the inner harbor, the city's Economic Development Corporation has designated a new <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/07/nyregion/07harbor.html" target="new">harbor district</a>. Next month, as part of NYC 400 week, it is presenting a celebratory <a href="http://www.nycgo.com/harborday&amp;ref=gsa" target="new">Harbor Day</a>, with free bikes and boat service connecting six major waterfront sites.</p> <p>Restoring and developing Gateway as a model urban national park and a vibrant connection to the waterfront presents a tremendous challenge. It will require a vision that balances ecological conservation, historic preservation and recreation, greatly improved public access, and the cooperation of scores of stakeholders with often conflicting agendas.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" hspace="6" align="right" border="0" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p> <p></p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/08/waterfrontparks.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photos (c) U.S. National Park Service</div> <div class="caption">Photos from the Jamaica Bay unit of Gateway National Recreation Area</div> </div> <p>When my 19-year-old daughter and her friends are looking for something to do, they often head for the water. They walk in the park along the Hudson River, go to concerts on a pier, watch movies in Brooklyn Bridge Park or take a ferry to the beach.</p> <div style="float: right; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 10px; width: 300px;"><hr size="1" width="300" /><strong> Gotham Gazette on the Waterfront <br /> <br /> <img style="margin-bottom: 8px;" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/graphics/2009/08/onthewaterfront.jpg" alt="" border="0" /> <br /> </strong> <small> .........................<br /> <img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/Waterfront/20090811/18/2986">A Public-slash-Private Park</a></strong> <br />The city has created a new plan for the ball fields on Randall's Island. Critics, though, are calling foul.<br /> .........................<br /> <img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/Transportation/20090812/16/2985">Tunnel Vision</a></strong> <br />After three tries, a new Mass Transit Tunnel linking New Jersey and New York has broken ground. But advocates question whether this proposal will really ease traffic under the Hudson. <br /> .........................<br /> <img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong> <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/fea/20090810/202/2982">Communities Drowned Out</a></strong> <br /> As planners and developers eye the water's edge, are grassroots and community advocates losing their say?<br /> .........................<br /> <img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/spacer.gif" alt="" width="1" height="12" border="0" /> <strong><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com//article/issueoftheweek/20090810/200/2983">Waiting to Wade</a></strong> More people are taking to the water, but has our access really improved? Check out this and more in Gotham Gazette's series on all things waterfront. </small> <br /><hr size="1" width="300" /></div> <p>None of this would have been possible twenty or even ten years ago. Over the past two decades, parks have been built and restored around the Manhattan shoreline, along the Bronx River, on the downtown Brooklyn waterfront and on Governors Island, bringing people to the water and redefining the experience of visiting and living in New York City. These changes were illustrated this summer on Governors Island, where expanded ferry service and a new <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/arts/17governors.html" target="new">promenade</a>, picnic area, and Water Taxi Beach drew more than 100,000 visitors through July -- nearly twice as much as the entire summer of 2007.</p> <p>While city and state parks have been the focus of this reinvention of the waterfront, much more can be done to the vast acreage of parks under national jurisdiction. Known together as the <a href="http://www.nps.gov/npnh" target="new">National Parks of New York Harbor</a>, these parks offer a tremendous opportunity to integrate the harbor into the life of the city and provide an urban park experience on the level of a Yellowstone or Yosemite.</p> <p>"There are sites of great renown and beauty, such as the Statue of Liberty, and there are sites that have not come close to realizing their potential and are certainly not the iconic parks that the public deserves," said Alexander Brash, northeast regional director of the <a href="http://www.npca.org" target="new">National Parks and Conservation Association</a>, a national parks advocacy group.</p> <h3>The Harbor Parks</h3> <p>Few New Yorkers are aware that the <a href="http://www.nps.gov/index.htm" target="new">National Park Service</a> is the largest single landholder in the harbor, having jurisdiction over 26,000 acres of parkland, wetlands and water, nearly the size of the entire city park system. Most of this acreage is within the three <a href="http://www.nps.gov/gate/" target="new">Gateway National Recreation Area</a> units, spanning the Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and northern New Jersey shores.</p> <p>A 2006 <a href="http://www.npca.org/northeast/pdf/Gateway_Zogby_Poll_Results_full.pdf" target="new">poll</a> found that nearly half of New York area residents don't know about and have never visited Gateway. Even so, in 2006, Gateway was the fifth most visited park in the national park system.</p> <p>New York Harbor is a great estuarine ecosystem and a key stopover on the avian <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_Flyway" target="new">Atlantic Flyway</a>. It has also played a starring role in the history of the country, as the site of the first U.S. government, a great commercial port, a nexus of military defense and the portal for waves of immigration.</p> <p>The harbor's 10 national parks and monuments, which include 23 unique sites, were grouped together in 2002 as the <a href="http://www.nps.gov/npnh" target="new">National Parks of New York Harbor</a>. "Sitting on a boat, or from Governors Island, you can see the sites together and understand America in a different way," said Robert Pirani, the director of environmental programs at the <a href="http://www.rpa.org/" target="new">Regional Plan Association</a>.</p> <p>Among the harbor park sites are <a href="http://www.nps.gov/elis/" target="new">Ellis Island</a>, <a href="http://www.nps.gov/feha/" target="new">Federal Hall</a>, Castle Williams and Fort Jay on <a href="http://www.nps.gov/gois/historyculture/index.htm" target="new">Governors Island</a>, as well as <a href="http://www.nps.gov/gegr/" target="new">Grant's Tomb</a> and the city's newest national memorial, the <a href="http://www.nps.gov/afbg/" target="new">African Burial Ground</a> in Manhattan.</p> <p>The vast acreage of <a href="http://www.nps.gov/gate/" target="new">Gateway National Recreation Area</a> includes wetlands, waters, forests and meadows that provide important habitat for birds, fish and shellfish, as well sandy beaches, sports fields, forts, lighthouses and airplane hangars. The 9,000-acre <a href="http://www.brooklynbirdclub.org/jamaica.htm" target="new">Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge</a> is the largest bird sanctuary in the eastern United States.</p> <h3>Gateway’s Missed Potential</h3> <p>When Congress established Gateway in 1972 as one of the National Park System's first urban national recreation areas (the other being Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco), it authorized $92 million to restore the collection of shoreline properties that had many different prior uses and were in various states of disrepair. Gateway, though, never got the initial funding -- equivalent to $1.2 billion in today's dollars.</p> <p>The park's 1979 general management plan envisioned an "opportunity to demonstrate that abused resources can be renewed," and a park offering "millions of Americans a chance to have national park adventures and experiences virtually at their own doorsteps." But the long underfunded national park system was never given the money to restore Gateway's landscapes, renovate many of its structures, build extensive new recreational facilities and provide adequate visitor services.</p> <p>In addition, public transportation to and within the far-flung sites was never put in place, preventing Gateway from becoming the urban recreational, natural and historical destination it was meant to be. "The whole point of Gateway was to be of service to people living in cities who don't have cars," said Brash.</p> <p>A 2007 <a href="http://www.npca.org/stateoftheparks/gateway/Gateway_CSOTP_NPCA.pdf" target="new">report card</a> by the National Parks and Conservation Association found Gateway's natural and cultural resources in poor condition. Degraded habitat, derelict buildings and impermeable asphalt remain throughout the park. Wetlands and other habitats once teeming with wildlife are damaged by pollution from former landfills, runoff from commercial areas, treated wastewater from city sewage plants and sewage overflows during storms. The wetlands in Jamaica Bay are <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/02/nyregion/02marsh.html" target="new">disappearing</a> at an alarming rate, and the sea level's rise due to global warming will affect the entire park's shoreline.</p> <div class="photo"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/08/flyin.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="photocredit">Photos (c) U.S. National Park Service</div> <div class="caption">Historic aircraft "fly-in" to Floyd Bennett Field</div> </div> <p>Floyd Bennett Field, the city's first municipal airport and former a U.S. naval air station, comprises 20 percent of Gateway's land mass, but it has never been renovated to fulfill its potential as the "gateway to Gateway." Runways still cover the landscape. The former control tower and terminal was converted to a visitor center, but much of the interior is crumbling and off-limits to the public. Along with recreation such as bird watching in the grasslands, flying model airplanes and community gardening, the park serves for other city uses, such as training city police and sanitation drivers.</p> <h3>A Harbor Vision</h3> <p>Recent efforts have begun to make Gateway the great urban national park many hoped it would become. Creating a vision and gaining the necessary funding, advocates say, will require the collaboration of agencies at the city, state and federal levels, as well as with the many organizations concerned with the park and harbor.</p> <div class="photo_right"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2009/08/envisioninggateway.jpg" alt="" /> <div class="caption">A finalist from the design competition, <a href="http://www.npca.org/gateway/finalists.html" target="new">Envisioning Gateway</a></div> </div> <p>In 2007, the National Parks and Conservation Association partnered with the <a href="http://www.vanalen.org/" target="new">Van Alen Institute</a> and Columbia University to hold a design competition, titled <a href="http://www.npca.org/gateway/finalists.html" target="new">Envisioning Gateway</a>. "The idea was not that the winner of the contest would be the one producing the final design for the park, but rather to raise the bar on what the park could and should be," said Brash.</p> <p>The National Parks Service is working on a new <a href="http://www.nps.gov/gate/parkmgmt/gmp.htm" target="new">general management</a> plan for Gateway. It has hosted <a href="http://www.nps.gov/gate/parkmgmt/2009-open-house-schedule.htm" target="new">open houses</a> throughout the summer, and there will be five more open houses in September.</p> <p>Some park advocates are concerned, however, that the process of creating a new plan would recreate the wheel and risk further delay. Advocates the original 1979 management plan to be made available to the public online along with all of the other pertinent information, such as maps, scientific data and documents relating to the development of the new plan.</p> <p>The original plan should be used as a foundation of the new plan, "so we're not doing zero-based planning," said Dave Lutz, executive director of <a href="http://www.treebranch.com/friends_of_gateway.htm" target="new">Friends of Gateway</a> and a participant for several decades in efforts to protect, improve and create access to the recreation area. "Let's look at what's there and decide what we like, what we don't like; what we can do, what we can't do."</p> <p>Other organizations have focused on the harbor parks as a whole and on improving access and making the harbor a new destination for visitors and residents. The <a href="http://www.nyharborparks.org/conservancy" target="new">New York Harbor Parks Conservancy</a> was established in 2002 as a nonprofit partner for the city's national parks. Among its goals are to develop waterborne transportation to make the harbor and its islands more accessible and to raise awareness about the historical and cultural significance of the public spaces around the harbor. The conservancy has created several guided harbor tours and is working to increase public access through ferries and buses to the far-flung sites.</p> <p>New York's congressional delegation has secured some funding for several transit-related projects, including new ferry docks and research for bus-tram service linking Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Jacob Riis Park to the subway.</p> <p>Focusing on the inner harbor, the city's Economic Development Corporation has designated a new <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/07/nyregion/07harbor.html" target="new">harbor district</a>. Next month, as part of NYC 400 week, it is presenting a celebratory <a href="http://www.nycgo.com/harborday&amp;ref=gsa" target="new">Harbor Day</a>, with free bikes and boat service connecting six major waterfront sites.</p> <p>Restoring and developing Gateway as a model urban national park and a vibrant connection to the waterfront presents a tremendous challenge. It will require a vision that balances ecological conservation, historic preservation and recreation, greatly improved public access, and the cooperation of scores of stakeholders with often conflicting agendas.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/graphics/schwartz.jpg" alt="" hspace="6" align="right" border="0" /> <cite>Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.</cite></p>