CITY PARKS IN DANGER

A new report finds that our once lush and green spaces are turning into wastelands due to decades of aging and neglect. We’ll reveal how they can be saved.

Aired on July 25, 2018.

TRANSCRIPT

> IF YOU HAVEN'T YET NOTICED, YOU PROBABLY WILL.

SOME OF OUR CITY PARKS AND GREEN SPACES ARE ACTUALLY FALLING APART.

AGING AND NEGLECT ARE THE MAIN CAUSES OF DECLINE, ACCORDING TO A NEW STUDY FOR THE CENTER FOR AN URBAN FUTURE.

THE REPORT FIND THAT ONE IN FIVE PUBLIC PARKS HAS NOT AHEAD A MARRIAGE UPGRADE FOR SOME 25 YEARS.

THE COST TO THE CITY WITH MONEY AND TIME WILL BE ENORMOUS.

WE HAVE JONATHAN BOLES, THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR CENTER FOR URBAN FUTURE.

I WOULD SUSPECT IF YOU ASK PEOPLE IN NEW YORK CITY TO GIVE YOU THEIR SENSE OF WHAT'S FALLING APART, IF YOU WILL, USING THAT TERM LOOSELY, NOT SCIENTIFICALLY, PROBABLY THEY WOULDN'T HAVE THEIR PARKS HIGH ON THE LIST.

WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?

YOU KNOW, I THINK MOST PEOPLE JUST DON'T THINK OF PARKS AS INFRASTRUCTURE.

ALSO, THEY TAKE PARKS FOR GRANTED.

YOU SEE GRASS, YOU SEE BALL FIELDS.

BUT YOU DON'T NOTICE THE RETAINING WALLS AND THE DRAINAGE SYSTEMS.

MOST PEOPLE DON'T UNDERSTAND THIS, BUT THE AVERAGE PARK IN NEW YORK CITY WAS BUILT IN THE 1940s.

MANY ARE OLDER THAN THAT.

WITH AGE AND RECORD USAGE, JUST LIKE THE SUBWAYS HAVE HAD RECORD USAGE, SO HAVE THE PARKS, THINGS START TO BREAK DOWN.

AND FOR DECADES, WE'VE BEEN UNDERINVESTING IN THAT BASIC MAINTENANCE.

SPECIFIC AREAS, YOU MENTIONED A COUPLE, BUT WHAT PARTICULAR AREAS DOES THE REPORT LOOK AT?

YEAH, WELL, WE WENT OUT WITH A REALLY OPEN MIND TO FIGURE OUT WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH THE PARKS AND WHAT ARE THE INFRASTRUCTURE ISSUES?

AND IT IS THESE KIND OF INVISIBLE AND UNSEXY THINGS WE HEARD ABOUT TIME AND AGAIN.

SO, FOR INSTANCE, DRAINAGE SYSTEMS.

A LOT OF THE PARKS, THE ORIGINAL CLAY PIPES FOR DRAINAGE THAT EXISTED WHEN THE PARK WAS BUILT, OFTEN IN THE 1940s OR EARLIER, ARE STILL THERE, THEY'RE DETERIORATING, THEY HAVE LEAKS.

AND WHAT HAPPENS IS THAT WHEN IT RAINS AT A LOT OF THE PARKS ACROSS NEW YORK CITY, YOU HAVE FLOODING FOR DAYS AFTER IT RAINS.

SO IF YOU WANT TO GO FOR A JOG, IF YOU WANT TO WALK YOUR DOG, YOU KNOW, THERE ARE AREAS WHERE -- THAT ARE OFF LIMITS BECAUSE THERE'S BASIC FLOODING.

THE RETAINING WALLS, THINGS THAT HOLD UP THE PARKS, OR PARTS OF PARKS, WALLS AND OTHER THINGS, ARE AT THE END OF THEIR USEFUL LIFE AND COULD BE A SAFETY HAZARD.

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT STRUCK ME ABOUT THE REPORT WERE LOOKING AT SOME OF THE NUMBERS.

FOR INSTANCE, THE NUMBER OF ACRES WE'RE TALKING ABOUT, AND THE NUMBERS OF STAFF, FOLKS THAT ARE DEDICATED TO TENDING TO THEM.

WERE YOU SURPRISED AT THE DISPARITIES THERE?

I WAS, I WAS.

AND ALSO, IT WAS JUST REALLY SURPRISING TO LEARN JUST THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THAT MAINTENANCE STAFF AND INFRASTRUCTURE PROBLEMS.

IF YOU DON'T HAVE PEOPLE THAT ARE THERE ON A REGULAR BASIS TO DO UPKEEP, TO MITIGATE PROBLEMS BEFORE THEY GET WORSE, YOU END UP HAVING MUCH LARGER INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS.

THAT'S WHERE WE'VE GOTTEN TODAY.

WE HAVE 150 GARDENERS, CITYWIDE, FOR A PARK SYSTEM THAT HAS ABOUT 20,000 ACRES.

IN CONTRAST, SAN FRANCISCO HAS 200 FOR A PARK SYSTEM THAT IS ABOUT A QUARTER OF THE SIZE OF NEW YORK.

SO ALSO ELECTRICIANS.

CHICAGO'S PARK SYSTEM HAS MORE ELECTRICIANS THAN NEW YORK CITY'S PARK SYSTEM DOES, BUT IT'S ALSO PLUMBERS, MASONS.

A LOT OF THAT OTHER KEY MAINTENANCE STAFF IS REALLY LACKING IN NEW YORK CITY.

THE CITY HAS SAID THAT THEY ARE PUTTING MONEY INTO THE PARKS.

ARE YOU GETTING A SENSE THAT THE CITY REALIZES HOW SIGNIFICANT THESE PROBLEMS ARE, AND THAT THE MONEY IS COMMENSURATE WITH THE LEVEL OF THESE PROBLEMS?

WE DO GIVE A LOT OF CREDIT TO THE MAYOR AND MARKS COMMISSIONER SILVER IN OUR REPORT.

THEY HAVE BEEN PUTTING NEW MONEY INTO INFRASTRUCTURE.

ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE REALLY ENCOURAGING.

BUT WE FOUND THAT THERE'S NOT A LOT OF GOOD DATA OUT THERE AS TO WHAT THE PROBLEMS ARE.

IN A LOT OF CASES THE PARKS DEPARTMENT DOESN'T EVEN KNOW FULLY WHAT ARE THOSE BIG PROBLEMS RIGHT THERE?

AND THEY'RE ALSO HANDCUFFED, TO A CERTAIN EXTENT, BY THE WAY THAT WE FUND PARKS INFRASTRUCTURE IN NEW YORK CITY.

MOST OF THE DOLLARS WE HAVE TO DO UPKEEP AND INFRASTRUCTURE MAINTENANCE AND IN THE PARK IS TO DO DISCRETIONARY FUNDING.

THE CITY COUNCIL, BURERO PRESIDENTS WILL ALLOCATE A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF FUNDS, BUT THE FUNDS WILL GO TO PLAYGROUNDS AND BALL FIELDS.

A LOT OF THE UNSEXY INFRASTRUCTURE WE IDENTIFIED, THERE'S NO REAL SOURCE FOR THAT KIND OF NEED.

TALKING ABOUT CLAY PIPES AND RETAINING WALLS AS OPPOSED TO BALL FIELDS AND PLAYGROUNDS, WHICH WITH WILL FLOAT TO THE TOP.

RIGHT.

YOU MENTIONED PROSPECT PARK.

THEY SEEM TO BE IN MUCH BETTER SHAPE.

WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?

WELL, CLEARLY THE WAY WE FUND PARKS.

CENTRAL PARK, PROSPECT PARK BENEFIT FROM HAVING CONSERVANCIES.

A LOT OF OUTSIDE DONATIONS THAT COME IN.

AND BOLSTER WHAT THE CITY SPENDS ON THOSE PARKS.

IT'S OBVIOUSLY NEEDED.

WE SEE WITH THE CENTRAL PARK'S CONSERVANCY, WHICH I'M A BIG FAN OF, BUT OBVIOUSLY THEY'VE HAD THOSE RESOURCES THAT HAVE GONE INTO A LOT MORE GARDENERS AND ELECTRICIANS AND PLUMBERS AND THOSE THINGS THAT REALLY ARE MAINTAINING THE PARK.

WHEN YOU WALK AROUND CENTRAL PARK YOU SEE PEOPLE DOING UPKEEP ON A REGULAR BASIS.

THAT'S NOT THE CASE AT ALL PARKS AROUND THE CITY.

A LOT OF THE SMALLER, MIDSIZE PARKS COULD REALLY BENEFIT FROM THAT EXTRA MAINTENANCE STAFF.

SO WHAT DO YOU THINK SOME SOLUTIONS MIGHT BE?

I THINK IT STARTS WITH A DEDICATED REVENUE SOURCE FOR BASIC PARKS MAY INTENANCE.

RIGHT NOW IT'S WILLY NILLY.

WE'VE HAD A FEW IDEAS IN OUR RESEARCH TO HAVE THE DEDICATED REVENUE STREAM.

FOR INSTANCE, WE'VE SUGGESTED PERHAPS ADDING A SURCHARGE TO DOCKING FEES AT CITY-RUN MARINAS THAT MIGHT GO SPECIFICALLY INTO PARKS MAINTENANCE.

TAKE THE DISCRETIONARY PART OUT OF IT IN MANY WAYS?

YEAH, AND ALSO GREENS FEES AT CITY-RUN GOLF COURSES, MAYBE THAT COULD GO INTO A FUND FOR GARDENERS AND PLUMBERS, THAT KIND OF THING.

WE COULD BE TALKING ABOUT AN EXTREMELY SMALL PERCENTAGE, A SMALL SURCHARGE, BUT THAT WOULD REALLY GO A LONG WAY IN HELPING THE PARKS.

IT'S A REVEALING REPORT.

WONDERFUL WORK BY YOU AND YOUR ORGANIZATION.

OUR HOPE IS THAT IT WILL GENERATE ENOUGH INTEREST THAT WE CAN KEEP THE PARKS WHERE THEY BELONG HERE IN TERMS OF OUR LIFE IN NEW YORK CITY.

JONATHAN, THANKS FOR SPENDING TIME WITH US.

THANK YOU.

YOU BE WELL.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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