One Percent for Parks
Pols, advocates call for historic investments in parks
By Evan Triantafilidis
Elected officials and parks advocates joined forces in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Monday to call for historic investments into the city’s parks.
New York City Councilman Shekar Krishnan unveiled his five-point plan to bring new public green spaces to NYC, which includes funding the Parks Department with $1 billion in annual maintenance, the creation of a Parks Construction Authority and to upgrade playgrounds in every zip code.
Krishnan, who also chairs the council’s Committee on Parks and Rec, said that areas in Queens have some of the least amount of green space in the city. The councilman’s own neighborhood of Jackson Heights, for example, ranks second-to-last in the city when it comes to park space per capita.
“The issue of parks in our city is a social justice issue,” Krishnan said. “It is a public health issue.”
Krishnan and other lawmakers from Queens urged the Mayor to allocate one percent – or $1 billion – of the city’s near $100 billion budget for the upkeep of the city’s parks. Despite signaling his support for a “percent for parks” plan during his campaign, Mayor Eric Adams has only allocated a half-percent, or just short of $500 million, to the department in his first preliminary budget last month.
“This is the one-percent plan that advocates from across our city have been fighting for for so long,” Krishnan said. “We cannot afford any less for our parks.”
Krishnan’s plan also aims to repair a “fundamentally broken capital process” with the creation of a Parks Construction Authority. He compared the concept to the School Construction Authority, which was created in 1988 to take over control of capital projects from the city’s Board of Education.
“We had a school built for the School Construction Authority at a rapid pace with P.S. 398,” Krishnan said. “Whereas Travers Park with the Parks Department took 10 years to build. The difference is clear. We need a capital process that funds our parks that allows building efficiently and makes sure that we can quickly get more green space in our city.”
Krishnan also cited the cost of bathrooms at Marcus Garvey Park in Elmhurst reaching about $4 million, and still aren’t fully accessible.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards called Krishnan’s vision, which includes planting 1 million more trees by 2030 and to provide waterfront access for all, an “ambitious” plan.
“This is a borough of parks, from Flushing Meadows, to Alley Pond, Cunningham Park, to Roy Wilkins and beyond,” Richards said. “But for entire communities in Queens, especially in Councilman Krishnan’s district, and in my former district in Southeast Queens, having extensive green space is a dream not a reality.”
“Show us the money. We want $1 billion in this budget now,” he said.
Both Krishnan and Richards spoke to the point on how the pandemic pushed people to outdoor public spaces, calling the green spaces crucial for public health and recreation.
“It’s easy to socially distance in a massive park like Flushing Meadows or Alley Pond Park, but families in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst did not have that luxury,” Richards said. “Not only did they not have anywhere to go with their kids pre-pandemic, they didn’t have safe options to go to during the pandemic. And that’s not only unacceptable, it is insulting.”
Council Members Robert Holden, Linda Lee, Sandra Ung, Mercedes Narcisse and Lincoln Restler all spoke in favor of the five-point plan.
Restler said that a $1 billion investment into the city’s park is exactly what is needed, offering his support for the Parks Construction Authority.
“We need to make sure that our money is going to be well spent, because typically now if you give some money to the Parks Department four years later, for $4 million, you might get one bathroom,” Restler said. “It’s preposterous. The Park Construction Authority is the way to go, modeling on the great work that the School Construction Authority does to actually see our resources delivered for our communities.”