BY JOE MARVILLI
Mayor Bill de Blasio came to Flushing this week to announce a new policy that will help the City’s most run-down and ignored parks and playgrounds.
At Bowne Playground, in the midst of an audience of dozens of local schoolchildren, the Mayor announced the launch of the Community Parks Initiative. This multi-pronged effort will invest in under-resourced parks and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs, particularly those located in densely populated and growing neighborhoods with above-average concentrations of poverty.
The first phase of the administration’s plan will set aside a $130 million capital investment for 35 community parks. Six Queens locations are targeted for this effort: Astoria Heights Playground, Bowne Playground, Corona Mac Park, Grassmere Playground, Rockaway Community Park/Conch Playground and Van Alst Playground.
The criteria for the Community Parks Initiative came from the Dept. of Parks and Recreation, which analyzed parks across the City to find those that require the greatest amount of help. The study identified parks with less than $250,000 of capital investment in the last 20 years and looked at locations with a great need for improvements. It also accounted for neighborhoods with the greatest needs, such as those with above-average density, high population growth and a poverty level above the City average.
The Mayor used Bowne Playground as an example of a site that the previous administration neglected. The playground is used by students from a couple of schools in the area.
“In the last 20 years, this park has gotten less than $60,000 in capital investment,” de Blasio said. “With very limited resources, Parks Dept. workers have done what they’ve always had to do in recent decades; make lemonade out of lemons, make something out nothing. They’ve done an amazing job with very limited tools. But 20 years is a huge amount of wear-and-tear. We’re trying to start making up for that now.”
The $130 million capital investment comes from a mayoral commitment of $110 million and an additional $20 million from elected officials and grant sources. Capital projects will not be left without support, though. Community outreach coordinators will work with the Parks Dept.’s design team to engage with the community and find long-term local partners for continued rehabilitation of the park or playgrou
nd in question.
Another $7.2 million from the City Council will cover expense funding for Fiscal Year 2015. The Dept. of Environmental Protection will provide $36.3 million in capital funding for green infrastructure improvements, such as landscaping to reduce storm water runoff.
“Preserving, improving and investing in parkland is critical to the quality of life here in Queens and throughout the City, particularly for our children, our families and so many senior citizens,” U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said.
According to the Mayor, these investments will affect around 220,000 New Yorkers that live within a 10-minute walk from the parks.
The Community Parks Initiative will also use existing resources for minor touch-ups and improvements, like painting, at 55 complementary sites.
Many speakers mentioned that this effort was righting a wrong from the Bloomberg administration, which they argued did not properly fund the City’s parks and playgrounds.
“It was a struggle to get funds to community playgrounds and to parks. It was really all about legacy projects and big, major capital projects, as opposed to communities that really make our City great,” Public Advocate Letitia James said.
An annual investment of $780,000 will fund outreach and technical assistance for the sites. Another $750,000 in City Council funding will go to the City Parks Foundation for community building through the Partnerships for Parks program. For Fiscal Year 2015, the City Council will dedicate $4.2 million to increase the maintenance of the sites, with City Park workers and gardeners. A yearly investment of $1.4 million will go towards more than 70 new recreational programs and maintenance staff.
“Every community in New York City deserves to have a spectacular park, no matter where you live or what your zip code may be,” Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said.
The Community Parks Initiative is the first part of “NYC Parks: Framework for an Equitable Future,” a plan to target open space needs in underserved communities through a multi-faceted approach. In the near future, de Blasio said that the administration wants to work with conservancies for the City’s biggest parks, like Central Park. The administration is going to look into whether these conservancies are willing to help with the cause.
“The goal of this administration is to create one New York,” de Blasio said, before picking up a brush and painting a baseline on a faded baseball diamond in Bowne Playground.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @JoeMarvilli.