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Central Park’s 840 acres entertained 37.5 million visitors last year. In stark contrast, New York City’s nearly 2,500 acres of golf courses hosted only 500,000 rounds of golf.
That’s a lot of land for a sport that golfers and industry analysts agree is dying.
This is especially unfair to the second–most-crowded borough in New York and what would be the fifth-largest city in the United States: Queens, with 2.5 million residents.
Advocates for the homeless, low-income affordable housing and open public spaces all agree that this land could be significantly better utilized to support the needs of a larger cohort of city residents than just golfers.
“It’s a great idea,” said Charles King, founder and CEO of Housing Works, a nonprofit that fights the crises of AIDS and homelessness. “The unleveraged sale of even a small percentage of this land could fund the development of low-income housing, while a ground lease for some of this land would provide long-term revenue to cover development and long-term infrastructure costs, which the state and the federal government no longer subsidize.”
Yet, while New York City is experiencing the worst homeless and affordable-housing crisis in the nation, parkland is sacrosanct. Persuading the state legislature to demap parkland for these purposes would be a heavy lift.
But change is coming one way or another.
As the population around these golf courses continues to grow, the Parks Department will not be able to maintain these links for the almost-exclusive use of the rich white men who play if the amount collected in greens fees continues to sink as fast as balls in a water hazard.
Frankly, it is shameful that instead of taking the lead, New York is already behind the two dozen other municipalities across the country that have targeted golf courses for conversion to parks. Piedmont Park, an Olmstead-designed park in Augusta, Georgia, converted its golf course to open space as far back as 1979.
So why has the city’s Parks Department been so slow to respond to the declining revenues on its books? One guess is that like golf, 62 percent of the leadership at the agency is white, in a city that is two-thirds Hispanic and black.
That would leave the leadership on this problem to fall to the City Council. The Council is supposed to provide oversight of city agencies. Don’t hold your breath.
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