The City Council aims to give communities whose parks have been neglected for decades a shot at getting a quality green space by passing a bill Thursday requiring the city Department of Parks and Recreation to issue a report on parks and playgrounds across the city and draft a plan for fixing those found to be in disrepair.
In a press conference before the bill’s passage, Council Member Shekar Krishnan (D – Queens), the bill’s lead sponsor and chair of the Council’s Committee on Parks and Recreation, said this legislation – his first – is necessary because parks in some neighborhoods are very well maintained by the Parks Department while others are neglected.
“Everyone deserves access to well maintained green space, public space and parks throughout our city,” Krishnan said. “But the truth is that some neighborhoods receive great maintenance services, have beautiful and well maintained parks that are truly the restorative places that all of our green spaces should be. And for other neighborhoods, parks have been long neglected, poorly maintained and badly in need of services and funding.”
Krishnan said his Jackson Heights and Elmhurst district, among the areas hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic across the country, ranks 50 out of 51 in Council districts when it comes to green space per capita. This showed Krishnan firsthand, he added, that having access to quality parks is about much more than just having a nice space to play catch or walk your dog.
“I’ve always said as parks chair, that parks [are] a social justice and public health issue,” Krishnan said. “And we saw during the pandemic that it is a racial justice and immigrant justice issue as well.”
Krishnan said his bill aims to rectify the inequity in green space quality across the city by requiring the Parks Department to first come up with standards for inspecting the quality of parks and playgrounds across the city. Then the department would have to institute an inspection process to see which parks are meeting those standards and submit a report to the Council and Mayor Eric Adams’ offices on park performance.
Finally the department would have to draft a plan and timeline for providing maintenance services to the parks most in need.
“This is an opportunity to make sure that everyone has access to quality green space,” Krishnan said. “And Int 173 is a crucial step, and a first step in this council, to making sure that we have a truly equitable accessible park system for all.”
In addition to this bill, Krishnan said the Parks Committee in March also unveiled a $1 billion five-point plan to tackle parks inequity across the city. The plan includes investing in underfunded parks and playgrounds, creating new green spaces in areas that don’t have them, expanding and protecting waterfront spaces, rethinking the parks capital construction process and securing $1 billion in parks funding.
When it comes to rethinking the capital process for parks, which Krishnan characterized as very slow and expensive, he said he’s proposed establishing a “parks construction authority” – similar to the School Construction Authority – that would be in charge of fast-tracking parks capital projects.
“When we think about our parks capital process, having a parks construction authority, rethinking the timeline, and the way in which we push the process forward, is a crucial part of ensuring that we are spending our dollars efficiently and we are getting parks built quickly too,” Krishnan said.