During last year’s mayoral campaign, Eric Adams promised to assign 1% of the City’s budget to the Parks Department. He wrote about it in this enthusiastic tweet:
First proposed by New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P), a hundred-year-old parks advocacy group, the “Percent for Parks” plan that Adams alluded to calls for increasing the Parks Department’s expense budget to $1 billion. The money would fund the Department’s operations-side items like maintenance, personnel, and purchase orders.
When NY4P lobbied the mayoral candidates to sign on, Adams pledged his support. In explaining his decision, he reminded voters
I called for [allocating 1% of the City budget to parks] back when I released “The Pulse of Our Parks” report from Borough Hall.
A study of 270 Brooklyn parks, “The Pulse” was published on March 26, 2018. Adams was Borough President then and declared:
Green and recreation space is the great equalizer. We have to stop looking at our parks like a luxury that is a separate entity from the overall development of the borough and the city.
This Year’s Mayor
After being elected mayor, he advanced the same sentiment.
On February 4th, while introducing new Parks Commissioner Susan Donoghue to the press, Adams noted
Parks are not a luxury, it’s a necessity. For far too long, we’ve used these spaces as a luxury and believed that some parts of the city did not deserve a quality park in the neighborhood.
We saw that during covid, how crucial parks played, and for working class New Yorkers, it’s the great equalizer.
But a few weeks later, when Adams unveiled the City’s preliminary expense budget for fiscal 2023, he went back on his promise.
Instead of assigning 1% to the Parks Department, he set aside just 0.5% — or $557 million. Not only was Adams’ number $63 million less that former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Parks allotment for fiscal 2022, but $97 million less than the eventual appropriation.
So what happened then?
According to Adams, the City’s “financial crisis.” He warned that the City would soon exhaust its federal Covid relief funds and agencies would need to reduce payroll by 3%. But not all agencies, apparently. The Department of Transportation’s budget, for example, would receive a $32 million boost.
Addressing the Parks shortfall, Adam Ganser, Executive Director of NY4P, was clear:
Mayor Adams used [his 1% commitment] as a way to get elected, and we expect for him to come up with a plan to get to the pledge he made.
In April, Adams returned with the City’s revised, or executive, expense budget. This time, he marked $601 million for Parks, still shy of his agreement. Perhaps acknowledging the gap, he termed his new figure as “a significant down payment towards our ultimate commitment of 1% for parks.”
But he also took issue with what parks advocates said he vowed. As Gothamist reported, Jonah Allon, a spokesperson for the mayor, said Adams “had not pledged to dedicate the full 1% in his first year [in office].” Moreover, Allon cautioned
Reaching this goal must be done over time to ensure the money is being spent wisely and efficiently to improve parks equity. [Eric] remains committed to ensuring one-percent of the city budget goes to parks during his mayoralty.
But while the Mayor’s spokesperson minced words, parks advocates were busy studying the stress Adams’ budget would place on the Department.
If the Mayor’s new budget holds at $601 million, Parks will have $36 million less to work with than last year. The biggest burden would be on its maintenance division. Responsible for the care and upkeep of all parks properties and facilities, the division is facing a $21 million reduction.
And once the $42 million in federal Covid relief aid driving the City’s 1,800 member Parks “Clean Up Corps” expires next month, some open spaces around the boroughs will also lose their custodians. According to Ganser, the Department would see a net loss of 1,000 jobs.
It’s “a real short-term problem,” he told Gothamist. And
It’s hard to imagine the Parks Department is going to bring in and absorb the number of people that would be required to keep our parks in good condition.
Moreover, Adams’ budget doesn’t include the extra $10 million that the City Council chipped in last year to pay for an additional 150 maintenance workers. At this point, it’s unclear whether the Council would use its discretionary pool to pay for those workers again.
Reacting to the potential maintenance crisis, Ganser sent out an alarm across the City today. Writing to the Mayor, he scribed:
We implore you to make good on your commitment and allocate 1% of the budget for NYC parks…. [It’s] the bare minimum required for adequate staffing, maintenance, and parks planning…. This is critically important as the City gears up for another summer of increased demand and need for open spaces.
Hearing Gasner’s warning, an astonishing cross-section of City leaders signed their names to his letter. There were 25 City Council members, the president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, and the executive director of DC37 — the Municipal Employees Union.
But more impressively, he secured the names of over 400 parks and playground groups including some of the most influential in all New York. The Central Park Conservancy, Bronx River Alliance, Friends of the High Line, Friends of Pelham Bay Park, Alliance for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Prospect Park Alliance, Greenbelt Conservancy, and the New York Botanical Garden all petitioned Adams stick to his 1% pledge.
The Mayor has yet to respond.
(1) Screenshot by Rick Stachura. From Mayor Adams’ Twitter account. September 29, 2021.
(2) Photo by Rick Stachura. Busted Parks Department logo. Ravenswood Playground in Astoria, Queens. September 14, 2020.