That’s because in this year’s $92.8 billion budget, the city has allocated an additional $43 million in expense funding to the Parks Department, the largest increase in nearly three decades.
The spending bump represented a significant victory for the Play Fair Campaign, led by a coalition of 144 organizations including New Yorkers for Parks, the New York League of Conservation Voters and the union DC 37.
According to Lynn Kelly, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, the coalition signed petitions, participated in budget hearings and hosted two rallies to fight for the funding.
“They’re our backyards and the souls of our communities,” she said. “Parks are critical city infrastructure, and must be funded as such.”
Last Thursday, the coalition celebrated the record funding and praised the elected officials who fought for it during budget negotiations at Queensbridge Park in Long Island City.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said for many years, the city didn’t prioritize parks, leaving them underfunded.
“The New Yorkers who depend on them have had to suffer the consequences,” he said.
At Queensbridge Park, for example, users have complained about flooded walkways, overflowing trash cans and unmowed fields.
“[It’s] not because the workers aren’t doing their jobs,” Johnson said, “but because resources are spread very thin.”
Of the $43 million increase, $9.5 million will be used to give 150 parks workers and gardeners job security. Their positions will be baselined in the budget, making them permanent jobs, Johnson said.
The Parks Department will also receive $10 million to hire an additional 150 seasonal workers and gardeners, doubling the maintenance staff.
Another $6 million will be used to hire 80 new Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers. The budget allocated $3 million to add 50 new urban park rangers as well.
The city has invested $8.2 million into the Parks Department’s GreenThumb program, which supports 550 community gardens citywide. That will translate to new soil, more raised beds and other features.
Beach and pool season will be extended by one week, a $1.7 million endeavor. The city put in $1 million to remove harmful tree stumps.
Finally, $4 million will be used on forestry management, which Johnson said will help mitigate the effects of climate change and global heating.
“Our trees are carbon sinks, they remove emissions from the atmosphere,” he said. “But trees need more than just hugs, they need funding.”
While the funding is in place, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said there is much more work to do by his department. “In the coming weeks, we’ll begin to determine how to equitably address the needs across our park system, utilizing the funds secured,” he said.
Members of the Play Fair campaign touted the impact of the victory not just for parks, but for the workers and the environment.
Dilcy Benn, president of Local 1505 of DC 37, said the budget culminates a five-year effort to get funding for city park workers baselined.
“My workers don’t make a lot of money,” she said. “This makes a huge impact on their lives.”
Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, added that urban tree canopies not only mitigate the heat island effect, but also filters out air pollution and absorbs stormwater.
Better forestry management means making sure trees are pruned and stay strong throughout the winter.
“Parks not only provide recreational resources and connect New Yorkers to nature,” Tighe said, “but they are a really critical environmental infrastructure.”