A hidden victim of the coronavirus pandemic? NYC’s parks

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A hidden victim of the coronavirus pandemic? NYC’s parks

Dizzy Rocks Central Park NYC July 7, 2018 (Regan Vercruysse/Flickr)

In an unsurprising turn of events, new research released today from a coalition of New York City parks nonprofits has revealed that the coronavirus pandemic is having a severe impact on the city’s green spaces.

An alliance of 25 nonprofits are officially partnered with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to help support the city’s outdoor spaces, and play an important role in the city’s park ecosystem, supplying over 100,000 volunteers and raising $150 million annually in private funding for about 50 percent of outdoor space. Public investment, however, is still critical to ensure the survival of city parks, with the money going towards continued maintenance and upkeep—many of today’s most popular parks were, decades ago, run down and full of trash, including Prospect, Riverside, and Flushing Meadow parks.

That’s why the Alliance for Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Bronx River Alliance, City Parks Foundation, Freshkills Park Alliance, The Friends of Governors Island, Friends of the High Line, Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Hudson River Park Friends, Hunters Point Parks Conservancy, Madison Square Park Conservancy, Natural Areas Conservancy, New Yorkers for Parks, New York Restoration Project, North Brooklyn Parks Alliance, Prospect Park Alliance, Randall’s Island Park Alliance, Riverside Park Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land, Van Cortlandt Park Alliance, and the Washington Square Park Conservancy, were all surveyed to determine the state of the city’s parks.

Despite the warming weather and New Yorkers’ increasing demand for public space at a time when most residents have been forced to stay home, things don’t look great for the future of the parks system. In a two-pronged assault, the Parks Department is just one city agency facing budget cuts in fiscal year 2021 to help grapple with the $6 billion shortfall, and nonprofit groups are anticipating a shortfall in private donations. According to the groups surveyed in the Parks and Open Space Partners – NYC COVID-19 Impact Report, it’s expected that on average, parks were anticipating a revenue loss of 32 percent, with one park in particular expecting to lose up to 68 percent. In practical terms, that means city parks will likely see a funding reduction of over $37 million from those groups.

The other key takeaways were just as dour:

  • The report expected a loss of up to 40,000 park maintenance hours and 110,00 lost horticultural hours
  • As a result, 542,000 shrubs, trees, and other planned flora will go unplanted. Over 150 acres of lawn will go untrimmed, and 3,400 trees will go unpruned, raising the possibility of falling branches and other related hazards
  • The elimination of the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program for budget reasons will also present a maintenance and education gap, as 247 young adults go without summer jobs
  • 3,826 public events have already been canceled because of social distancing measures, cutting off over 1.6 million New Yorkers from initiatives normally used to keep them in touch with their community

It’s still not certain when social distancing orders will be lifted in New York or the rest of the country, but the increased number of parkgoers and deferred maintenance may eventually prove unsustainable for not only green spaces in the city but across the country. Even though it’s been less than two months, signs of stress are already showing; see the case of Green-Wood Cemetery near Prospect Park in Brooklyn, where inconsiderate visitors nearly forced the 182-year-old public space to close, before volunteers stepped in to help corral unruly guests.