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Five New York City parks—one in each borough—will receive $30 million apiece in funding, NY1 reported last week. Mayor Bill De Blasio approved the $150 million in support for St. Mary's Park in the Bronx, Highbridge Park in Manhattan, Betsy Head Park in Brooklyn, Astoria Park in Queens, and Freshkills Park on Staten Island, all of which are medium to large green spaces that will receive significant upgrades and additions.
Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver explained that the lucky parks were selected based upon how long it had been since they'd received significant financial support, as well as the size of the population the parks serve and their potential for growth. The mayor has dubbed these "Anchor Parks," as 750,000 New Yorkers live within walking distance of them.
"We went through a data-driven process and came down to a short list, and did the pros and cons for each one," Silver says. "We're so delighted that the mayor supported our proposal; it will be a legacy project for the mayor to invest in these five parks that haven't seen substantial investment in more than 25 years."
The Parks Department has been continuously making smaller investments in smaller parks, so this new funding represents a windfall. John Karras, an urban planner and founder of UrbanScale.com, agrees that $30 million is a tremendous amount to dedicate to a park, particularly one that has been previously neglected.
"Whenever you're putting in these significant investments and amenities, that can be a catalyst for helping to revitalize a neighborhood," Karras says, citing the revamping of the Lady Bird Lake trail in Austin as an example of an improvement to a public park that has become a beloved spot for locals and spurred growth downtown. "These parks can be a really positive thing, especially if they're tied into the neighborhood."
Silver says that local involvement will be an integral part of the process, as the Parks Department determines how exactly to use the funding. In each neighborhood surrounding the funded green spaces, the Parks Department will hold meetings to share with residents different possibilities for improvements, and solicit their feedback. "We're starting a process in the fall to look at each park," Silver says. "Some locals know the park even better than we do, so we'll come up with a concept and refine it based upon their input."
Some worry, though, that any investment in a neighborhood can raise its profile, increase demand, and spur new development and higher rents. On a Gothamist post about the funding, one commenter wrote, "Fixing parks = fast track to gentrification," and another questioned whether Astoria Park was chosen in part because it will serve as an amenity for the future residents of a luxury high-rise development going up nearby.
While it's true that these type of investments can attract more affluent newcomers to a neighborhood, Karras says, it's better than allowing public parks fall into disrepair. "It's complicated," he acknowledges, "but overall, rising land values and new development is preferable to disinvestment and decline, which in many of these neighborhoods has been happening for decades."
Angie Knudson, a private running coach and personal trainer who frequently meets for workouts with clients in Astoria Park, has high hopes that the funding will make exercising in the park easier. The space needs some basic improvements, she says, like updates to its bathrooms, more frequent mowing and landscaping, and bigger trash cans. "It would be nice to have some coin-op lockers like the ones at Brooklyn Bridge Park, as well as updated parcourse equipment and more pullup bars," Knudson adds, "but anything maintenance-related will definitely help my training."
Silver says that for Astoria Park and the other four locations, the Parks Department will begin by looking at the "low-hanging fruit," including trash receptacles, "but we want to talk to the communities about how we can really make a difference with $30 million," Silver says. "With this amount of funding, we can think outside the box."
If you live in one of the neighborhoods where parks will be upgraded, keep an eye out for Parks Department-hosted meetings, where you can let officials know what you'd like to see accomplished with the funding. Silver says that the Parks Department's goal is to get as many people to the meetings as possible so as to best enact residents' wishes.
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