a Vote for Parks
BY ANNE SAXON-HERSH, PRESIDENT,
FRIENDS OF DAG HAMMARSKJOLD PLAZA
On September 1, a street fair filled Second Avenue and Dag Hammarskjold
Plaza with festivities and the usual array of vendors. As sponsor, Friends of
Dag Hammarskjold Plaza was guaranteed $1,000 revenue per block by the promoter.
Ten blocks, $10,000. The promoter does all the work and shoulders the risk. What
a deal! Which is why street fairs have proliferated to the point where communities
are saying "Enough already!" Even though these fairs are a source of
revenue to the city and a "cash cow" for sponsoring organizations, a
moratorium has been declared on permits.
We appealed to the city on the grounds that Dag Hammarskjold Plaza is an expensive
park to maintain and that the burden of upkeep falls largely on the surrounding
community, even though the park belongs to the city and is extensively utilized
for United Nations demonstrations and cultural activities beyond the scope of
the Turtle Bay neighborhood. We also asserted that Friends needed a vehicle to
make the public more aware of our activities and the vital role we play as community
Maintaining the Park
Dag Hammarskjold Plaza is the centerpiece of Turtle Bay and a gateway
to the UN. When we were pressing for the park's reconstruction, we naturally
expected our efforts to result in a more appealing park. But we had no idea
how successful its transformation would be in terms of attracting people. Of
course, the bigger the crowd, the greater the impact on services and resources.
Without Friends, Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, despite its magnificent new design, would
quickly fall victim to neglect. The elegant promenade would become a garbage dump;
the stately fountains would turn to cesspools, and the newly planted flowerbeds
would wither. I wish I were exaggerating; I am not. For example:
- The Doe Fund collects litter twice daily but there are still days when
the containers are filled to the brim.
- We spend $7000 on fountain maintenance alone, having the six fountains
cleaned weekly for the six months of operation each year.
- Last year, with the generous support of the Greenacre Foundation, we installed
an irrigation system to water the Katharine Hepburn Garden.
- This year, we are spending close to $20,000 on new plantings and garden
enhancements, supported by funding from the Greenacre Foundation, The Ford
Foundation, and contributions from the TBA.
Those are just the big ticket items; the contributions from our members generally
go toward all the little things that add up-tools, paint, electrical supplies,
garden gloves, signage, flyers, Skate-Stoppers.
By the Numbers, We're Failing
If I had my way, we wouldn't have to go to City Hall to plead our
case. After all, shouldn't our taxpayer dollars cover essentials like fountain
maintenance, litter removal and horticulture? The answer is a resounding YES!
Other cities manage to create stellar park systems without passing the buck.
Consider that Chicago spends $280 million to operate a park system of 7,330
acres, while New York City spends only $200 million to manage a system almost
four times larger (28,000 acres). Although New York is paramount as a cultural
and trade center, the city ranks 21st in the nation in per capita spending on
public parks and playgrounds.
I do not blame the Parks Department for this failure to maintain its own parks
and playgrounds. After 15 years of budget cuts to park maintenance and operations
(M&O), park staff has been decimated. The statistics are appalling:
- There is only one park worker for every 43 acres of parkland today.
- Since 1970, full-time park staff has been reduced by two-thirds, and welfare
workers who clean the parks are down to 2,000 from 6,000 because of dwindling
- The city has only 27 full-time, year-round gardeners to care for more than
28,000 acres. (Compare this with Central Park, which obtains 85 percent of
its annual $20 million expense budget from the privately financed Central
Park Conservancy and has 73 full-time gardeners for only 843 acres. No wonder
it's the showpiece of the Parks Department.)
This election year, the Campaign for Parks 2001 is turning the media
spotlight on the hundreds of city parks in dire need of attention. After years
of neglect, it is not a pretty picture. At the annual meeting of the Parks Council,
an independent advocacy organization, I watched a slide show documenting the
state of the city's 28,000 acres of parkland. Barren ball fields, cracked-asphalt
playing courts, garbage-strewn playgrounds, and boarded-over bathrooms and recreational
facilities are the norm. I learned through meeting with other park groups that
even when recreational facilities are renovated, there's no money for program
One of the most compelling pictures used in the Campaign for Parks literature
shows a drinking fountain in Central Park fitted with a lower fountain for dogs.
Next to that photo is another park showing a far more familiar sight-a broken
drinking fountain posted with a permanent repair sign. The Campaign advocates
sufficient funding to maintain ALL of the city's public parks, not just the
crown jewels like Central Park. Few neighborhoods can marshal the resources
of the mighty Central Park Conservancy-thirty years in the making-nor should
they be expected to.
Make Parks A Priority
We're fortunate here in Turtle Bay to be able to draw upon the resources of
a fairly affluent community and the generosity of institutions that believe
in our mission. And now we're guaranteed the windfall of a street fair. But
it's not enough. Not enough to hire a park attendant. Not enough to produce
a level of management and staffing that treats Hammarskjold Plaza and all the
other public parks as a long-term commitment instead of a pending crisis. The
city can and must do better. While we strongly believe in community involvement,
volunteerism, and the Partnership for Parks program, the city must cover the
essentials, including effective enforcement of park rules and regulations.
The Campaign is asking candidates to pledge in their platforms to commit 1%
of the city's budget to Park Maintenance and Operations. The current figure
is less than half of one percent. The Campaign is not only conducting a media
blitz but gathering thousands of signatures to show that the public cares about
We hope you came by our booth at the Street Fair and signed the petition.
If you missed us, it's not too late to join the Friends of Dag Hammarskjold
Plaza as we continue to educate the public about our park and demonstrate through
our activities how each of us can make a difference as volunteers. This is our
challenge year in and year out, but this November you and I have the power of
our votes as well. We must bring about desperately needed support for all of
the city's parks.
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Turtle Bay Association is a nonprofit (501c3) community
224 East 47th Street, New York City 10017
Fax (212) 751-4941