COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Parks 2001 Background: Who, What, How, When & Why

Dec 31, 2008
Dec 14, 2017

Details on the city-wide campaign to restore, reform and revitalize parks and recreation services in New York City.

The Campaign (what and who)

Parks 2001 is a non-partisan, citywide campaign now composed of hundreds of business, civic, real estate, youth, non-profit, sports, labor, law enforcement, community and cultural organizations from every comer of the City. Parks 2001 was initiated by the Central Park Conservancy, the Parks Council, City Parks Foundation and the Prospect Park Alliance, among others. These organizations will work in concert with five borough-based coalitions and a leadership committee of prominent New Yorkers to educate the public and candidates for City office about the importance of parks and the need for increased public funding to nurse our city's park system back to health. Due to term-limit laws, the New York City elections of 2001 will mark the greatest turnover of elected leaders in the City's history and present residents with an unprecedented opportunity to restore, revitalize and reform parks and recreation services.

The Goal

  • 1% for Parks: Increase the city budget allocation for the maintenance and operation of parks and recreation from an all-time low of 0.4% to 1%. This increased funding would restore regular maintenance of all facilities (than 1,700 existing neighborhood parks, playgrounds, gardens, recreation centers, and more), and provide adequate personnel and resources to ensure safety in parks and create recreation programming that would engage our youth and seniors.
  • Create New Parks and Protect Open Spaces: Ensure the creation, protection and preservation of parks, playgrounds, community gardens and recreation facilities, especially in neighborhoods that lack them.
  • Improved Management for Parks: New funding and new parks must also be accompanied by improved management techniques to maximize accountability and productivity, and to ensure the efficient and equitable use of sources.


  • Assess park and recreation services in each of New York City's 51 City Council Districts
  • Educate candidates and the public about the importance of parks and the lack of public funding through meetings, the media, mailings and forums
  • Ask candidates to pledge that every New Yorker in every neighborhood will have quality parks, playgrounds and recreation facilities, and publicize the candidates' specific plans for implementing those pledges
  • Organize concerned constituencies to support these goals


  • Through November 2001: focus on educating candidates and the public and getting candidates to make specific pledges about their commitment to parks and recreation services
  • Post 2001: follow-up to ensure that officials fulfill pledges made during the campaign

Background (why)

Parks, recreation, and public open spaces are essential to the health and economic well-being of all New Yorkers and the City's overall quality of life. Unfortunately, public funding for our parks has withered over the past twenty-five years, and despite increased private funding and citywide volunteer efforts, our park system is facing a major crisis.

Well-maintained and well-staffed park and recreation facilities help reduce crime, spur economic development and contribute to public health by cleaning the air and providing places for exercise and relaxation. They conserve energy, protect wildlife, and enhance New York City's image as a world-class metropolis. Perhaps most importantly, in a city where most schools are woefully lacking sports, recreation and science programs, and where 40% of our children are living in poverty - twice the national average - parks are our children's front and back yards, providing safe spaces to constructively exercise the mind, body and spirit.

Parks Department employees have worked minor miracles with the resources they have, but that can not make up for the fact that over the last 25 years, the workforce has been cut by almost 70%, and the budget - in real dollars - as been cut by 40% since 1986. These detrimental budget cuts have resulted in major service cuts, weakening the integrity of the park system citywide. World-class oases such as Central and Bryant Parks stand out as exceptions because they have been able to rely on private money and major volunteer efforts. The City's other 1,700 parks, playgrounds, recreation facilities, community gardens, and natural areas are starved for financial and human resources. They get only 0.4% of the City's total expense budget. The welfare-to-work program, which pulled the system back from the brink, has shrunk to one-third its original size. The result is a system on the cusp of a crisis, and a public that no longer expects first-class parks.

The entire park system currently depends on 27 full-time gardeners and assistant gardeners to service more than 28,000 acres of land, and has enough resources to provide only one full-time recreation worker for every 21,000 children in New York City By comparison, thanks to private funding. Central Park alone has 73 gardeners to maintain 843 acres, and spends almost three times as much than the citywide system on maintenance per acre of land. We believe that Central Park can be the standard by which the entire system is managed and maintained. As it is now, New York City's park system is falling behind other systems around the nation. New York City spends only $41 per capita on city parkland - well below the national average of $80. Every New Yorker needs and deserves a first-class park system that provides all people with thoughtful design, quality maintenance, and athletic and educational programs.

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