A new report published by the Center for an Urban Future finds that the aging of New York City’s parks system has contributed to serious infrastructure problems at dozens of parks across the city.
The report reveals that the average New York City park is 73 years old, and that parks in every borough are struggling with aging assets that are at or near the end of their useful life — including drainage systems, retaining walls, and bridges.
While the mounting infrastructure needs are largely due to the age of the system and record usage of parks in recent years, the study concludes that the problems have been compounded by decades of under-investment in basic parks maintenance and inadequate spending on infrastructure upgrades.
According to the report, 20 percent of parks across the city have not undergone a major infrastructure upgrade in 25 years.
And at least 46 parks, plazas and triangles in New York have not received significant capital investment in nearly a century.
The report, which was funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, finds that the Parks Department’s official state-of-good-repair needs — which includes major infrastructure and capital repairs — increased by 45 percent over the past decade, from $405.9 million in fiscal year 2007 to $589.1 million in fiscal year 2017.
Meanwhile, the department’s recommended maintenance needs increased by 143 percent, from $14 million to $34 million. Yet, just 15 percent of the recommended state-of-good-repair needs, and 12 percent of the maintenance needs, were funded in the most recent year.
Similarly, the city has about 150 gardeners citywide for nearly 20,000 acres of parkland — a ratio of one gardener to every 133 acres. By comparison, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department has over 200 gardeners for 4,113 acres of parkland, a ratio of one gardener to 20 acres.
“The subway system isn’t the only vital piece of infrastructure in New York that is aging and in need of investment,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. “Parks in every borough are experiencing infrastructure problems brought by age and magnified by record usage and decades of under-investment in parks maintenance.”
The study lauds Mayor de Blasio for taking important steps to address parks infrastructure needs, including the launch of the Community Parks Initiative and Anchor Parks Initiative, directing hundreds of millions of dollars to improve chronically underfunded parks.
But it concludes that much more will need to be done to shore up the city’s aging parks system, and it urges the mayor and the City Council to increase funding for infrastructure upgrades and basic parks maintenance.
Among the report’s recommendations, it calls on the mayor and City Council to establish a dedicated pool of capital funds for addressing un-glamorous infrastructure needs, much of which gets overlooked in discretionary funds provided by the Council. It also urges city officials to create new dedicated revenue streams for basic parks maintenance, and it identifies three new opportunities to do so: 1) a surcharge on tickets for sporting events; 2) a surcharge on greens fees at the city’s public golf courses; 3) a surcharge on docking fees at marinas that are overseen by the Parks Department.
Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new $150 billion infrastructure plan that will support the creation of 675,000 jobs and investments in infrastructure initiatives across the state including $32 billion for improving environmental facilities, rebuilding parks, and creating a cleaner, greener state.