Mayor Eric Adams is pulling back on his commitment to dedicate 1% of the city’s budget to public parks – instead offering New Yorkers a “down payment” that covers a fraction of the promised funding.
In a speech likening his priorities to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, Adams unveiled the nearly $100 billion operating budget on Tuesday, with close to $600 million ear-marked for city parks. The investment marks a slight increase from his previous proposal, while still falling far short of the pledge Adams made on the campaign trail to dedicate 1% of the budget – or roughly $1 billion – to the city’s sprawling network of parks.
The mayor seemed to acknowledge as much on Tuesday, describing his park allocation as a “significant down payment towards our ultimate commitment of 1% for parks.”
A spokesperson for the mayor, Jonah Allon, claimed the mayor had not pledged to dedicate the full 1% in his first year — something that park advocates dispute.
"Reaching this goal must be done over time to ensure the money is being spent wisely and efficiently to improve parks equity," Allon said. "He remains committed to ensuring one-percent of the city budget goes to parks during his mayoralty.”
As a candidate, Adams accepted the challenge put forth by New Yorkers for Parks to double the city’s investment in parks and create a director of the public realm position to oversee a “cross-agency open space vision” – something the mayor still hasn’t done.
The group’s executive director, Adam Ganser, said he was disappointed by the latest proposal, but still expected the mayor to follow through on his promise before the budget is finalized in June.
“This is a tiny amount of money from the overall city budget, especially coming out of the last two years with COVID where parks were so important,” Ganser told Gothamist. “New Yorkers have spoken: this should be a priority.”
Adams said the funding would go toward planting 20,000 new trees and refurbishing greenways in Brooklyn and Queens, as well as basic maintenance operations like picking up trash. The city will also pay for 715 new full-time parks department workers, the highest staff increase in parks history, according to a spokesperson.
But if the proposed budget were adopted, the Parks Department would actually see a more than 5% cut to its overall operating budget, as the city loses access to millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds.
While the mayor has warned of the impact of expiring federal money, he has not required belt-tightening across all agencies. Under the proposal, the NYPD’s budget is set to increase by $188 million, or more than 3%.
Park advocates say that the pandemic underscored the need for well-kept green spaces, and the glaring inequities in who has access to them. An analysis by the Trust for Public Land found that communities of color have 33.5 percent less park space per person within a 10-minute walk compared to white communities.
Cities such as Boston and San Francisco also regularly spend upward of 2% of their budget on parks, according to Ganser. New York approached a similar commitment prior to the fiscal crisis in the 1970s, but has hovered at around .5% for decades.
The cuts fueled the rise of the parks conservancy, a controversial model of parks funding that remains popular around the city. Some of New York City’s best new parks, such as Little Island and Domino Park, have been privately funded, raising questions about who gets access to premiere public spaces.
City Councilmember Shekar Krishnaan, who chairs the Committee on Parks and Recreation, said that low-income communities, such as those in his district of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, would benefit most from a significant investment in city parks.
“We’ve seen how the budget for parks has been steadily chipped away at for so long,” he said. “It is fundamentally a fight for equity and to make sure that neighborhoods that have not had green space are able to finally expand green space."
This story has been updated with comment from City Hall.