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NYC's Growing Inequality Reflected in its Parks

While parks adjacent to affluent areas of New York City, such as Central Park or the High Line, are benefiting from record levels of private contributions, open spaces in poorer communities are struggling to fund routine maintenance.
February 19, 2013, 12pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Individual donations of $100 million to Central Park, $20 million to complete the High Line, and $40 million for a new field house in Brooklyn Bridge Park are among the types of headlines that supporters of parks such as Flushing Meadows-Corona in Queens (whose conservancy attracted $5,000 in donations last year) can only dream of. As the city's parks increasingly become objects of philanthropy, the disparity in donations is being reflected in the quality of each community's open spaces, reports Lisa W. Foderaro.

"The largess has delighted city officials, who say it will ensure that New York’s signature parks have the resources to remain pristine while accommodating millions of visitors a year. But the donations have also highlighted the disparity between parks in Manhattan’s high-rent districts and those, like Flushing Meadows-Corona or Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, that are in less affluent communities. In those parks, conservancies and friends groups must struggle to raise any money at all."

Although the Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit group that operates the park for the city, has been generous in helping to maintain a dozen other city parks, there are fears that the increase in private financing will result in a corresponding drop in public support system-wide. Since 2008, "the total expense budget for parks, which includes maintenance, has fallen to $338 million, from $367 million," notes Foderaro. 

"While praising the recent generosity toward parks, Holly M. Leicht, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, said she hoped that the city could devise ways to somehow share the wealth."

“Even though it’s great that there are individual gifts to individual parks, it’s a park system,” Ms. Leicht said. “That lends itself to having a broad-based fund or thinking creatively about funding.”

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Published on Sunday, February 17, 2013 in The New York Times
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