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Critic Calls De Blasio's Plan to Help 35 Poor Parks 'A Downer'

Over the last year, there's been an ongoing debate about how New York City's 2,000 public parks should be funded and maintained, spurred in part by the city renewing the Central Park Conservancy's $90M contract. Shouldn't wealthy conservancies like this have to share the wealth with crumbling green spaces in poor neighborhoods? State Senator Dan Squandron and Mayor Bill de Blasio, think so, but Times archicritic Michael Kimmelman calls the idea a "knuckle-headed demand." The critique comes in Kimmelman's latest piece, which chastises de Blasio's plan to spend $130 million fixing up 35 open spaces, mostly blacktop lots and playgrounds, in less well-off neighborhoods. The money will come from public funding, not wealthier groups, but Kimmelman still thinks the proposal is "a downer." Why? "It doesn't go nearly far enough."

Kimmelman says that the plan to fund 35 parks is merely a way for de Blasio to "score cheap political points," but he also knows that "there isn't enough money to fix all the parks that need fixing." The lucky parks were selected from a group of 200 that are all in just as bad shape, and to fix all of them would cost about $1 billion—and that's just the small ones. The program didn't even consider larger struggling parks like Flushing-Meadows or medium-sized parks like St. Mary's in the South Bronx (Kimmelman also points to Betsy Head in Brownsville as an example, but earlier this week, ground broke on a $5 million renovation of that park). The critic thinks these larger parks, which serve more people, should be a higher priority than rebuilding 1-acre playgrounds.

Part of de Blasio's $130 million plan includes restructuring the "notoriously dysfunctional capital-spending system for parks," but Kimmelman's main argument is that de Blasio should be funneling more public money to green spaces. He highlight's city councilman Mark D. Levine's point that New York City spends less than 1 percent of its budget on parks, which is practically nothing compared to other big cities like Los Angeles and Chicago.

De Blasio campaigned on a "tale of two cities" narrative, and that rhetoric has been spun into a "tale of two parks." As a mayor who wants more housing for lower income New Yorkers, it's only natural that he should want better parks and green spaces for these same people. Kimmelman points out that de Blasio has criticized his predecessor, Bloomberg, for "favoring marquee parks and ignoring ones in underserved neighborhoods," but Bloomberg put aside $80 million of the $130 million de Blasio is using for his new parks plan (Bloomberg also added 850 acres of new parkland to the city and spent $5 billion on capital improvements). Kimmelman writes, "Mr. de Blasio shouldn't demean the Bloomberg legacy but build on it, leaving his own mark by opening up more schoolyards after hours, refurbishing public housing playgrounds and green spaces, ensuring that great parks accompany the subsidized housing that is the mayor's priority, and inviting private sponsors to adopt neighborhood parks."
· Mayor de Blasio's Plan for Parks Needs to Grow [NYT]
· City Parks Department unveils new $5 million Brownsville playground plan [NYDN]
· Parks Funding coverage [Curbed]