Council Passes Bill to Address Parks Quality Issues and Improve Equity

Image credit: New York City Council.

On May 5, 2022, the City Council voted to pass Int. 173-A, a bill aimed to improve parks and playgrounds through better standards for quality inspections and provide more transparency about what playgrounds and parks require improvements. The bill was sponsored by Council Member Shekar Krishnan, who is the Chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee.  

The bill will require the Department of Parks and Recreation to develop standards for inspections of parks and playgrounds and issue reports on features that have continuously been deemed unacceptable. After the report is issued to the Mayor and City Council, the Parks Department will also be required to submit a plan to the Council on how to correct such issues, including estimates of cost and timeframe to make the needed corrections. 

The legislation’s goal is to highlight quality issues and correct ongoing disparities in parks and playgrounds, especially in lower-income neighborhoods or communities of color. On April 22, 2022, a public hearing for the bill was held along with an oversight hearing regarding the impact of COVID-19 on parks and equity. According to the Committee Report, inequities in parks and playgrounds have continued to grow since the City’s financial crisis in the late 1970’s, where the Parks Department turned to public-private partnerships to help make up for budget cuts. While these public-private partnerships allow larger, well-known parks to flourish, it may also indirectly lead to neglect for smaller parks and playgrounds that do not receive such attention. The discussion also raised the question if private funds just replace public investment in parks instead of supplementing those funds, citing ongoing cuts to the Parks Department’s budget. The cuts or failure to increase the Parks Department’s budget has resulted in difficulties maintaining parks and playgrounds. 

The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated these issues, due to a combined cut in both public and private funds available and an increased reliance on parks and playgrounds as safe outdoor spaces New Yorkers could use. In addition to budgetary issues, many lower-income neighborhoods have less access to parks and playgrounds overall, with less acreage of parks space compared to higher income neighborhoods. Many of these same lower-income neighborhoods saw larger numbers of COVID-19 deaths, especially in the initial months of the pandemic. 

Int. 173-A will allow the Parks Department and the City Council to get a better idea of the current quality of City parks and playgrounds to begin addressing these equity issues. Determining which parks need the most improvements can help the agency better allocate and seek out funding to make the needed changes. 

The City Council voted unanimously to approve the bill. The bill goes into effect 90 days after it becomes law, and is currently awaiting the signature of Mayor Eric Adams. 

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams stated, “Throughout the pandemic and beyond, our city’s parks and playgrounds continue to be a refuge and haven for all New Yorkers. However, we know not all of our beloved open spaces are in the same condition. Low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are home to a disproportionate number of parks and playgrounds that deserve better maintenance and care. This legislation provides transparency about the disparities in parks maintenance, and is a first step towards our goal of advancing equity that ensures all New Yorkers have access to quality parks. I thank Chair Krishnan for his leadership on this critical legislation.”

Council Member Krishnan stated, “This legislation will expose a truth that many families in New York City already know: while parks in some neighborhoods are beautiful, restorative places, in other neighborhoods they are dirty, under-maintained, and overlooked for repairs, routinely failing inspections. Every New Yorker — regardless of where they live or how much money they have — deserves a clean, safe, well-maintained park in their community. Parks equity is a critical priority for this Council under the leadership of Speaker Adams. This bill reflects that commitment and I’m proud to see it enacted today.”

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.