UPDATED: Parks Department Closes Some Facilities, Mayor and Governor Announce Rule Changes in Coronavirus Response

Cadman Plaza Park, Brooklyn, almost completely empty on a sunny spring day. Image Credit: CityLand

Team sports are prohibited and recreation centers are currently closed to the public, but parks remain open. City and State governments continue the fight to control the spread of the coronavirus, instituting policies to encourage and enable as many people to stay at home as possible. Understanding the challenges of asking citizens to spend as much time as possible indoors as the weather continues to improve, the City aimed to keep City parks open as an outlet for physical exercise.

On March 20, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the “New York State on PAUSE (Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone)” Executive Order. It ordered the cancellation and postponement of non-essential gatherings of individuals and a directive for individuals to practice social distancing in public by staying at least six feet away from each other, and limit outdoor recreational activities to non-contact and avoid activities that cause close contact with other people.

Parks remain open, as well as park restrooms. According to the Parks Department, restrooms are being cleaned daily with “appropriate cleaning products.” Playgrounds will not be cleaned. According to Mayor Bill de Blasio, “They never have been. They can’t be in this situation. It would take a Herculean effort every five minutes, literally, that we simply can’t do. If your kids go to a playground, you might want them to not be on certain types of equipment or any type of equipment.” Playgrounds are now closed. (See below).

As of Saturday, March 21st, team sports are no longer permitted in New York City parks. Given that team sports generally require close contact, there was no way to permit team sports while also following the PAUSE Executive Order. NYC Parks Recreation Centers are closed to the public until further notice. All City nature centers, marinas, historic houses and concessions are also closed until further notice.

Mayor Bill de Blasio encouraged New Yorkers to take caution and follow the protocols for social distancing when using City parks and playgrounds so that those parks and playgrounds would be allowed to remain open. On March 23, 2020, Mayor de Blasio discussed crowding issues at parks, stating, “We’re not going to allow crowds to form. We’re not going to allow lines where people are tightly packed next to each other. We’re not going to allow any indoor space to get overcrowded. We’re not going to allow outdoor spaces to get overcrowded. From this point on, everyone needs to understand social distancing. Six feet apart on every side.”

He continued to explain that NYPD and other City agencies would be present to educate and encourage social distancing, and would make groups and crowds disperse. The City will be adjusting policies as needed based on how compliant New Yorkers were with maintaining social distancing and limiting crowding.

While the administration would like to keep parks open, Mayor de Blasio said that closing access to parks and playgrounds was not off the table if New Yorkers did not comply and keep their distance.

At the March 20th PAUSE Executive Order announcement, Governor Cuomo shared a similar sentiment, stating, “When in public, social distancing at least 6 feet. Outdoor recreation is a solitary recreational exercise. It’s running, it’s hiking. It’s not playing basketball with 5 other people. That’s not what it is. It’s not laying in a park with 10 other people and sharing a beer. That’s not what this is. There are people and places in New York City where it looks like life as usual. No. This is not life as usual and accept it and realize it and deal with it.” Governor Cuomo also stated that “these provisions will be enforced. These are not helpful hints. This is not if you really want to be a great citizen. These are legal provisions. They will be enforced.”

CityLand staff visited parks and playgrounds in their local communities and found these parks and playgrounds to be mostly empty; however, other citizens have shared photos and video from larger parks like Prospect Park and Central Park, which are still busy. The debate on whether parks and playgrounds should close continues to develop. On March 26, Council Member Justin Brannan called for the closure of parks and playgrounds, stating, “Over the past few days, the parks have been mobbed. Some people clearly just aren’t taking this pandemic seriously. It is time to close all NYC parks and playgrounds. I would much rather my constituents be pissed at me and alive! As long as we have spaces where large crowds can gather, this thing will continue to spread and claim lives exponentially.” Some constituents agreed, stating they had also seen crowded parks in their area. Others disagreed, believing New Yorkers still need an outlet for fresh air and exercise and a place for children to run around.

CityLand reached out to New Yorkers for Parks for comment. Emily Walker, Director of Outreach & Programs for New Yorkers for Parks, stated, “The fact that New Yorkers are going to their parks for refuge is a real testament to how crucial beautiful, well-maintained open spaces are to the wellbeing of the city. It also demonstrates the need for adequate staffing, something that New Yorkers for Parks and over 230 other organizations have been pushing for as a part of our Play Fair campaign. It is crucial that we have enough City Park Workers to maintain these spaces and remind park-goers about the need for social distancing, and enough Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, who can educate park-goers about social distancing and enforce it when necessary.”

UPDATED: On April 1, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced all NYC playgrounds will be closed because density is still too high. Open spaces in parks will remain open for now.

As this is still an evolving situation, please continue to check with CityLand as we continue to cover land use and City policy changes. For a list of changes to various City agency operations, click here.

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



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