City Journal Winter 2016

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Winter 2016
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Laura Vanderkam
Parks and Re-creation « Back to Story

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How about introducing small people initiatives.
Outdoor environments are ideal meeting places. Allow small groups to gather for interest activities. Toddler song hour, retired flower hour, teen jam and hang hour, praise and prayer hour, meditation hour, poetry hour, summer youth picnic, scout show and tell, it's endless.
It builds communities, while supplying essential vit D and fresh air. Clean inexpensive community fun, while enabling normal people to feel the power to start small initiatives and carry them forward.
An important article, outlining ways to build and save our urban parks in the coming decades. St Louis' Forest Park (50% larger than Central Park and, like the latter, smack in the center of the metro area) was restored thanks to private contributions and remains a successful public-private enterprise. A new and highly successful downtown park (Citygarden) was built with private money on city land, its private benefactor is commited to cover its long-term maintenance, and it remains open to the public 24-7 with no fences/gates.
No discussion of Bryant Park is complete without giving credit to William Whyte, who thought of the brilliant re-design of the space. His book is required reading for anyone interested in cities.
John J. Lynch AICP August 26, 2011 at 11:35 AM
When stakeholders are involved in managing a resource be it housing or parks (and maybe in the future education?) everyone benefits!
There's a big problem when the City Commissioner says there's no recourse for citizens when the government "monopoly" (!) does a bad job. He should not be working for the City if that's the way he runs his Department. If he needs Dan Biederman to give him "pioneering innovative management techniques" like overseeing his parks, he should be replaced by a civil servant who understand how to run a public department.

Does no one see anything wrong with handing over our public spaces to corporations? Do you really think the only purpose for the public realm is to provide entertainment and caramel latte shops? Do you not see that when corporations and wealthy real estate investors buy us our public realm, they will decide who is worthy to use it and how it may be used? The plutocracy controlling Central Park has blocked civic events because -- it's bad for the grass! (Although music concerts, apparently, are not bad for the grass. (

Bryant Park is now a commercial mall, a rent-a-park, where a private group of businessmen generate huge amounts of money, and pay themselves handsomely to do so. If Benepe wanted to turn the park into a commercial venue and just make money, he could do it too -- and then the taxpayers who own the land would get the profits.

Public-private partnerships do not make the parks more public; they don't do anything the City can't do by itself -- except exclude people -- the "undesirables" (which could someday be -- yes, YOU), finding ways to do it without appearing to violate their civil rights.

We replace our arenas for democratic social space and civic activity with sanitized, privately policed zones at our peril. When we need to exercise our right to protest against our government, we'll have to do it in the streets, so as not to disturb the corporate sponsors, or the abutters' brunch. No, wait -- the streets will all be part of Beiderman-oid Business Improvement Districts, which will pay for the right to do to the streets what is being done to the parks. Maybe...we'll have to go to poor neighborhoods where no one cares what happens in the public realm, and hold our rallies in the midst of the trash and decay, where no one is listening.
I love how Parks is considered to be some genius organization because their crown jewel parks are maintained and funded by third party organizations. In all of the other Parks under their umbrella, and without any support, they become neglected properties with dictatorial rules.

I especially love how now, with Brooklyn Bridge, Parks allows people to live in our parkland as long as they are rich. It is another hypocritical action of Benepe, who wrongly evicted the member of Cedar Grove Beach Club under the false claim that it is illegal for people to live in parks. He pushed to shut down their 99 year old club, as a continuation of 50 years of Park Department assault on the neighborhood of New Dorp Beach, Staten Island. They used eminent domain to acquire the parkland, then demolished 200 buildings, including the houses of families and a hospital, and left the land to lie overgrown and to act as a dumping ground for stolen cars and dead bodies. Now, Parks is pushing to demolish the Cedar Grove houses, and will not allow for the property to be listed on the historic registry, even though they are eligible. Why? Because Parks is only interested in demolishing New York history.
Good article, Laura.

--Peter Harnik, Director, Center for City Park Excellence, Washington, D.C.
Let's be honest. The public-private model has done wonders for parks adjacent to very affluent neighborhoods, but is never going to be effective for parks throughout the city as a whole. This privatization of the parks system is an example of the way in which the City shortchanges poor communities. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the City continues to hand out lucrative tax abatements to developers in areas of the city that do not require subsidy, thus robbing the general treasury of needed revenue. This needless subsidy must end. Surely those uncollected tax dollars could be used to support vitally needed services - and parks - in the outer boroughs.

Steven T. Corneliussen August 18, 2011 at 6:19 AM
Thanks for this fine article. It calls to mind comparisons with the possibility of a partly self-sustaining, revenue-generating, partnership-structured, urban national park at Fort Monroe, Virginia -- which the Army is leaving, and which the Civil War historian Edward L. Ayers has called the site of “the greatest moment in American history.” Fort Monroe occupies a 570-acre sand spit, a place with Gibraltar-like strategic importance beside the mouth of Hampton Roads harbor on the lower Chesapeake Bay. The Trust for Public Land has advocated treating much of it as valuable urban bayfront green space. Almost all of the land, far more than just the moated stone fortress for which it’s best known, has been a national historic landmark for a half-century. Some limited new development will naturally be necessary, though, in parts of the historic landscape away from the sense-of-place-defining bayfront shoreline. The problem is that Virginia’s potent development interests have bifurcated the footprint of this possible partnership national park. So what’s being planned is merely a split national park, with a big, sense-of-place-destroying gap along the bayfront. Virginia is botching it, in other words, and Americans should be plenty concerned for two reasons: the narrow parochialism will not only harm the cultural prospects, but the economic ones. Virginia is about to underdevelop a national treasure’s potential by mindlessly overdeveloping its real estate. Please see my op-ed in the August 11 Richmond Times-Dispatch, available online. Steven T. Corneliussen, SaveFortMonroe[[at]]
An interesting approach to park restoration and
Unfortunately, it doesn't touch the causes of poverty and homelessness that threaten public spaces.
Privatization of parks isn't quite the slam-dunk simplicity some other kinds of privatization might be. There are a few national parks that were once considered for private development, and some of the drawing board plans are just hideous compared to their publicly-owned persona. However, a tasteful lodge or inn can add to a large park's charm.

In contrast to Manhattan, Philadelphia's parks are notorious for their unmowed grass and non-functioning restrooms. That city has been largely abandoned by wealthier residents, and it's parks would play little role in encouraging private enterprise, anyway.

There might be a solution somewhere along the lines of micro-finance. Some internet businesses have found that the could get people to pay 25 cents for something, if it could be done conveniently. (It used to be considered not worth collecting an amount that small; anything under two dollars might as well be free.) I wonder if something like the EZ Pass model could be used to collect a small amount for 20-minute visitors.
Wonderful piece, but disappointed you didn't mention Calvert Vaux. :(
Wonderful piece, but disappointed you didn't mention Calvert Vaux. :(