New York City’s Parks Department regularly feels the scissors when municipal budget cutters look around for programs to snip. Since 1988, the city has cut the department’s budget by more than 30 percent, after inflation. Mayor Giuliani’s first budget continues the trend, slashing $2.6 million in a parks hiring freeze that aims to eliminate 255 jobs.
City officials often view parks as a luxury, but in a recent survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, 62 percent of New Yorkers said parks are as essential a service as police, firefighting, and sanitation. Nearly everyone—96 percent—agreed that parks “are a really important part of growing up in New York City.”
New Yorkers are concerned about crime and disorder in the parks. Half of those surveyed said they use parks less often than they used to because they fear random attacks. On the other hand, slightly more than half of survey respondents reported that maintenance of the parks near their own homes was “excellent” or “good.”
The Commonwealth Fund survey asked New Yorkers whether they believed the city’s spending on parks should be restored to its level of the early 1970s—twice as high in inflation-adjusted terms as it is today. Twenty-six percent said yes, and another 41 percent said the parks budget should be higher in real terms than it was during the 1970s. Sixty-five percent of New Yorkers said they would be willing to pay a “small additional voluntary tax” for park maintenance if they could be sure it would be used for that purpose.