Money will go toward new soccer fields, hiking trails and running tracks
Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected Thursday to outline plans to spend $150 million to improve five New York City parks, one of the largest investments in the city’s green spaces since the mayor took office in 2014.
The money is designed to create new running and hiking trails, along with soccer fields and water stations in parks across the five boroughs, according to city officials. Each of the five parks is to get $30 million.
The parks are largely consolidated in poorer stretches of the city, such as Saint Mary’s Park in the South Bronx and Betsy Head Park in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The other three receiving money are Freshkills Park on Staten Island; Highbridge Park in the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan; and Astoria Park in Queens.
Mitchell Silver, commissioner of the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation, said many of the city’s parks need additional funding but the administration deliberately decided to make a major investment in five parks rather than spreading the money across all 1,953 of them.
“Spending $30 million in each park really gives you the kind of transformation where the neighborhood sees the difference,” Mr. Silver said.
The improvements at these parks are expected to take between three and four years, and some parts of the parks would be closed during construction.
Mr. de Blasio’s administration has adopted a different strategy to city parks compared with his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, who built a number of new parks like the High Line in Manhattan.
Mr. de Blasio, a devoted fan of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, where he was married, has drawn criticism for not investing money to build new parks.
Mr. Silver said the city wants to create new park space during neighborhood rezonings but was focused more “on keeping up these treasured parks we have.” Mr. Silver said Mr. Bloomberg had received more attention for parks, but that Mr. de Blasio had raised the annual budget and focused more on ensuring “equity” for all New Yorkers.
Mr. de Blasio has already committed more than $280 million to improving smaller community parks in poorer parts of the city and has encouraged some of the larger conservancies, such as the Central Park Conservancy, to share their wealth with poorer parks.
“It’s a different strategy,” Mr. Silver said.
Adrian Benepe, who served as Mr. Bloomberg’s parks commissioner from 2002 to 2012, applauded Mr. de Blasio’s decision to spend money on dilapidated parks, calling it a “really terrific thing to do.” Mr. Benepe said the administration deserved credit for keeping the city’s parks largely clean and safe and hiring an additional 500 seasonal workers this year.
“It may be somewhat less glamorous than the Bloomberg administration projects but these projects are of equal importance,” he said.
Tupper Thomas, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy group, said infusing the parks with $30 million each was critical because that would allow widespread repairs to be made, instead of piecemeal ones. The choice of the five parks made sense, she said, because they are in crowded areas that need more attention.
Going forward, Ms. Thomas said the administration needed to focus more on finding new park areas in a growing city and hiring more workers for maintenance.
“The mayor’s record on parks so far is actually very good,” she said. “He’s heading in the right direction, but I’d love to see a little more creativity.”