Monday, October 29, 2012

Is It Fair?

One of the great glories of NYC is its public parks system.

For almost two centuries, this city has wisely invested in creating millions of acres of green space for its people -- starting from the days of Olmstead to Moses to the present day. Without our parks, NYC would be uninhabitable and, thanks to our parks, millions of our city's residents have some place to find refuge from the urban jungle.

Our parks are part of what make NYC truly great.

But in the last couple of decades, our parks have almost become representations of the great socioeconomic divide in our city. While there are parks big and small in every borough, all officially under the auspices of the city's parks department, some parks located in wealthy neighborhoods have created private foundations that help to augment only their parks. They help to beautify and maintain them, build playgrounds and plant trees and such, and make them stunning. That's great, but the result is that many other parks in poorer parts of the city do not get the same TLC and are allowed to drift while the big rich parks become better than ever.

Such is the case this week of the billionaire John Paulson who recently gave $100 million to the Central Park Conservancy. This eye-popping, historic donation goes only to improvements in Central Park and Central Park alone -- and not to the any of the other several hundred parks across the city. This gift is both amazing and grotesque at the same time.

Now I love Central Park as much as anyone and have enough great memories of it to last a lifetime. It's truly an amazing, beautiful place and has a special place in the heart of all New Yorkers. But it's hardly a park without enough money, it's certainly not in any state of decay, and it's really doesn't need even more money to be improved. On the other hand, go to any park in the Bronx or Queens or Staten Island and you'll parks that need a lot of work. 

Ever been to Flushing Park, Mr. Paulson? That's a park that needs A LOT of work and is also frequented by probably as many people as Central Park. Believe me, $100 million in Flushing Park would create wonders. Couldn't you send your money there?

I hope that in the years to come, as Bloomberg's New York becomes a thing of the past, there will be an effort by the private and public sectors to do more -- and invest more money -- in the people and neighborhoods and parks that aren't rich, aren't connected, and aren't all in Manhattan. 

Only then will we truly live up to our city's democratic ideal.

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