Environment ∙ Public Health ∙ Racial Equity
Parks and Open Space: the Future of Equitable and Sustainable NYC Living
New York City has long attracted people for the culture and opportunity granted. In order to access these opportunities, people accept smaller apartments and no backyards. In return, the city should be obligated to provide residents outdoor, green space that allows people to be in nature and families a place to bring their children. Parks and open space is a vital resource for our culture, climate and socialization. It’s where families come for picnics, kids play sports, tourists buy hot dogs.
During the pandemic, parks were people’s saving grace, providing cherished spaces to get fresh air, exercise and socially distance. More than just amenities, parks became necessities for many New Yorkers living for days on end in cramped dwellings. But the pandemic also brought into focus the fact that not all parks are created equally and like many inequities, our city’s poorest residents do not have access to green spaces. In fact, at the height of the pandemic, more than 1.1 million New Yorkers did not have access to any park within a 10-minute walk of their homes. The average park size in poor neighborhoods is 6.4 acres compared to 14 acres in wealthy neighborhoods. Because of the piecemeal approach to designing parks, small parks and playgrounds are squeezed between buildings; lacking sufficient amenities to get exercise and enjoy nature, particularly in Black and brown communities.
Andrew Yang is committed to achieving 100% park access within a 10-minute walk of a park for all New Yorkers. He will do this by building the next generation of great parks in NYC, transforming local schoolyards into green playgrounds and investing in the usage of our public infrastructure, such as open streets and pedestrian plazas. All families-- no matter their zip code or background-- can have access to the best open space this city has to offer.
Andrew Yang will:
- Commit to achieving 100% park access for all New Yorkers
- Restore funding to the parks budget and allow parks to collect concession revenue
- Transform public spaces into open spaces starting with school playgrounds, open streets and pedestrian plazas
- Build the next generation of parks by bringing major stalled projects to the finish line
- Expand arts programming and cultural events in NYC parks
I) Fund Parks and Generate Revenue
Restore funding to the parks budget.
New Yorkers care deeply about open spaces. Unfortunately, parks are often the first casualty in budget cuts. The New York City parks department is chronically underfunded and understaffed. According to New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P) the Parks Department oversees 14 percent of the city’s land, but consistently receives less than one percent of the expense budget and six percent of the capital budget. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Parks Department budget of $540 million was cut by nearly $85 million and the seasonal workforce of 1,700 people was not hired over the summer. This left thousands without jobs, including the loss of nearly 200 staff members like Parks Enforcement Patrol Officers, leaving parks in disarray as trash and litter overflowed. At the same time, other major cities like Los Angeles and Chicago allocate between two and four percent of their expense budget to parks. Parks are an essential public good and should be valued as such. Andrew Yang will restore the parks budget to its full funding in his first year.
Expand the city’s organic waste collection program and composting sites.
Organics make up 1/3 of the city’s waste, which when dumped in landfills produces the dangerous greenhouse gas, methane. Unfortunately, despite the clear environmental impact, the city’s composting program has long taken a back seat to other issues. In 2018, de Blasio curtailed the expansion of the program to underserved neighborhoods and early in the pandemic, he suspended public funding for the program, including DSNY’s Curbside Composting program, the Compost Project’s community composting sites and GrowNYC Zero Waste Program, which manages residential food scrap drop-off sites at Green Markets. While the City Council restored $2.7 million July 2020 for community composting operations it was only a shell of the original $28 million that was cut from the budget. On Earth Day 2021, Mayor de Blasio announced the city would restore the program, but there are several new caveats: landlords will now need to enroll to be included, there is no plan for expansion to the myriad of underserved neighborhoods, and he is not fulfilling his promise to achieve a citywide mandate. We must commit to expanding these programs and giving New Yorkers the tools they need to engage in proper recycling of organic waste. Andrew Yang strongly supports improving New York’s waste disposal and knows we must do so in a cost effective way. Currently, the city does not provide composting bins in much of the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. Leaving our poorer neighborhoods and communities of color from its trash reduction initiatives is outrageous. These communities are disproportionately impacted both by climate change to which current policies contribute, and are typically nearer to major arteries that trash trucks use on their way in and out of the city. Under a Yang Administration, the city will make composting accessible to those who want it, regardless of where they live. Andrew will execute this across the four years of his first term. He will start by assembling a task force to understand the greatest issues with the current program and determine where expansion is most needed. Next, the city will launch pilot programs in the identified neighborhoods, then expand on a large scale ultimately achieving city wide collection with the eventual goal of mandatory composting. A central aspect of this expanded program will be increased community outreach; by informing more New Yorkers about the benefits of composting, and proving to them it is easy to do, we can increase the impact of each dollar the city spends on collection and transportation.
Allow NYC Parks to collect concession revenue.
Yang supports calls by NY4P to amend the city charter so NYC Parks can keep at least part, if not all, of its concession revenue. Currently the charter states that all city revenues are to be paid into the general fund. This means the vast majority of parks cannot retain revenue earned in park concessions, such as restaurants, golf courses and marinas, which in 2019 raised $70 million. Given the oncoming budget shortfalls, it will be more important than ever to allow parks to retain the funds they earn from concessions.
II) Transform Public Spaces into 21st Century Open Spaces
Turn 100 schoolyards into playgrounds.
Schoolyards are natural sites to spark full-scale community transformation that often go unused outside of school hours. A green schoolyard can serve as a hub for community empowerment, improved health, education and climate resiliency. But New York City averages only 2.1 playgrounds per 10,000 people, a ratio that lags behind 68 of the 100 most populous cities. And many of our playgrounds are outdated, asphalt and concrete structures without green space and other amenities. We can do better.
Andrew Yang will continue successful public-private partnerships, such as mobilizing the Trust for Public Land (TPL), which has worked with NYC Parks, the Department of Education and the School Construction Authority to transform over 200 schoolyards into vibrant community spaces. The TPL collaborates with students, creating a sense of shared ownership in the resulting park: “This schoolyard demonstrates the value of student voices. Watching our ideas take shape right outside the windows of our classroom has given us a huge sense of pride” said a 5th grader at P.S. 213K. Working with partners like these, a Yang administration will build 100 new green schoolyards over his first administration. Schoolyards will be given first priority in districts in underserved communities to address the playground gap while creating jobs and rehabilitating neighborhoods.
Make all Open Streets permanent.
Last spring, the city, led by the Department of Transportation (DOT), opened up dozens of streets across the five boroughs to provide room for recreation and outdoor dining during the pandemic. The city initially designated 83 miles of Open Streets, but 22 have since reverted to typical usage by cars. A Yang administration will make the fund the program to expand it and make it permanent.
In addition to making open streets permanent, here is Andrew’s comprehensive approach to improving offerings:
- Make Open Streets permanent. A Yang administration will make the program permanent, as was called for by Transportation Alternatives and several other groups in a recent letter to the Mayor’s Office.
- Provide funding and resources - such as french barricades, benches, and signage - to support local community groups and BIDs overseeing their local Open Streets programming. Open Streets right now is largely decentralized and volunteer-driven. A Yang administration will provide funding so that Open Streets programming does not have to solely rely on local donations, empowering neighborhoods and communities with fewer resources to take advantage of the program.
In addition, a Yang administration will work with community groups to expand the times and days Open Streets are, in fact, open.
- Dedicate DOT, Park Department or other city personnel to open streets in neighborhoods that do not have BIDs or established community groups that cannot dedicate volunteer support to Open Streets without a dedicated network of neighborhood organizers. This is an equity issue: communities should not be precluded from this program because they do not have a BID or organized community group who is willing to apply for and run the program. While several Open Streets have strong community engagement and local volunteer organizers, many do not. The Department of Transportation will provide the resources and workers to block off the street, arrange barricades, and work with neighborhoods to tailor the hours and days that the streets should be open.
- Create a simple application process with automatic annual renewals for existing and new streets. Neighborhood groups should not have to go through a bureaucratic mess to maintain or open an Open Street. Once a group has registered with the DOT, there will be automatic renewals. Only the hours and days will need to be updated with the DOT so there is a central website providing current information for interested individuals and businesses.
- Make Open Streets more equitable and expand the program. According to Streetsblog, residents by Open Streets have higher incomes than those not close to Open Streets. To that end, several neighborhoods, including in Staten Island and the Bronx, lack access to this new program. A Yang administration will expand the program to such locations within the first year.
- Pursue street transformations to make Open Streets a permanent fixture. From retractable bollards to planters to fully pedestrianizing streets, a Yang administration will look to transform streets in each borough to reflect their uses beyond car traffic. This proposal follows Yang’s past calls to develop superblocks as has been successfully done in Barcelona.
- Provide new opportunities for restaurants along Open Streets. Open Streets provides a great opportunity to also bolster support for local restaurants and bars. The Yang campaign has previously released proposals for “lending” outdoor adjacent space to restaurants. Already, on Vanderbilt Ave, restaurants saw a 54% increase in customer visits for restaurants compared to the month before the initiative started.
Realize a vision for more robust, interconnected outdoor space, including:
- Expanded protected bike lanes. During the pandemic, biking, walking and other means of transportation were essential. But biking in NYC, despite its health and climate benefits, has been unsafe with less than 40% of our bike lanes being physically separated from road traffic. We must reimagine our city’s streets so they are more pedestrian and bike friendly while helping to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Andrew Yang supports the vision put out by the Regional Plan Association for a “Five Borough Bikeway,” which will create a city-wide network of protected, continuous, high-capacity, priority bike lanes.
- More Equitable Pedestrian Plazas New York City has over 72 pedestrian plazas, serving local communities by increasing street safety, boosting local businesses and encouraging walking — resulting in clear environmental benefits. DOT’s larger vision is to have a pedestrian plaza within a 10 minute walk of every New Yorker, unfortunately, NYC is very far from this vision. Pedestrian plazas are clustered in lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn with only ¼ found in other boroughs, leaving lower income neighborhoods underserved. In 2015, the city announced the OnePlaza Equity Program, promising to invest $1.4 million in maintenance and management assistance of plazas in 30 medium to high need areas. This is important as plazas that lack care and maintenance can fall out of favor, eradicating the inherent benefits and once again underutilizing public space. The city is currently advertising for small business owners and vendors who can create concessions and markets in plazas. A Yang Administration will build on the current OnePlaza Equity Program to ensure new pedestrian plaza projects are prioritized in underserved neighborhoods, backing the projects beyond completion to ensure they are properly maintained and encourage new local business opportunities. Yang will also seek out MWBE as vendors and operators for plaza businesses and will work with communities to bring cultural events such as movie screenings, small concerts and food trucks to the plazas that will stimulate economic activity and recreation.
Expand Access to Sports Facilities
While New York City has hundreds of courts and fields, organized sports are on the rise while the number of available facilities remains stagnant. In fact, due to lack of maintenance, many facilities cannot be used until they have been repaired, leaving teams without a field and kids without easily accessible activities. Andrew Yang will invest in the repair and continued maintenance of the public facilities that are so important to NYC communities, while also looking for opportunities to build new facilities within parks to keep up with the growing demand. A Yang administration will make the permitting process more transparent and crack down any misuse or re-distribution of permits by leveraging the Parks Department to monitor who is using the facilities.
More Dog Friendly Spaces
Before the pandemic, approximately 27% of New Yorkers were dog owners, a low percentage compared to national numbers. Perhaps because NYC was found to be one of the most expensive cities to adopt a dog, averaging nearly $4,000 in just the first year. Starting in March, 2020, pet adoption numbers surged, with New York shelters having more applications than pets.
While NYC ranked #1 for number of parks in big U.S. cities, it was 27th when looking per capita. As dog ownership in NYC has surged, the city needs to provide amenities to match. 10 districts in Brooklyn don’t have a dog run. Increased dedicated space for dogs is important to keep public parks family friendly, and can often be developed in spaces not fit for regular parks. A Yang administration will improve the per capita ratio of dog parks, prioritizing districts without any dog friendly amenities.
Work with NYCHA residents to reimagine outdoor space
NYCHA developments are often 70 to 80 percent open space, yet much of this space is underused and rundown. The Regional Plan Association has identified the potential for NYCHA and the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to turn this land into larger community assets to be managed by the DPR. There are existing successes of City run parks on NYCHA land that are key resources for the surrounding community. The city has spent hundreds of millions of dollars acquiring land for new projects when there is already so much space ripe for transformation in the heart of communities who need it most. Andrew Yang will work with NYCHA residents to determine what they want for their open space, whether it be green space, new sports and exercise and fitness equipment, or other amenities. Read Andrew Yang’s plan for a Green Reinvestment in NYCHA.
III) Build the next Generation of Parks & Recreational Facilities
As Mayor, Andrew Yang will prioritize building new parks in those communities that fall short of open space and have high park needs. Unfortunately, many projects throughout the city that meet this criteria, have been slated for completion but lacked the political will to be seen through to completion. Here is a sample of the types of major park investments Andrew Yang will accomplish over his tenure.
Bring major stalled parks projects through to the finish line, examples include:
- The QueensWay, Queens. For over ten years, residents, organizations and local leaders have been planning and advocating to convert the Rockaway Beach Branch, spanning from Rego Park to Ozone Park, into a park. Since 1962, this 3.5 mile stretch of tracks—double the length of The Highline—has been owned by the city but has been sitting abandoned. The Friends of the QueensWay and The Trust for Public Land have developed a comprehensive plan that connects several parks, contributes to Vision Zero goals, brings economic opportunity and tourism and improves the health and quality of life for Queens residents. According to NY4P, the QueensWay plan was released in 2014 and renderings of the first half-mile section were released three years later. The MTA conducted a study evaluating the costs associated with reactivating a stretch of the track in eastern Queens, finding that it would cost $6.7 billion to reactivate, and $8.1 billion to connect the stretch to the subway. Yang is sensitive to the need to improve transportation in this area including increasing the number of buses per hour, but given the infeasibility of reactivating the line and the need for park land in these communities, a Yang administration will commit to seeing this plan through to fruition. Moreover, investing in the QueensWay will enable multi-modal transportation, such as safe walking and bike paths and will enhance access to the neighboring bus stops, and 7 subway lines. The 3.5 mile project would cost approximately $150 million while the first two phases of the 1.45 mile long High Line cost $152 million, of which $30 million was raised by Friends of the High Line. Just four years after the first section of the high line opened, the city valued the economic benefit of it at close to $1 billion - 5 times its expected value. The QueensWay will bring recreation, climate benefits, safety, tourism and economic stimulus to the surrounding neighborhoods of Eastern Queens.
- Freshkills Park, Staten Island. Closed as a landfill in 2001, Freshkills Park is the largest park to be developed in NYC in over a century. Since 2012, NYC Parks has completed small projects along the park’s edge, closest to the community, yet leaving most of the land unusable. When fully developed, Freshkills will be the second-largest park in NYC and almost three times the size of Central Park. The rehabilitation of the ecosystem will not only provide amazing open space for New Yorkers, but is also important for controlling and filtering stormwater and bringing back wildlife that hasn’t been seen in decades. The park is being completed in phases, with only three areas currently open to the public. In order to complete the full transformation of Freshkills by 2036, the city must provide consistent funding and support for the development of the parks. A Yang administration will push forward the South Park and East Park developments to provide much needed park amenities in Staten Island. A Yang administration will support the vision for bringing trails, greenways, recreational fields and overlook stations and will facilitate a NYC Parks and Freshkills Park Alliance as they actively seek funding.
Assess the Lowline.
The Lowline, a seemingly fantastical underground park using technology to deliver sunlight below New York City sidewalks, has been a floating idea for nearly a decade. The park gained popularity, attracting media attention and thousands of small donors and supporters to help make it a reality, but in recent years, the group has hit speed bumps delaying progress. A Yang administration would engage with the Lowline designers to gauge the benefit it would provide to the community and how we could expand the idea to other boroughs. New York City is desperately in need of more public parks but with scarce supply of suitable open space, we must look at every idea and modern technology to convert underutilized land throughout the city.
Bring the first self-filtering, floating swimming pool to NYC.
In 2011, the idea of a floating, self-filtering swimming pool called the +POOL on the East River that would allow New Yorkers to swim safely, captured many imaginations. The idea was so exciting that Time magazine labeled it one of “the 25 best inventions of 2013.” The city’s Economic Development Corporation even issued a request for expression of interest (RFEI), soliciting ideas on how a floating pool could be built. Ten years later, however, the city has not moved forward with any of the proposals. Now is the time to think big and reimagine our public assets—including our streets, parks and waterways—especially when there is significant will by the private sector to develop and fund groundbreaking proposals. A Yang administration will revive this concept and work with invested parties to bring the city’s first self-filtering, floating swimming pool to our shores with particular emphasis on an appropriate location of the pool in relation to access and equity. The +POOL is estimated to cost $25 million, which is slated to be raised through a public-private partnership. We must also restore existing swimming public pools and open inground pools in communities that need them as part of a broader equity approach.
Expand arts and cultural programming in our parks.
Before the pandemic, outdoor movie screenings, concerts and performances in parks were a major source of entertainment. The next Mayor should build on legislation recently passed by the City Council that establishes an “Open Culture” program, which temporarily allows eligible cultural and art institutions and venues to use approved open public street space for cultural events. A Yang administration will look to make this program permanent and will promote performances through our NYC App so all New Yorkers are aware of the happenings in our city.
We must also expand cultural programming in our parks. To that end, we have proposed a new program, Broadway to the People, that would work with artists to mount theater productions in public parks at reduced fees, similar to Shakespeare in the Park. This will allow more New Yorkers to partake in the magic of Broadway and provide financial support to theaters as they begin turning the lights back on. It’s encouraging that nearly a year into the pandemic, the city and state are now providing structural support for public arts programming, such as the state’s PopsUp festival that will bring live events to public spaces throughout the state. These creative solutions are wise and essential to bringing back the cultural pulse of our city and we will ensure that programming serves the needs of local artists who most need the work. Along with the featured local artists, famous New Yorkers would be invited back to perform in their old neighborhoods, even beyond the pandemic, and all New Yorkers would be encouraged to reconnect with their neighbors.