(re: “Age, neglect plague Vannie, Bronx’s ailing parks,” July 26)
The issue of the aging infrastructure in our local parks, including Van Cortlandt Park, is unfortunately not a new issue.
In Spring 1992, after reading an article in The New York Times “New friends wanted for a Bronx Park,” Felicity Nitz decided to take action. Over the next few months, she got together with five other friends and formed the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park. That first summer, they hired a small group of high school students to clean up Van Cortlandt Park, and the Friends have grown and evolved over the 26 years since then.
Today, the Friends works to “bring youth, community and nature together,” by providing environmental education and stewardship programs for thousands of people a year, while advocating for our beloved park.
As a small but dedicated nonprofit, we do what we can, but it is often not enough for all 1,146 acres of our park.
I strongly believe that the city’s parks department is not funded at a level needed for the agency to properly maintain and care for all of its parks. Each year, we see funding allocated for capital projects which vastly improve our parks through the building of new playgrounds, repairing of sports fields, installing bathrooms, etc., But we don’t see an increase in maintenance funding to keep the new facilities in good shape.
Instead, after a few years, they fall into disrepair and need new capital funding to restore them. This can be avoided with ongoing maintenance, but the parks department needs to be adequately funded and staffed for this to happen.
The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park and other Bronx park support groups are doing what they can to help close the gap between the current budget allocations and what Bronx parks really need. These groups raise money to provide special events, educational and cultural programming, and work with volunteers to clean up their neighborhood parks. Representatives pound the pavement asking their elected officials to provide capital funding to restore neglected park facilities.
But given the economic demographics of the Bronx, the fundraising capacity of these organizations is limited in a way that the Central Park Conservancy or the Friends of the High Line are not.
One step toward leveling the playing field would be for the parks department to have its own capital budget, and to not have to solely rely on elected officials and outside funding for basic renovations. The fact that we have to beg for every capital project results in disparities as not all elected officials have the capacity or willingness to fund such projects, and several foundations are not willing to fund in poorer communities, and these communities are left with crumbling park infrastructure.
Van Cortlandt Park is 1,146 acres (yes, it’s bigger than Central Park), with the first public golf course in America, the oldest building still standing in the Bronx, numerous sporting fields, more than 500 acres of forest, a freshwater lake, a nationally renowned cross-country course, and 20-plus miles of hiking trails.
However, Van Cortlandt Park will never be bordered by Central Park West and Fifth Avenue. Does its location diminish its importance?
It definitely seemed like it did when more than 40 acres of land were alienated for the construction of a filtration plant, which has resulted in numerous broken promises to the community.
Van Cortlandt Park is important to the thousands of community members who consider it their backyard and many others that visit to hike, run, swim, play and more. I urge Mayor Bill de Blasio, the New York City Council, and Commissioner Mitchell Silver to make a greater commitment to addressing the deficiencies in Bronx parks.
We need a multifaceted approach of greater maintenance budgets and creative, alternative revenue strategies that will work outside of the most visible parks in New York’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
I urge all of your readers to speak up next spring when the city starts planning its next fiscal budget. We need more voices in the fight to increase funding for our parks.
The author is executive director of Friends of Van Cortlandt Park.