On March 12, 2021, VCPA’s Director of Programs and Operations joined dozens of other park groups and community members to testify on behalf of Van Cortlandt Park at the NYC City Council Hearing for Preliminary Budget Hearing for NYC Parks. VCPA is a part of New Yorkers for Parks’ Play Fair Campaign advocating for more funding for our parks. For more information and to sign onto the petition, visit the New Yorkers for Parks website.
Here is the full text from the testimony:
“Good morning, I am Christina Taylor, Director of Programs and Operations for the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance. I have worked in Van Cortlandt Park for 20 years but I have never seen a summer like the summer of 2020.
When the pandemic hit, I began working from home. After a few weeks, in early April, I missed my park, so I went for a social distance hike on a day off.
For my first big adventure, I picked a remote trail that is usually empty… but it was full of people!
This is when I realized what kind of summer we were in for. And I was right! As the weather got warmer, Van Cortlandt Park got busier. In 2020, the park was being used in record numbers, at all times of day and night. While the rest of the city was quiet, previously unused trails were packed with visitors. Families were gathering for parties, exercising, or just hanging out. Parks were literally the only game in town, as indoor gathering was forbidden.
Just as the park was overtaken with more visitors than ever before, we learned about the $84 million budget cut at NYC Parks. With that cut, came the reality that there would be no seasonal staff hired to maintain the park. NYC Parks usually receives 1,700 seasonal staff. Last summer, Van Cortlandt Park got nothing.
And yet, twice as many people meant twice as much garbage, twice as much damage to our infrastructure, twice as much wear and tear on the fields and trails … all with half as many staff. This wasn’t just happening in Van Cortlandt Park, it was happening in every park all over the city.
Van Cortlandt Park Alliance stepped up and helped! We secured funding for 6 seasonal maintainers and we hosted volunteer days. In 2020, over 370 volunteers removed over 300 bags of trash on cleanup days.
Parks Department staff worked endlessly. They came in at 5 am daily, to clean up the mess from the night before. People worked through breaks and late into the evening. Honestly, I don’t know how they were standing at the end of the day.
And here we are, a year later, bracing ourselves for the 2021 season. What is going to happen this summer? Fingers crossed, most New Yorkers will be vaccinated — but will they want to stay indoors after months of being cooped up inside? Will they feel comfortable going to restaurants and movie theaters? I know I won’t … and I am not alone.
Summer 2021 will be just as busy as summer 2020 — which is why we need your support in increasing the Parks budget to 1% of the City’s overall budget. Right now, the Parks’ budget is .5% of the City’s budget… that’s practically a rounding error! We are asking for One Percent for Parks. Is that too much to ask for an agency that serves 8 million New Yorkers, providing equitable access to all?
Forcing NYC Parks to go through another summer with a greatly reduced number of seasonals and no resources is just cruel. Not only has Parks staff worked tirelessly (and in most cases thanklessly), working class field staff have been hard hit by Covid-19 themselves, and yet they persist … providing a clean and safe environment for the public who so desperately need our parks. Park workers are the unsung heroes of the pandemic. By increasing the Parks budget to 1% of the City’s budget, you have the opportunity to thank them for their hard work, and to provide cleaner, safer, and more welcoming green space for a city that desperately needs it.