Park Enthusiasts Gear Up for
Push on Parks
The ongoing Bronx renaissance that has transformed countless streetscapes may still include a revival of landscapes if a spirited gathering of the borough's park enthusiasts is any guide.
About 100 or so community residents from all over the borough spent a rainy Sunday afternoon at Lehman College on Feb. 25 for the third annual Bronx Parks Speak-Up where they divided themselves into three groups with different themes but all with the same ultimate goal - getting the necessary money into the city budget to improve and maintain Bronx parkland.
One of the groups focused on creating a Bronx-wide park advocacy group. Pat Logan of Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation, a nonprofit that led the charge on renovation plans for Poe Park, moderated a discussion that led to an agreement to launch an advocacy effort, similar to one in Brooklyn, where representatives of different park groups get together to press for increased budgets and care and maintenance of parks. The group scheduled its first meeting for March 14.
Another larger group focused on developing a list of specific issues. At the end of the session, participants agreed on a list of seven priorities, including the increase of horticultural and forestry services in parks, an increase in skilled personnel along with the creation of career opportunities for WEP (Work Experience Program) workers, and greater law enforcement in parks.
A third group focused on strategies for pressing their cause with candidates running for public office. A couple of candidates for City Council attended the Speak-Up, including MS 80 teacher and Riverdale resident Laura Spalter, who is running in the 11th District to replace June Eisland, and Michael Benjamin, a former staffer for Councilman Adolfo Carrion who is vying to succeed Wendell Foster in the south Bronx. The only elected officials in attendance were Assemblyman Jose Rivera and his son, Joel Rivera, a newly minted councilman who won a special election to fill his father's seat on Feb. 20.
Elizabeth Cooke, executive director of the nonprofit Parks Council, announced a citywide campaign to get 1 percent of the city budget earmarked specifically for parks. Currently the budget stands at about four-tenths of 1 percent.
However, the city's top parks official, Henry Stern, was not blamed for the decline. As the keynote speaker at the event's closing session, he was presented with a gift, a blanket featuring historic Bronx sites. In fact, Stern agreed with those in attendance that the budget was too low and recounted that when he was parks commissioner in the Koch administration, he predicted incorrectly that the parks budget, which was a little more than seven-tenths of one percent at the time, would reach 1 percent by the year 2001.
Stern urged participants in the meeting to press the candidates for mayor and Council this year, when term limits will lead to an unprecedented turnover of elected officials, to make more funding for parks part of their campaign platforms. "It's much easier to reach people before they're elected than after they're elected, especially if they get elected without you," Stern said.
At one of the earlier sessions, Cooke said it was crucial to go straight to the top of the political pecking order. "The real place to get funding for parks is out of the mayor," she said, adding that the Parks Council and its allies plan to educate the candidates for mayor on the need for a large increase in parks funding by bringing the issue to their attention whenever and wherever possible. For instance, park advocates will "appear at forums on [public safety] and talk about why there's no one in charge of [keeping track] of police statistics in parks," Cooke said.
Cooke believes the moment has come for Bronx parks to get their due.
"The time is now for each borough to have parks that are the equivalent to Central Park," she said.
To participate in the formation of an advocacy effort for Bronx parks, attend a meeting at Concourse House (2751 Grand Concourse at the corner of East 196th Street) on Wed., March 14 at 7:30 p.m. Call Pat Logan at 367-3200 for more information.
For information on the Parks Council and its efforts to secure 1 percent of the city budget for parks, go to www.parkscouncil.org, or call (212) 838-9410.
For information on how to get involved in your local park, call Anthony Martinez of Partnership for Parks at 430-1861.
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