Thanks to a new law, New Yorkers can adopt a park and tend to its upkeep. So far 30 individuals and groups have expressed interest: The law authorizes the parks commissioner to make agreements with individuals or groups to sponsor a park, playground, ball field, or other park space or facility — even park equipment like a lawnmower — by donating a specific amount of money or labor. The payments are to be used only for the sponsored areas. The program does not include parks that already have conservancies or trusts contributing more than $500,000 a year. Many groups and individuals already help out in their local parks, playgrounds, and gardens by cleaning, weeding, organizing activities for kids and paying for the upkeep of plantings, benches, ball fields, and other park elements. The Adopt-A-Park program is intended to reach out to more people and businesses and create a way for smaller donations to be directed to a specific park, according to Councilmember Joseph Addabbo, who chairs the parks committee and introduced the legislation. Encouraging voluntarism, bolstering civil society, protecting green spaces, and doing it with private means? It seems like this arrangement would satisfy everyone. But these days voluntarism isn’t quickly embraced by all. In San Diego and elsewhere unions claim voluntarism violates union rules. Even the author of this article has some concerns: While many parks could benefit, the law could create a new set of inequities, bringing funding to parks in areas that have more businesses or well-off residents. There is also the danger that increased donations may reduce the pressure on the city to fund what is truly a public service. Councilmember Addabbo said, “Written into the language of Adopt-A-Park is the fact that this is not to be in lieu of budgetary funding. We didn’t want an influx of volunteers and funding, and out of the back have the funding taken out of parks and put somewhere else.” He said that the council’s oversight during the budget process would be a check on any attempt by the city to reduce its appropriations for parks because Adopt-a-Park can pick up the slack. Whew! For a second there it looked like some wise guy might suggest trimming spending. And come to think of it, couldn’t this work be done by union workers? Here’s hoping this program stays uncontroversial.
Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.