Neighbors Clean Parks

By Yanibel Fernandez

This past summer was unlike any other due to the pandemic, which forced many indoor entertainment venues to close their doors. Eventually, people turned to open green spaces and bike rides to enjoy the fresh air and the long summer hours. But the new fiscal year 2021, which began in July, came with a surprise, a major $84 million budget cut to NYC Parks. This, and the negligence of some visitors, led to a large amount of garbage piling up  across many Bronx Parks.

The budget cuts reduced the parks seasonal personnel in the summer, when people most frequently visit. The $84 million cut is from a previous year’s budget of $587.2 million, according city budget data released on March 13, 2020, “The Department of Parks and Recreation’s (DPR) Fiscal 2021 Preliminary Budget totals $545.3 million,” which “is $42 million lower than the Fiscal 2020 Adopted Budget of $587.2 million.”  The DPR maintains and cares for 1,900 parks, 1,000 playgrounds, 36 recreational centers, over 650,00 street trees and two million park trees, according to the Mayor’s Management Report.

Open Space Partners-NYC, a coalition which includes The Bronx River Alliance, responded to the cuts with a Report on COVID 19 Impact on Public Spaces, released on May 1. “This perfect storm of decreased staff capacity and increased use of public space will ultimately harm the overall condition of parks,” it said, adding that it feared that the parks could return to a similar condition to the 1970s during the fiscal crises. It explained that the parks raise more than 85 percent of their annual operating budgets through private donations and earned revenue. It also said that the parks have reported an anticipated decrease in revenue of up to 60 percent for 2020.   “The lost revenues will directly result in a decrease in care and public programming in parks across the city – impacts which will be directly felt by park users, further exacerbate existing park equity issues, and threaten long-term consequences on the city’s resilience to climate change in the future,” said the coalition.

The Joyce Kilmer Park located in the Grand Concourse is one of the many parks in the Bronx that was affected by the recent budget cuts. Trash cans full of garbage, bottles, plastic cups, plates, confetti from parties were scattered throughout the park and the grass was not cut.

During a late summer Wednesday afternoon, I met Christopher Bell, at the playground of Joyce Kilmer Park. As volunteers approached him, Bell handed them a plastic bag, disposable hand gloves and a trash picker to help clean the Park. Bell is the person behind the Instagram account Joyce Kilmer Park Unofficial, which he created to spread the word about cleaning days of the park. He created it after noticing how park attendees did not clean up after their parties.

“You walk through there [Park], there is a party here, there is party there and the next morning is just garbage everywhere,” said Bell. “I got so frustrated that I just decided to go out one morning and start picking up or afternoon.” More and more people joined him. “The first time we went out we got three people, the next time six, then the next time 10 and then it became 15 and now we are kind of setting about 12 or 15 depending on the night,” said Bell.

He also buys disposable hand globes and plastic bags for volunteers.  “This park is what holds the neighborhood together, this is sort of the living room of the neighborhood,” says Bell. “I walk through this park to get fresh air in the morning, to get the subway and we are the luckiest, we are so lucky in this neighborhood to have this park.”

Bell hopes that now that the cold weather is approaching, the park will have fewer visitors and less garbage that needs picking up.





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