Quality of Life: City Parks

"Having prostitutes and drug users fill a park when a community needs parks, goes against everything government is supposed to do in terms of providing services and protecting people." -Activist

Some parks, such as Central Park, Bryant Square Park, and Prospect Park are partly managed by private conservancies that raise money and hire workers independent of the Parks Department. Other major "regional" parks provide amenities for city residents at large. Increased funding in the past few years has gone towards capital improvements for waterfront parks, a major need in a city with long neglected waterfront access. However, the issue of maintenance and up-keep in the local pocket park or playground is a perennial neighborhood concern. And what of the long-neglected spaces that sometimes become "cozy corners" - places perceived, by reputation or reality to be unsafe and filled with drugs, prostitution and other problems.

This 2005 New York Times article surveys the issue of maintenance in City parks nicely, focusing especially on notorious University Woods in the Bronx. I wonder what an update on the issue in 2008 would report? For myself, conversations with Parks Department District supervisors as little as a year ago confirmed that the activities and concerns reported in the article are still an issue.

"On a recent weekend in University Woods, in University Heights, a man and woman were seen having sex against a tree. Encampments for homeless people were scattered in the underbrush. Several areas had been littered with hypodermic needles, used condoms, needle cleaning kits and wrappers for "Savage" and "TKO" brands of heroin. And piles of feces could be seen on staircases.

The only evidence of the park's benches were rivet holes in the ground. There were no garbage cans, lights, restrooms or staff workers. Visitors have reported seeing a dead goat and the skulls of various animals, apparently after they had been sacrificed.

Julio Calderon, 31, who was walking a large pit bull outside the park, said he never stepped inside University Woods, though he lives nearby. "The park is dangerous," Mr. Calderon said in Spanish. "People who are in there do things I don't want to see."

The parks commissioner said he would like to trade University Woods to a developer for more suitable park property, or to fence it off. "You have to be pragmatic about these things," Mr. Benepe said. The Bronx borough president, Adolfo CarrĂ­on Jr., agreed but called the park's current neglect a "disgrace." "University Woods cannot continue to be what it is," he said.

Not far away, in Highbridge Park, which stretches for two miles across Upper Manhattan, the scene was even more grim on a recent weekend. Huge sections of the 119-acre park set aside as natural areas have been taken over by homeless people who have built permanent shacks made of sheet metal and steel pipes driven into the earth. One of the park's residents is a heroin addict and prostitute who would give her name only as Joanne. Her makeshift house has a bed and a nightstand. She said she had lived there for 13 years. Men smoked crack cocaine a few feet from where a youth baseball game was being played."

And, here's an article from the Gotham Gazette about keeping track of crime in the city's parks.