Saturday, February 13, 2016

Privatizing What Should Be Public; The True Face of Inequality in Parks and Schools in NYC

During the late 1970's, under pressure from a banker led Emergency Financial Control Board, two important public agencies- the Department of Parks and the Department ( then the Board) of Education made draconian budget cuts that would dramatically change the face of New York City for the next 40 years.
The Parks Department, forced to slash its budget in half, dramatically pared down its staff for maintaining trees, meadows and ball fields and eliminated the position of recreation supervisor ( "parkie) from the thousands of vest pocket parks around the city
The Department of Education eliminated its great after school programs and night centers and shut down the music programs in its middle schools and high schools which served hundreds of thousands of youngsters a year, produced thousands of professional musicians and were the pride of city schools.
These cutbacks had immediate and tragic consequences. Parks and ball fields around the city began to deteriorate, with weeds growing on diamonds and grass rarely cut. And young people were suddenly and shockingly derived of the mentoring and arts and sports instruction they once received in parks and schools. The city became a meaner place, with young people all over set adrift and lacking opportunities they once had.
But not in all neighborhoods. In the city's wealthier communities, especially those adjoining Central Park, private funding stepped into the breach, replacing the services that were cut in parks through the creation of private maintenance organizations, and swelling the coffers of PTA's in schools in wealthy neighborhoods with the funds to support first rate arts and music programs.
Over time, the city ended up with what amounted to a dual park system- on rendered beautiful by the infusion of tens of millions of dollars of private donations- and one doing bare minimum maintenance with a draconian park budget. It also ended up with a dual school system, with some schools, whose PTA's raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, having arts programs as good as those which existed before the fiscal crisis, and others having none at all or programs which depended on renewable grants.
If you want to see the difference, just walk around Central Park or Prospect Park and then visit St Mary's or Crotona Parks in the Bronx, or Canarsie Park in Brooklyn, and then visit schools on the East Side of Manhattan and the West Side of Prospect Park before heading off to the Bronx or Southeast Queens.
Today, people take these differences in maintenance and programming for granted, but they did not exist when I was growing up, when children in all public schools had access to great music, sports and after school programs and all parks had comparable maintenance