Gone will be the miniature civic history lessons that punctuated ribbon-cutting speeches made by Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. With yesterday’s announcement that the commissioner is moving on to the non-profit Trust for Public Land (TPL), the plaudits are pouring in. But as the Bloomberg Administration begins is slow-motion wind down, New Yorkers should be wary of comparisons to the “good” Robert Moses, builder of parks and playgrounds, despite the scale of public works undertaken under Bloomberg. But in terms of Parks, there is little doubt that Benepe’s tenure was historic in scope.
Now, one of the mayor’s signature initiatives—that a park be within a ten minute walk from every home—is about to go national. But will what flies in NYC fly in Louisville? “If I’ve learned one or two things in this job it’s that no one model will work for every situation,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Last month, TPL launched ParkScore, a platform that rates park systems in America’s 40 largest cities, with the “ten-minute test” as one of the major criteria in ranking the cities. While widely lauded for drawing attention to the need for accessible park space in cities, there has also been some grumbling about the survey’s methods, or even its effectiveness in helping draw attention to the plight of urban parkland. D.C. blogger Richard Layman worried that DC’s respectable 5th place position might take the pressure off leadership to make improvements. But Benepe said that the ParkScore is a good way of “spreading the news.”
The commissioner added that the city’s data differed from that of the Trust’s when it came to accessibility. The Trust found that 94 percent of New Yorkers live within walking distance of a park, while the city’s more conservative estimate places it at about 84 percent within the ten minute range. “It’s a ten percent improvement and that has largely had to do with the Schoolyards to Playgrounds initiative,” said Benepe. The initiative to turn moribund schoolyards into after school playgrounds was funded in part by the Trust ($200 million in land purchases and design).
It’s an initiative that might work elsewhere, “within limits,” he said. Funding will, as always, prove to be the central challenge. “Most cities don’t have the density that New York has and most don’t have great wealth,” he said, adding that while he believed that the Obama administration would do more if they could, the days of FDR-level federal support for parks dissipated in the seventies. Nevertheless, the public/private model widely touted in New York may well become the national way of doing things. “New York didn’t corner the market in creative wealth,” he said .