The Election No One Is Talking About (Yet)

 

With the 2021 Mayoral election around the corner, now is the time to ask: which candidates are going to stand up for environmental justice in NYC?

Written by Lynn B. Kelly, Executive Director, New York Restoration Project

Over time, New York City’s parks and gardens have evolved to become popular destinations–thanks to many years of hard work and dedication by the Parks Department and nonprofit partners like New York Restoration Project (NYRP). However, nobody was prepared for the massive increase in demand for public green space that has come with COVID-19.

With over 2,800 small businesses closing permanently in NYC- including restaurants, bars, coffee shops, bookstores, day care centers, and gyms-New Yorkers have become increasingly reliant on green space for recreation and social gatherings. Simultaneously, the Parks Department now faces a crippling budget cut of $84 million, which has placed our parks and gardens on the backburner of the City’s agenda at a time when their funding is most needed.

Let’s face it: the pandemic has hit NYC hard and our City is broke. As a result, we are now watching decades of essential restoration and maintenance work unravel before our eyes–but it is not too late to save our green spaces. With the 2021 Mayoral election around the corner, now is the time to ask: which candidates are going to stand up for NYC’s parks and gardens and fight for environmental justice?

Since the shutdown began in March, public green spaces throughout NYC have been experiencing a rapid decline, from overflowing trash cans and fallen trees to damaged lawns and playground equipment–all stemming from a decades-long reduction in funding, which has been only further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and budget cuts. The sudden and extreme reduction of resources for our beloved green spaces has made it much more difficult for agency staff and nonprofit partners to assist in the city’s recovery.

With adequate funding, our City’s public green spaces provide an abundance of essential services: they supply fresh produce to those in need, mitigate air pollution, increase resilience to climate change, provide opportunities for exercise, offer children safe places to play and learn, and greatly improve mental health. If the COVID-19 crisis has made anything clear, it is that public green spaces are essential infrastructure for NYC’s recovery and continued survival.

2020 has demonstrated that COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon, and NYC is now calling on leadership to turn that tide.  While the nation is focused on the November 3rd election, it is important for us not to lose sight of the many local elected offices that will also turn over in 2021, including the Mayor, at least four Borough Presidents, and at least two-thirds of the City Council.  This wave of leadership change presents a unique opportunity for us to elect leaders who recognize the environmental injustices in our city and are determined to address them.

Every candidate should be prepared to answer the following questions:  How will you work to ensure that NYC’s low-income communities of color receive equitable investment in green spaces?  How will you fund the Parks Department so that the agency can maintain all parks at the same level of care citywide? What is your approach to fighting food insecurity in our city? What will you do to show us–once and for all–that parks and gardens are critical infrastructure for our City?

 Leading up to NYC’s election in 2021, we can help NYC move up in the ranks as one of the most sustainable cities in the U.S.  However, the failure to address the importance of green spaces, especially during a pandemic, is to reverse decades of progress our City has made in fighting for its current reputation as a progressive city.

Our parks, gardens, and parks workers have proven their crucial status in the fight against COVID-19—it is now time for our leadership, present and future, to stand with us in the fight for environmental and social justice.

To learn more about the New York Restoration Project, visit https://www.nyrp.org/.

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