Shape Up NYC Dance Fitness

Shape Up NYC, a NYC Parks program in partnership with NYC Service, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation) offers free fitness classes to help New Yorkers get and stay fit.

Summer on the Hudson events are free and open to the public. Seating is limited, unreserved, and available on a first-come, first-served basis. If there is heavy rain at the time of the event, the event will be canceled. For weather updates, check 2 hours before the event.

New York City Council Committee on Parks
Thursday, March 21, 2024
Committee on Parks and Recreation – Preliminary Budget Hearing
Testimony of Riverside Park Conservancy

Good afternoon, my name is Merritt Birnbaum, and I am the President and CEO of Riverside Park Conservancy. We are one of over 400 organizations that belong to the Play Fair Coalition. Thank you to Parks Committee Chair Shekar Krishnan for holding this hearing and for his tireless advocacy to tackle the crisis facing our parks.

Riverside Park Conservancy works through an agreement with NYC Parks to help the City care for 450 acres spread across five parks, along 6 miles of waterfront in upper Manhattan from West 59th Street to West 181st Street. We are fortunate to have built a 35-year history that leverages thousands of
hours of volunteer time and significant funding to supplement the City’s dwindling workforce. We recognize that the vast majority of parks in our city do not have the benefit of Conservancy groups. Our situation only underscores how dire the current crisis is for parks in our most vulnerable communities.

Make no mistake: our parks are in crisis. We see it every day in Riverside, Fort Washington, West Harlem Piers, and Sakura as we struggle to keep these parks clean, safe and green.

In June 2008, our district had approximately 79 CPWs or City Parks Workers. This June, we will be lucky if we have 20 of them. CPWs do
everything – from picking up trash, to cleaning bathrooms, to removing graffiti. They are the frontline of the Parks Department, and in our park alone, their ranks have fallen to 25% of what they were 16 years ago. In smaller parks around the City, this type of deficit means we’re not talking about 1 worker per park — we’re talking about a fraction of 1 worker per park.

How can we accept this? Parks are critical infrastructure, and they need to be funded the same way we fund roads, bridges, police, sanitation and hospitals.

In the last five decades, New York City has built 200 new parks. How can our city pride itself on building new parks and not dedicate the resources we need to maintain them?

In 1970, NYC Parks headcount was 11,000. Forty-five years later, and we are looking at a headcount of only 7,000.

A simple math question: How can we have 200 more parks today and 4,000 fewer Parks workers?

How can our government say it prioritizes sanitation and safety and not consider the public parks that occupy 14% of our city’s surface area as needing those funds?

Just this past Sunday in our park, NYC Parks staff who were slated for spring landscape work were pulled away to paint over an incidence of major offensive graffiti in a high-traffic location. They dropped what they were doing and pivoted, because that is what CPWs do – they respond to needs on the ground and they get the work done.

– If we want bathrooms open and clean, we need staff.

– If we want lawns that are green and not filled with rotting trash, we need staff.

– If we want stairs and pathways that are clear of safety hazards, we need staff.

– If we want healthy trees and plants, we need staff.

Our parks are a direct reflection of our City’s commitment to the health and happiness of its residents. We demand that the City fulfil its promise and deliver 1% of our budget to parks. This is a rounding error for you, and a lifeline for all of us.