Benepe: There He Goes Again

This is distressing, from AM New York,

Park Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe disagreed, saying that the rules were meant to protect gardens and the language could be tweaked to reflect the concerns. Still, the gardens can’t be made permanent, as they can sometimes cause complaints from neighbors and the city needs to hold open the option of other uses, he said.

“There is not a universal love of gardens,” said Benepe, who said no garden is currently on the chopping block. “There are no bulldozers being warmed up.”

This is a very irresponsible statement from a someone who is charged with protecting and sustaining the city’s open green space. What he’s trying to do is set up a good garden/bad garden dynamic, which is very paternalistic. Following his line of reasoning, if a garden gets complaints, the community loses the garden. As a long time community gardener, I know that many times complaints are unjustified, and reflect an unfortunate phobia against nature, or a petty clash of aesthetics — as if that doesn’t happen with “official” parks (hello, Washington Square). When a complaint is justified, GreenThumb has the ability to take corrective action, even leading to giving the license to another garden group. To go from complaint to development is harsh beyond measure, and reflects Benepe’s bias towards privatization and elite patrician sensibilities.

Here’s an excerpt from privitatizationwatch.org, that I found informative:

NY: The high cost of free parks Public-private partnerships are widely touted as the new model for cities to build and maintain parkland, but they’re old news in New York. The Central Park Conservancy, founded in 1980, has inspired similar groups in cities from Atlanta to San Francisco. Yet even in a time of leaner government budgets, a cautionary tale can be found in New York’s 36-year experience of putting public parks into private hands. The city says private investment allows it to target limited taxpayer resources to the parks most in need, creating what parks commissioner Adrian Benepe has repeatedly hailed as a “Golden Age for Parks.” But others see a Gilded Age instead, an echo of Conkling’s era in the reign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with wide — and growing — disparities between lavish, showplace parks for the haves and cast-off parcels for the have-nots. For every Madison Square, Bryant Park or High Line, there are hundreds of parks that depend solely on the city, and many suffer from scandalous neglect. “New York has created a two-tier parks system,” complains Geoffrey Croft, president of the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates. “One for the rich, the other for the poor.”

Community gardens, which are frequently the only open space resource that many poor communities have and are very much a combination of parkland, community centers, food pantries, and educational centers. Not only should we be demanding to make community gardens permanent, we should be demanding more resources for them, including funding for community organizing.

Question: Is Benepe being truthful when he says the patrician organizations that fund the lavish appointments of places like the Highline, Madison Square Park, and Central Park — and I would say Prospect Park — allow resources to be channeled to parks in low income communities. I suspect that they use a disproportionate share of Parks Dept. resources on top of what they raise. And I also suspect there’s never been any question that the money they raise be tithed to help support green space in low income communities. Anybody know?

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