Parks Department Takes a Seat Behind Nonprofit Conservancies

Source: Michael Powell, New York Times, February 3, 2014

Somewhere along the way, New York City lost its faith in its ability to run a parks department. … The grandest parks, the royal courts of Central Park, the High Line, the Battery and Prospect Park, are in the hands of privately held conservancies. These organizations raise hundreds of millions of dollars and have enough people on staff — gardeners, programmers, curators — to keep a permanent shine on the Palace of Versailles. …At a round-table discussion held during Mayor de Blasio’s transition, State Senator Daniel L. Squadron spoke of his proposal that the wealthiest conservancies tithe 20 percent of the dollars they raised. This money, perhaps $15 million annually, would go the less well-endowed parks. … Yet conservancies are curiously unrepresentative stewards of public parks. The top eight employees at the Central Park Conservancy — four of whom make more than the parks commissioner — are white. Fifty-four of the 58 current and “emeritus” board members listed on the website are white. Nearly all board members are terrifically wealthy. (Last year, John A. Paulson, the hedge fund billionaire, gave $100 million to Central Park on the condition that not a penny be spent in another city park.) … I asked Mr. Squadron about the argument that it’s antidemocratic to sluice away a small amount of charitable giving. I recalled that Mr. Benepe refused to let Americans rally in Central Park in protest against the 2004 Republican National Convention, as they might have harmed the grass. …