Op-ed | Brooklyn parks can’t afford budget cuts for the sake of our communities

Boathouse and Lake at Prospect Park
Prospect Park in New York City during Autumn.
Getty Images

After 40 years of chronic underfunding, the City is once again cutting the budget for Parks — a move that will have devastating impacts on communities across Brooklyn.

Brooklyn has the least amount of green space per resident. It is home to neighborhoods with some of the fewest number of parks and some of the worst health outcomes in the entire City. The current budget cut — $55 million and 900 staff — places our parks and open spaces at risk, with funding and staff for necessary services like basic maintenance and trash management greatly reduced or eliminated altogether.

That’s why we’re calling on the City to reverse these cuts and dedicate at least 1% of the City’s budget each year to providing our parks with the funding they not only need but deserve.

Our parks aren’t just essential spaces to connect with nature — they are critical living infrastructure, forums for democracy and opportunity, and places of healing and community building. They are free, accessible gathering places where people of all ages come together to improve their health, relieve stress, and build stronger relationships.

As the leaders of We Run Brownsville, a community-based nonprofit that works to improve health outcomes for Black and Brown women in our neighborhood, and Prospect Park Alliance, the nonprofit that sustains Brooklyn’s flagship park, we’ve seen firsthand the many important roles that safe, clean, green spaces play in the health and vibrancy of our communities.

Since 2020, our parks have seen an unprecedented increase in usership. As COVID drove New Yorkers outdoors, people found our parks as safe spaces for finding peace of mind, socializing with their neighbors, and exercising. Brooklynites are loving their parks more today than ever, and the increased wear and tear is visible in many of our spaces.

Brownsville has the highest concentration of public housing in the country and a visible lack of public green spaces. We Run Brownsville was founded on an ethos of community care, and we applied this lens to our local park, Betsy Head Park, which was in great need of restoration. After years of advocating with the City, our park was completely restored through a major capital investment. But with current park funding, all the work we and the City have done to make our park a vibrant community space is in jeopardy. Without funding to maintain our park, it will fall back into disrepair — a visual reminder of the City’s troubled history of disinvestment in communities with the highest need.

Prospect Park, which welcomes Brooklynites from every zip code in the borough and beyond, provides 585 acres of green space in the heart of Brooklyn. It is home to the borough’s last remaining forest and only lake, and for many Brooklynites is their main connection to nature. The Alliance has restored the park to a haven for our community, but we too rely on the City for basic maintenance, and we too have seen our restored facilities and landscapes fall into disrepair due to lack of resources and a significant increase in visitors. If parks are the great equalizer, then New Yorkers deserve better than this.

The incredible use and love of our parks have made the case clearly: Brooklynites want clean, safe and accessible parks in their communities. Join us in calling on the City to reverse these cuts, commit 1% to parks, and ensure all parks have the same quality of care today and for generations to come.

Sheila Barksdale-Gordon and Dionne Grayman are co-founders of We Run Brownsville and Morgan Monaco is president of Prospect Park Alliance