Steve Hindy suggests a park-funding solution
How can New York City better fund parks without draining resources from the wealthy conservancies that have transformed greenswards like Central and Prospect parks into urban oases?
It's a question that's bedeviled park advocates ever since Mayor Bill de Blasio, as part of his two-cities campaign, embraced a proposal that would redistribute money from well-funded conservancies to relatively underfunded parks.
Brooklyn Brewery co-founder Steve Hindy, who sits on the board of the Prospect Park Alliance and founded the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn, thinks that proposal is a "bad idea."
"[T]hese conservancies have spent years cultivating a culture of giving among their supporters," he writes, in the Municipal Art Society's "Ideas for New York's New Leadership" report, to be released later today. "They and their supporters will resent the city taxing them in this way."
Hindy thinks he has a better idea: take a park funding model he helped create in northern Brooklyn and replicate it elsewhere.
"I think that organizations like [the Open Space Alliance] can be developed in other communities in New York," he told me, in a phone call from Sweden, where he is opening a brewery in conjunction with Carlsberg.
Hindy has sat on the board of the Prospect Park Alliance, which uses private funding to maintain the Brooklyn park on behalf of the city, for more than 15 years. And in 2003, he helped found the Open Space Alliance, which raises funds from the city and through concerts and galas to maintain greenswards in North Brooklyn's Community Board 1, like McCarren, McGolrick, Sternberg, and Grand Ferry parks.
In the 2012 fiscal year, it had $580,000 in revenue, according to its financial statements.
It's a community-wide model, rather than a park-specific one. And, in the absence of more funding from the city, Hindy thinks it has legs.
"It's a much more expansive view of what these public-private partnerships can do," he said.
State Senator Dan Squadron's proposal, the one de Blasio initially embraced, would take 20 percent in operating funds from existing conservancies with annual budgets of at least $5 million and redirect that money elsewhere. It would raise an estimated $15 million for parks citywide.
Squadron sees Hindy's proposal as a complementary one, rather than a replacement.
"Open Space Alliance is a positive and replicable model that I’ve long supported and would fit in nicely as part of my Neighborhood Parks Alliance proposal," he said.
Yesterday, de Blasio appeared to back off his embrace of Squadron's proposal.
“The Mayor is committed to addressing the clear inequalities in our parks, and he and incoming-[Park] Commissioner Silver have said they will take a close look at any promising model that works well for community stakeholders,” said his spokeswoman Marti Adams in an email today, when I asked about Hindy's idea.
Hindy's is one of more than a dozen proposals contained in the report from the Municipal Art Society, which also uses the occasion to restate its demand for a new Penn Station.
There's some limited momentum for that.
Madison Square Garden crouches on top of Penn Station, and last year it sought an operating permit to continue to do so in perpetuity (thereby diminishing the prospects for substantially improving the rail hub underneath).
Under pressure from advocates like the society, the city resisted Madison Square Garden's entreaties and gave it a ten-year renewal instead, in a move that was supported by de Blasio.
"More than half a million people travel through Penn Station every day, experiencing a sub-standard facility that compromises safety and efficiency, and continues to impede the revitalization of what could be a dynamic and sought-after commercial and residential neighborhood," today's report reads. "It is the busiest station in the U.S. And, there is perhaps no other single place in the city that impacts the daily lives of so many."
In the same report, Joan Byron, the Pratt Center for Community Development's policy director, calls for a meaningful expansion of "full-featured bus rapid transit," since "there is no fiscally or physically imaginable scenario in which outer-borough transit deficits can be addressed by rail."
Architects Richard Olcott and Stefan Knust call for "an expanded network of no-frills passenger-only ferries, accessible by MetroCard."
And University of Michigan architecture professor Roy Strickland argues that the New York City Housing Authority should "bank" existing housing project air rights and "enable them to be transferred across all NYCHA developments and their environs according to principles of appropriate land use and densities." The resulting revenue streams would be used to prop up NYCHA, an idea that's not dissimilar from a Bloomberg-era plan that de Blasio opposed.