An UES playground shortage

East Side playground. Photo: Tzuhsun Hsu, via flickr
Comptroller Scott Stringer’s new study shows construction hasn’t kept up with a growing population — and existing play spaces aren’t being well maintained
By Jason Cohen

A recent study by Comptroller Scott Stringer revealed that the Upper East Side does not have a sufficient number of playgrounds.

The UES has eight total playgrounds, or 4.3 per 10,000 children, compared to the UWS, with 21 playgrounds and 9.8 per 10,000 kids.

Stringer’s office released a report on April 27, “State of Play: A New Model for NYC Playgrounds,” which said playground construction is failing to keep up with the growing population of children in several neighborhoods and there is inadequate playground maintenance.

Stringer also found that New York City ranks 48th in playgrounds per capita among the 100 largest American cities.

“As a lifelong New Yorker who spent a lot of time in his neighborhood playground in Washington Heights and as a proud father of two young boys, this issue hits close to home for Comptroller Stringer,” said spokesman Eugene Resnick. “There is nothing more important than the health and well-being of our children, and our city is defined by how we treat our kids. Access to playgrounds should not be defined by your zip code. And every neighborhood should be a place where children can live, play and grow. This proposal will make our playgrounds a priority for not only our children, but for future generations.”

In hopes of resolving this issue, Stringer outlined recommendations for reform, including calling on the City to build 200 new playgrounds in the next five years. Many of these new facilities would be built through Stringer’s newly envisioned “Pavement to Playgrounds” program — a proposed partnership between NYC Parks, the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), local nonprofits, and community boards — to construct playgrounds and plazas on lightly-used residential blocks.

Other suggestions from the report include expanding the successful “Schoolyards to Playgrounds” program, increasing resources for NYC Parks maintenance, developing stronger protections for “Jointly Operated Playgrounds” on DOE property and ensuring that playgrounds are designed to serve a wide range of ages.

“Comptroller Stringer believes the city’s children deserve better,” Resnick said. “There are only 2,000 public playgrounds in New York. Given the vast size of our city, that is not enough to serve our growing population.”

According to Resnick, the typical playground costs $1 to $2 million to build. He said the office is expecting this to cost between $200 million and $400 million, and it can be funded through a combination of the City budget, public-private partnerships and nonprofit partnerships to build out 100 new Schoolyards to Playgrounds and another 100 through our Pavement to Playgrounds initiative.

Ultimately, the comptroller and his staff found that the parks department and the city have not created enough playgrounds to keep up with the changing demographics and rising population.

“While some communities enjoy dozens of playgrounds within walking distance of their homes, in others, parents must travel a significant distance to find suitable playgrounds for their children,” Resnick said. “To a large extent, these disparities are driven by a failure to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to changing demographics in our city. That’s a failure of planning, and the results fail our young children and families.”

Meanwhile, Stringer’s report also found that hundreds of NYC Parks playgrounds were rated as “unacceptable” by Parks Inspection Program inspectors due to multiple features being unsatisfactory, having a serious safety hazard or the playground having a failed cleanliness rating.

“While NYC Parks has made tremendous strides to improve the safety and cleanliness of their facilities in the last several decades, there are still far too many playgrounds in disrepair,” the report stated. “Moving forward, the City should increase their budget for maintenance and operations, particularly in those neighborhoods where playgrounds have far too many “hazardous conditions.”

Stringer called on the Parks Department to prioritize playground maintenance. However, the comptroller’s assertion that many playgrounds are unsafe or in bad shape is disputed by the Parks department.

“It is a mischaracterization to say these sites are hazardous,” said Crystal Howard, Assistant Commissioner, Communications, NYC Parks. “Our Parks Inspection Program (PIP) is in place to ensure that our parks are safe, clean and hazard free. Hazards, as identified by our PIP inspectors, are specific to conditions found in the park, they do not broadly categorize the park as a hazardous site — the cited issues range from plant thorns to cracks in pavement to hanging tree limbs.”

Howard explained that the types of conditions NYC Parks categorizes as “hazards” through its PIP reports include: condom(s); graffiti—hate speech/biased/profanity graffiti; rodent holes; benches — sharp, damaged or splintered slat(s) and exposed reinforcement bar(s).

When a condition presents a safety concern, according to Howard, it is reported and immediately repaired. If there is a broad hazardous condition, Parks closes the whole site.