Open spaces, closed files

Original Reporting | By Abby FerlaCraig Gurian |

Back in Dec. 2006, the city’s Independent Budget Office, in response to a request from a member of the city council for information about private funding of public parks found that “the total amount of private funding available for city parks and recreation is not readily determined. The available information is often not current, or not publicly available. [The Parks Department’s] biennial report does not provide a full accounting of private funding, and does not show contributions by borough or purpose.”

IBO went on to say that “it is not possible to determine if and how the department re-allocates public spending in response to private contributions, or to what extent private funding may have substituted for city spending in public parks.”

Geoffrey Croft of NYC Parks Advocates suggested that the Parks Department, having been “vastly underfunded for decades” and having “no money to do with what they are charged to do,” is deliberately resistant to the release of information that could document disparities in funding. The Department has long had  “defensive culture,” he said.


The Mayor’s view

Pointing to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s history of statements identifying the collection and analysis of data as being central to good management of city agencies, we sought through the mayor’s press office to determine whether the mayor thought it was important for the Parks Department to collect information on costs or staffing on a park-by-park basis in order to assess the extent to which resources are being equitably distributed or for other managerial purposes.

The mayor’s office did not respond.

San Francisco: more data as a result of voter demand

According to Katie Petrucioni, director of administration and finance for the San Francisco Parks Department, her department began to post schedules of when park workers would be in particular parks and to issue quarterly reports for parks as a result of a 2003 local voter referendum that required the Department to do so.

The idea, Petrucioni says, was to create greater accountability, and, she adds, the measure has “really driven the Department to be more proactive and analytical” about maintenance and scheduling.

Petrucioni notes that it has been difficult for the department to implement the system effectively: the schedules — which are available online — do not always jive with the reality on the ground in a particular week due to factors such as special events or employee vacations and sick time.

Like New York City, however, San Francisco parks do not track costs on a park-by-park basis, which Petrucioni says would not be “practical.” She asserts also that knowing that a gardener spends 20 percent of his time in a particular park is not necessarily useful.

Petrucioni says that the system set up by the voter proposition has not yielded increased resources for the parks— San Francisco has what she characterizes as a “structural budget deficit” — but, she says, it has given the Parks Department a much better sense of the gap between needs and available resources.


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