Philanthropy Helps Parks

In a story in City Journal noting the impact of private philanthropy on the quality of life in New York City is a bit about how it has helped Central Park, the model we use for calling for nonprofit management of the American River Parkway.

An excerpt.

New York’s enormous private wealth not only helps the city’s poorer residents get ahead materially; it also enriches their lives in less tangible ways. Central Park is a priceless public asset, enriched by $700 million in mostly private investment over the past three and a half decades. “The park was in such bad condition” before 1980, when the Central Park Conservancy took over its management from the city, which owns it, observes Doug Blonsky, the Conservancy’s head and the park’s administrator. “It’s gone from being perceived as the worst park in the world” to a global model, thanks to the donors, who provide three-quarters of its $58.3 million annual budget. (See “Parks and Re-creation,” Summer 2011.)

Central Park is in the middle of wealthy Manhattan, yes, but each year, 2.8 million visitors from less wealthy Harlem and Morningside Heights on the northern side of the park come, enjoying some of the park’s most beautiful areas without having to go very far. The rebuilt Conservatory Garden at 105th Street is one of Central Park’s gems. Weekend visitors include global tourists as well as Spanish Harlem residents watching their children race around the fountains. A visitor to the Harlem Meer will likewise see dozens of local families picnicking and playing.

Thanks to the city’s crime turnaround, New Yorkers rich and poor can enjoy the park in relative safety. As Blonsky notes, Central Park has gone “from 12 million visitors in the early Eighties [and] 1,000 major crimes to 40 million visitors and under 100 crimes” a year. Indeed, the park had 152 robberies in 1990; last year, the figure was 16. Thirty years ago, park workers were wary of even driving to the northern reaches of the park. Today, people of all incomes cycle the northern end of the park well after dark, without thinking twice about it. Blonsky notes that the park, “created to be the grand democratic space,” now fulfills its purpose.

Central Park’s donors—ranging from nine-figure hedge-fund magnates who give substantial gifts to thousands who donate just hundreds of dollars a year, if that—enable the park to serve 55,000 kids from nearby neighborhoods via sports and recreation clinics. Countless others—of all income levels—enjoy renovated sports fields and basketball courts. The park supports four smaller parks in Harlem as well as downtown’s City Hall and Bowling Green Park, taking pressure off the city’s own Parks Department budget. Just as it doesn’t hurt a poor person to share a subway car with a rich person, it doesn’t harm him or her to sunbathe alongside a rich person in the park. Both have a stake in keeping the park in good shape.

Retrieved September 4, 2014 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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