Pandemic-related budget cuts have had an increasingly visible and potentially dangerous effect on New York City parks, and residents are calling for something to be done about it.
After getting their budget slashed by nearly $85 million this year, the city's Parks Department has had to reduce a number of services that were previously provided. The department confirmed that they have cit 1,700 season maintenance and operations jobs, and New Yorkers have started noticing some instances of deterioration in some public parks and playgrounds.
"There's a lot more garbage around, trash cans are overflowing, masks on the floor and the grass is not cut," said Emine Colok at Friends Field in Brooklyn. Colok said she regularly takes her niece to the park every week, and has noticed lately how the playground is now showing drastic scenes of lack of maintenance.
As NBC New York was at the Midwood park, garbage disposals were seen filled up (and then some) and grass was noticeably higher. There was also a broken fence next to the children's play yard with wires hanging out — a clear safety hazard for youngsters.
"I don't know if it's been delayed or something, but generally they do take care of the park. Maybe they have been slacking lately a bit," said Elliot Rambod, who is at the park five days a week while supervising a kids camp. "Especially with these gates and loose wires, sharp edges, it's definitely not safe for the kids to run around."
According to the Parks Department, the millions in budget cuts came into effect on July 1, leaving it unable to hire staff to tend to parks for the rest of the summer. New Yorkers seemed genuinely worried and perturbed by the decline in some of the few places left where people can go and feel safe spending time during the pandemic.
"Parks should definitely be a priority. Instead of focusing on opening malls, they should have focused on taking care of the parks," said Rambod.
Some in Manhattan may not be seeing the less-than-desirable conditions if they go to Central Park, but that is because it is maintained by a difference agency. The Central Park Conservancy is a private organization that manages Central Park under a contract with the city, and their projects would not be impacted to the same degree that other parks would be hit.
Up at Jay Hood Park in Washington Heights, a Parks Department worker was seen doing cleanup work — but neighbors say it's not enough.
"We all use the park for social gatherings, bringing our dogs," said Edelia Nunn. "I feel like that's just neglecting the people here and our needs."
Brooklynites meanwhile have stated they want to help keep the park clean, but they demand more help from the city' public agencies.
"There should be more attention on the parks now. That's really the only place to go, it's hot now. Children get bored and the park is way to let their energy out," said Colok. "It's both ways. The Parks people should come and clean a little, and it should be on the people visiting to take care of our city."
A spokesperson for the Parks Department told NBC New York that some parks have seen the equivalent of a weekend's waste accumulate in a day, which is why they are adding more trash bins to manage overflow.