Saturday, August 20, 2011

How Private Citizens Saved Central Park

Who's in charge of maintaining Central Park in Manhattan? The city of New York using taxpayer money and unionized public employees, right? Well, Wrong!

From Laura Vanderkam in the City Journal (emphasis mine):

"Perhaps the most amazing thing about Central Park is how little tax money goes into maintaining it. Though it is still ultimately the city’s responsibility, the park has been managed since the 1980s by the nonprofit Central Park Conservancy, and it relies on private donations for most of its budget. The marriage between the city and the Conservancy has been a fruitful one. Can this model, known as a public-private partnership, restore and invigorate all of New York’s green spaces, including neighborhood parks in less affluent areas? It’s an important question, not only as the city faces tough fiscal times but as urban planners increasingly view parks as tools of economic development and public health.

People who lived in New York in the 1970s and early 1980s still remember how forbidding the parks were in those dark days. Douglas Blonsky, now head of the Central Park Conservancy and thus Central Park’s administrator, recalls that when he started working there in 1985, most of the benches were broken and most surfaces sported layers of graffiti. “The Great Lawn was a dust bowl,” he says, at least when the weather was dry; when it rained, seas of mud meant that “you could barely walk through the park for days.”

But where “government had given up,” citizens stepped in. In 1980, landscape designer Elizabeth Barlow Rogers and others founded the Central Park Conservancy, whose original purpose was to raise money, stop the park’s decline, and restore several of its major landmarks. The city eventually gave the Conservancy the lion’s share of day-to-day control of the park. Because its workers weren’t organized into public-sector unions, the Conservancy had a great deal of freedom to institute private management practices—above all, emphasizing accountability. The park is now divided into 49 sections, with a master gardener responsible for the condition of each. About 85 percent of the Conservancy’s annual budget comes from private donations, mostly from people who live within a ten-minute walk of the park. “Obviously, it’s an incredible backyard, and look what it does to your real-estate values,” says Blonsky."

HT: Matt Bixler

14 Comments:

At 8/20/2011 11:01 AM, Blogger juandos said...

Incredible!

For as much as the city extorts from its residents Central Park still needs private donations to stay alive...

No wonder this was a New York Daily News headline back in May of this year: New Yorkers under 30 plan to flee city, says new poll; cite high taxes, few jobs as reasons

 
At 8/20/2011 11:11 AM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

Very interesting. I assumed it was a total NYC municipal entity.

I read at the Conservancy website that Frederick Law Olmstead was the original park superintendent and one of two designers of "Greensward", the winning Central Park design. Mr. Olmstead left his superintendent's job to become the first head of a national private organization, the Red Cross.

 
At 8/20/2011 11:34 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

uh oh - " ...The Greensward Plan's purpose of creating an idyllic landscape was combined with Moses' vision of a park to be used for recreational purposes—19 playgrounds, 12 ball fields, and handball courts were constructed. Moses also managed to secure funds from the New Deal program"

oh lord:

". in 1853 the New York legislature settled upon a 700-acre (280 ha) area from 59th to 106th Streets for the creation of the park, at a cost of more than US$5 million for the land alone."

The City provides Park oversight and other services including police, road maintenance, electricity, and environmental protection.

Central Park Police Precinct:

http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/precincts/precinct_022.shtml

Central Park has its own dedicated police precinct. There are about 100 police officers

and this:

The City of New York provides and pays for all electricity used by Central Park, excluding the restaurants, zoos, rinks, and other concessions.

The New York Department of Transportation (DOT) maintains the paving of the main drives in Central Park and all the lampposts along the drives. The DOT also establishes all policies regarding Park drive regulations, including when the drives are open or closed to automobiles.

so is central park truly a private park operated with private funds?

ha ha ha.... only if you believe those who imply it is...

 
At 8/20/2011 2:32 PM, Blogger W.C. Varones said...

I wouldn't demean this good private citizen action with the slur "public-private partnership."

Public-private partnerships tend to be crony capitalist ripoffs of the public and boondoggles like toll roads, Obama's Bullet Train to Nowhere, and Rick Perry's Cash-for-Cronies and Cash-for-Countrywide.

 
At 8/20/2011 3:03 PM, Blogger AIG said...

"so is central park truly a private park operated with private funds?"

No. Its not. However, if we charged $1 for every person to enter the park, would the park still attract the same amount of people, provide the same services, and NOT use public funds for its operation?

I'd say, probably yes. A park is not a very hard thing to privately fund.

 
At 8/20/2011 3:11 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

how about if they charged the amount needed to pay for all the services that are provided?

How about if they charged the folks who lived in the buildings abutting Central Park for that amenity?

If you moved into a gated community - the land adjoining the lake or golf course would cost you more and they should but the lake and golf course are not paid for by everyone but instead those who benefit from the amenity.

Central Park if sold to private investors would probably bring in enough money to fund New York City for years...

eh?

then we could start talking about how much Yellowstone would bring in for a massive gated community...for the rich... eh?

We'd convert all those full-time ranger jobs to minimum wage tour guides...

 
At 8/20/2011 3:43 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

Another crank comment from GNB Larry.

"how about if they charged the amount needed to pay for all the services that are provided?"

Well, "they" already do, except it's not based on any kind of system that charges equitably based on usage. Some of the taxpayers who pay for the park don't get any benefit from it, while others get way more than they pay for.

 
At 8/20/2011 3:49 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"No. Its not. However, if we charged $1 for every person to enter the park, would the park still attract the same amount of people, provide the same services, and NOT use public funds for its operation?"...

Gee aig, charging a buck for park entrance seems like sure fire way to bring out the 'social justice commandos' screaming about intolerance and job descrimination...

 
At 8/20/2011 5:42 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

how much taxpayer money is needed to fund Central Park?

I'm betting by the time you figure in that 100-unit police force and all the other costs that it would very likely cost $10 or more per park user.

Shouldn't parks like Central Park be totally self-supporting without requiring taxpayer subsidies?

 
At 8/20/2011 5:54 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Government tends to raise fees and reduce services.

 
At 8/20/2011 5:59 PM, Blogger AIG said...

Larry, I agree that CP should and COULD be privately funded, quite easily. Do you know how many people use CP today? Do you know how much money is taken from the public to run it? Do you know how much of that public money is wasted (perhaps maybe on having too many police officers, as opposed to just having "mall cops")?

You don't charge for the amount of services that "are provided". You charge for the amount of services the market is willing to bear. Given the amount of use CP gets, it would be pretty easy for the market to bear its costs.

 
At 8/20/2011 6:18 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

The Democrats in Denver Colorado (at the city and state levels) deserve a lot of credit for working very well with land developers, property owners, businesses, etc., at least in the '90s, to renovate lower downtown, build three new pro sports stadiums, a light rail system, an international airport, convention center, central library, and many other improvements to the city.

 
At 8/20/2011 7:09 PM, Blogger Craig said...

This discussion is precisely why I moved out of the city and back to blessed rural bliss.

I'm sure someone will scold me that city-dwellers subsidise country life. So, sue me.

 
At 8/21/2011 8:35 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"The Democrats in Denver Colorado (at the city and state levels)..."...

Yes they do PT for ripping off the taxpayers...

From the Independence Institute: Light Rail in Denver: Taking the Taxpayers for a Ride

From the Cato Institute: Denver International Airport cost overrun of $3.1 billion

 

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