By STACY DRIKS
Eric Adams wants to spend so much time focusing on the parks that some might confuse him with Robert Moses – at least the good qualities of this New York icon. And the mayor will do so through a new management team drawn from the outlying boroughs.
Like Iris Rodriguez-Rosa, who until earlier this year managed the Bronx portion of the more than 30,000 acres set aside for green space. She is the new Assistant Parks Commissioner, reporting to Susan Donoghue, who led neighborhood parks efforts in her Prospect Park community in Brooklyn.
Adams focuses his mission on making the park system “equitable,” especially when it comes to outer boroughs relative to Manhattan, by finding the best that those boroughs — like the Bronx — have to offer.
Rodriguez-Rosa has led the borough’s parks department since 2015. And now she’ll be tasked with finding ways to create more green space.
“She’s had her day at the borough level,” Adams told reporters last month. “It connects the community with green spaces that benefit their physical and emotional value.”
The physical and emotional benefits are at the forefront of the mayor’s mind. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, many were forced to stay indoors, despite the spring – and later summer – weather. Desperate to get some fresh air, while staying as far away from others as possible, many retreated to parks and streets. This created a demand for green space that had not been seen since the turn of the century. The last century.
Whether it’s COVID-19 or simply participating in physical activities, there’s always a way to break free.
“Some parks have rooms and buildings (for) exercise routines and weekly events,” said Karen Argenti, founder of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality.
Argenti worked with Rodriguez-Rosa for five years at Van Cortlandt Park, the city’s third largest at over 1,100 acres. It was quite a learning experience for the future deputy commissioner, Argenti said, exposing her to environmental regulations and green infrastructure.
“It’s just about the money,” Argenti said.
Rodriguez-Rosa was district manager of Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood community council in 1979 — the youngest ever appointed, according to the mayor’s office. In 1986, she was director of community councils, then moved to upper Manhattan to manage operations.
She took office as Bronx Parks Commissioner in 2015, and among her many notables, Rodriguez-Rosa led efforts to merge the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park with the Van Cortlandt Conservancy, creating the current Van Cortlandt Park. Alliance.
She reports to Donoghue, who previously managed and worked with some 200 people to maintain the 585-acre Prospect Park. She has also raised millions of dollars over the years, thanks to a strong network and her ability to put this Brooklyn park front and center for many nearby businesses and residents. Other parks, especially in the Bronx, just don’t get that kind of financial attention.
If Adams really wants to transform the parks, Argenti said, it’s going to take money. Right now the request is 1% of the overall city budget, which is not a big request. But Jodie Colón, co-founder of Friends of Spuyten Duyvil, says that kind of money – more than $500 million – just isn’t enough.
“Capital projects are great, but they’re like groundbreaking events,” she said. “Maintenance and operations aren’t sexy, but they are essential.”
The borough presidents themselves joined forces to ask Adams — a former Brooklyn executive himself — to increase that funding by another percentage point. This would nearly double the existing parks budget.
Groups like the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance and Operation Spuyten Duyvil de Colón do a lot of work through volunteers and other green space enthusiasts. Yet despite their best efforts, there is just more than can – and should – be done.
Volunteers are essential. They are not horticultural workers or skilled craftsmen. But they play a key role in maintaining the city’s parks. It’s like maintaining a house: the longer it takes to repair, the harder it will be to do so. And more expensive too.
“If you don’t fix something for about 100 years,” Argenti said, “it’s going to cost you a lot of money.”