Parks and CUMBYs

The High Line
Image by garvinpr via Flickr

In a City Journal article entitled “Parks and Re-creation,” Laura Vanderkam offers a glimpse at an interesting model for the maintenance and upkeep of city parks in her profile of Manhattan’s successful park conservancies. What is attractive about this model is that it circumvents the quasi-religious debate around whether public services can or should be privately funded, introducing public-private partnerships as a way to improve public lands while preserving the public coffers.

What the article questions, ever-so-gently, is whether public largesse to preserve parks extends beyond prosperous enclaves like Manhattan. One effort in the Bronx, for example, is having trouble sustaining the momentum and enthusiasm around Central Park, High Line Park, and others in Manhattan. The successes in New York seem to extend from moneyed people who want the public spaces near them to be clean and pleasant. I call this the “clean up my back yard,” or CUMBY movement.

The model deserves emulation. There are areas all around the United States that could benefit from such activity, and not just municipalities. With 70 state parks and beaches facing closure due to budget constraints, California could use a wisely managed CUMBY effort.

Not everything worth preserving, though, will be preserved by private interests. At some point the public must step in to preserve those assets that benefit everyone. Using unique models like New York’s, private money may foot part of the bill. The full answer is better management, not just of park services, but of the entire pool of public funds.

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