Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Some Parks are More Equal than Others

As the city’s continuing effort to decimate Flushing Meadows Park winds its way through city planning and on to the city council, the lingering question is what will Speaker Quinn do. We know that one of the developers of the project, Related, has had an unusually close relationship with her. As Capitol New York has pointed out:
"Related Companies, part of whose massive Hudson Yards project was exempted from the Living Wage bill, has donated more money to Christine Quinn's campaign.
The most recent campaign finance disclosures, released today, show that executives from Related Companies donated $6,600 to Quinn's still-undeclared campaign for mayor, between January and July." 

We also are finding out that Quinn has a real affection for at least one park-even though detractors might call it a faux park. City and State has the story:
The High Line is revered internationally for repurposing a post-industrial wreck into a refreshing aesthetic public experience. The park has also anchored an explosion of billions of dollars of high-end development in the Council-rezoned “Special West Chelsea District,” designed specifically around the High Line.
The organization that built and runs the park, Friends of the High Line, is dominated by a wealthy and politically connected coterie of real estate developers and property owners, which has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars, directly and as intermediaries, into Christine Quinn’s mayoral election campaign. Friends of the High Line, formed in 1999 as a tiny nonprofit by two civic-minded fans of urban decrepitude, has quickly become the richest park conservancy in the city, after the Central Park Conservancy.”
In spite of its ample funds, however, the High Line is treated with great deference by the city council and by Speaker Quinn:
The City Council, first under Gifford Miller and then Christine Quinn, has doused the High Line with cash. Estimates of city funding for the High Line before it even opened range between $130 and $170 million: This money was only for improvement of an existing structure, because the rail line itself was donated to the city by the CSX Corporation. Since the park opened, despite the largesse of FoHL and its claims that 90 percent of park expenses are raised privately, the Council continues to make allocations to its expansion and maintenance, including a $5 million capital disbursement two years ago.”
What makes this problematic is not only that we have a well funded faux park receiving a great deal of public support when there are ample private funds to support it, but that the funding is inextricably linked with the city council’s “slush fund” scandal:
When the City Council “slush fund” scandal was revealed five years ago, it turned out that the largest beneficiary of these improper disbursements was the High Line. The scandal, in which the Speaker’s office budgeted Council funds to shell organizations in order to dispense the money later to favored groups, resulted in $290,000 going to FoHL. The group has received yearly allocations of $75,000 to $100,000 from the Council since then.”
This at a time when local parks all over the city are being shafted by the current mayoral regime-raising the question of where the speaker’s priorities lie. Even more so since there appears to be a quid pro quo operating in this slushy environment:
The real question is, why give money to the FoHL at all? They don’t need it. The organization is awash in cash from its board and corporate sponsors. The High Line floats in the center of billions of dollars of residential real estate that was built specifically around it. One of the highest paid staffers for the FoHL is a person listed officially as “Director of Food,” who makes more than $100,000 per year. It doesn’t seem like they would miss an annual five-figure disbursement if the Council decided to direct the money toward some other park.
Perhaps the Council’s little allocations are more like tribute than funding: annual tokens that the Speaker makes to the real estate and special interests to whom she owes so much. And they accept it because it affirms to them that here, here is someone we can trust, who will continue to do our bidding.”

And these interests in turn support her political aspirations. This brings us to Willets Point/Flushing Meadows, where a real park that is underfunded is being targeted for extinction-and there are no rich real estate interests that can be seen supporting the park and its maintenance. In fact, the rich real estate interests her want to destroy the park.

Speaker Quinn has a choice: to support the survival of Flushing Meadows, or the greed of the Related Company and its partner Sterling Equities. Quite a troubling choice for the champion of the middle class.