By Oona Milliken | [email protected]
Across the city, trees and buildings light up to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season in New York City. In Brooklyn, the seven year tradition of lighting the Litchfield Villa in Prospect, the Brooklyn Park headquarters, took place amidst a steady downpour of rain. Martin Maher, the Brooklyn Parks Commissioner, said he instituted the tradition in order to commemorate the Litchfield building.
“It’s such a beautiful building. It’s become so important to the community so that they appreciate that the headquarters of Brooklyn Parks is right here,” Maher said. “We wanted to have a way of highlighting the building and making people feel good.”
Politicians, park employees and community members gathered in front of the villa to pay their respects to the park and to watch as the building was lit up with holiday lights. The event, though festive, was sprinkled with comments about the looming reality of Mayor Adam’s budget cuts. In a speech, Councilmember Crystal Hudson said that she was working with Councilmembers Rita Joseph and Shahana Hanif, the two other city representatives for areas surrounding the park, to secure funding to upgrade the Brooklyn Park Headquarters.
“We’ll be working very very hard to make sure that we can do so much more than just light up the villa but also hold it up with some city funding. No promises or guarantees, but we’re surely going to try our very hardest to get that to you,” Hudson said.
During a speech, Councilmember Hanif said the city spent less than one percent of their annual budget towards the parks. Out of NYC’s $102.7 billion budget, only $582 million goes towards maintaining and staffing the parks system, or approximately .6 percent. In contrast, the NYPD receives $5.41 billion in funding, and corrections $1.23 billion, though these agencies also received cuts to their fiscal budgets this year. Against the backdrop of Litchfield Villa, Hanif critiqued Adam’s fiscal policy and said she was hoping for a holiday miracle to maintain the parks departments in New York.
“I love Prospect Park and I’m wishing for a Christmas miracle,” Hanif said. “As you know, the administration is putting out more cuts. We are one of the only large cities that don’t have more than one to five percent being spent on our parks. That is a deep shame.”
In Sept. 2023, Mayor Eric Adams directed city agencies to cut their budgets by five percent in order to reach the rising cost of the migrant crisis. Parks are now receiving $75 million less than last year, according to reporting by the news outlet Hellgate. However, parks are not the only agency affected: on Nov. 26, the NYC Public Libraries announced that they would close on Sundays in order to meet the new fiscal goals. The number of police officers in the city has dipped below 30,000, the lowest since 1984, according to the NYTimes. Hanif said the cuts have already caused 350 staff reductions in the parks department, which will affect the sanitation and cleanliness of the park.
“I think not having the maintenance of cleanliness is going to show. This takes us back to our goals for climate justice. Parks play a big role in making sure that we meet our climate justice goals, and we are living in a climate crisis,” Hanif said. “It’s not something that we are headed towards, it’s something we’re living in. Without the support needed for maintenance workers, we’re really going to suffer.”
Maher said that Prospect Park was the pride of not just Brooklyn, not just New York City, but the world.
“You happen to be, everybody knows this, everybody from Brooklyn, you’re in the greatest park, not in Brooklyn, not in the city, not in the country. You are standing in the greatest park in the world, Prospect Park,” Maher said.
Later on in the speech, Maher added that he would be content with the Parks Department receiving one percent of the city’s budget, but would be happier with more.
“And just so you know, when you’re advocating for parks, one percent is okay, but we’ll take two.”