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Neighbor to Neighbor: Our city parks need everyone’s support

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It isn’t every day that one witnesses a birth.

It was exciting, It was public - on the steps of Bryant Park in fact, behind the big Fifth Avenue public library that faces onto the well-trod parade route in Manhattan.

Luckily, there was a large group of us from Queens to help and to promise support for this new addition. I worked with some of the folks from our immediate area - Richard Murphy, chief of operations for Queens parks; Joyce Lawrence, Ernestine Ward, Audrey Lucas and Fred Kress.

We were only part of a much larger team. The whole process, I would estimate, only took about an hour once it got started. Luckily, it was a beautiful day. There was no rain to make things difficult, but there was sun - and that sun was HOT.

As you might imagine, a large crowd gathered to see what was going on. Some of the people didn’t push in too closely, but they were all very supportive. I would estimate that possibly 2,000 or more stood around the edge of emerald green, weedless lawn that was bordered by floral patches of yellow, blue, red, pink and purple - just watching and hoping that things would go as they should.

When we first arrived, we couldn’t help notice the huge sign that was a backdrop for a great many pictures that were propped up on easels. Each picture showed things that have happened in, and to, our parks.

That, really, was what the whole thing was about. We were attending the birth of a new state - the state of PARKS 2001!

When the announcement was made that our volunteer labor, along with those of paid Parks and Recreation employees, had produced a very healthy coalition to try to get additional funding for our citywide parks, loud cheers echoed through the streets. “GIVE US 1 PERCENT! GIVE US 1 PERCENT!” was the call that was repeated time and time again - and will be to each and every candidate for office in New York City this election year.

The 1 percent we are asking for is 1 percent of New York City’s annual budget. At the present time, New York spends less than 0.4 percent of its annual budget on this vital public resource.

Many people do not realize that there is only one gardener for every 1,000 acres of parks. There is only one recreation worker for every 21,000 children in the city. There is only one city parks worker to maintain every 43 acres of parkland. There are only 23 plumbers to maintain and repair 36 recreation centers, 43 swimming pools, more than 1,400 comfort stations and 2,300 drinking fountains.

Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and his staff have been very successful in creating innovative ways to make up for this maintenance shortfall. They have recruited an army of volunteers, but we have neither the authority, expertise nor the stamina to deal with many of the existing problems. Not too long ago, people were afraid to go into our parks because crime, particularly the drug element, made it just too dangerous, There were also packs of hapless dogs, turned loose by those owners who were irresponsible to them and to the rest of us. Most were nice animals that would make good, loyal pets if given a chance. Since that condition still exists, I hope there will be folks somewhere who will take pity on some of these tail-wagging friends. We should not have to educate people about things like that, but we do.

We must also educate them about damaging public property. A couple of years ago, for instance, Mr. Weisman And Mr. John of Weisman’s Salvage in Springfield Gardens donated 1,000, daffodils for our public gardens. Last year and this year, when we went to take pictures of them in bloom, we found that some mean, selfish person had cut them down and pulled some of them out of the ground. For shame. As a point worth nothing for future reference, such destruction carries a fine of $250. If the person does not appear in court when due, the fine may be raised as high as $1,000.

These and other issues must be addressed. If you or your group would like to become involved in Queens Coalition for Parks, contact Fred Kress, QCP, 300050 JFK Airport, Jamaica, N.Y. 11430; Fax 516-678-2463, Voice 718-341-139 with your name, group name, address, home and business phone and E-mail address.

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