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Uptown Parks Get Low Grades in Citywide Survey

By Carla Zanoni | November 2, 2011 6:56am | Updated on November 2, 2011 7:28am

MANHATTAN — Several Upper Manhattan parks are below average when it comes to cleanliness, functioning equipment and lawns, according to an annual study of public parks by an independent advocacy group.

Of 12 parks surveyed in Manhattan, Inwood Hill, Fort Tryon and Marcus Garvey parks received grades below a B-minus, according to the Report Card on Large Parks published by New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P) Monday. The survey has been taken by the group in city parks since 2002.

Inwood Hill Park, in Inwood, and Fort Tryon Park, in Washington Heights, both received a C-plus grade, while Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem received a D, making it the lowest scoring park surveyed in Manhattan.

Although located near the poorly ranked parks, uptown’s Fort Washington Park along the Hudson River was one of the top scorers with an A grade, just like its downtown neighbor Battery Park. Riverside Park came in close to the top, with an A-minus grade.

“The Parks Department has managed to keep large parks in relatively good shape with dwindling resources, but the system teeters on the brink,” said Holly Leicht, NY4P's executive director, in a public statement.

“Many of our City parks were built five or six decades ago, and they’re in dire need of capital investment.”

NY4P called on the Parks Deparmtent to "analyze why proximate parks have disparate maintenance records" and "prioritize maintenance of low-performing parks" in order to boost sagging grades.

Broken and dirty water fountains in Inwood Hill and Fort Tryon parks brought down their grades, highlighting an issue found in many city parks, according to NY4P.

"The City rightfully touts the many benefits of New York tap water, but the most abundant public source for it — drinking fountains in public parks — is at best unreliable and at worst defunct,” said Alyson Beha, NY4P's director of Research, Policy and Planning.

Litter, graffiti and broken or damaged benches were also flagged as problematic in both uptown parks.

In addition, Inwood Hill Park, a sprawling, nearly 200-acre space, received low marks for lawns, which are “often bare, discolored or overgrown with weeds,” and bathrooms with “damaged stalls and a lack of toilet paper, hand soap, and hand towels or dryers,” the survey said.

The park’s playgrounds also ranked low, “because one location was locked and missing portions of safety surfacing,” according to the report.

In Harlem, Marcus Garvey Park did well when it came to bathroom cleanliness, but fell behind in all other categories.

The park’s playgrounds and seating areas received grades of 43 and 50 out of a possible 100, with reports of “jagged, broken fencing; disconnected safety surfacing; weed growth; and worn equipment” in the play areas, the survey said.

Benches and picnic tables were reported missing or in need of significant repair and "weeds, large depressions, and litter” were found throughout the lawns, the report stated.

“Surveyors found a large quantity of condoms and syringes on lawns and pathways,” the survey added. “This refuse indicates illicit behavior in the park and poses health hazards.”

However, the Parks Department refuted the results of the survey regarding Marcus Garvey Park, saying conditions there have improved.

“We…feel that Marcus Garvey is in much better shape than is reflected in this report, and intend to address the playground and sitting area in need of attention,” department spokesman Phil Abramson wrote in an email, adding that the “new amphitheater at Marcus Garvey is a real community gem.”

He stressed that not all parks in northern Manhattan were rated poorly — pointing to Morningside and St. Nicholas parks, which each received a B-plus — and added that budget cuts have trimmed staff from all parks.

“While Parks staff may be down, overall conditions are predominantly not, which means we are successfully doing more with less,” Abramson wrote.

The spokesman added that the department is looking into improving the status of water fountains, noting that the agency has recorded an 86-percent working rate for foountains citywide. The Parks Department is also dedicated to reducing garbage in city parks, he said.

"Litter is an essential focus which the public quickly reads as an overall deterioration of a park, so we are placing a very heavy emphasis on combating the litter problem," he said.