MOTT HAVEN — The city will spend $150 million to revive five large and underserved parks, one in each borough, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday at St. Mary's Park in The Bronx.
The "Anchor Parks" initiatives will affect 750,000 New Yorkers who live within walking distance of the five parks, adding new amenities such as bathrooms, hiking trails, soccer fields, water fountains and sprinklers for children.
The much-needed improvements will also address the inequality that had beset the city's park system, with some parks, such as Central Park and the High Line, benefiting from the fundraising of large conservatories, while others withered.
St. Mary's is the largest park in the South Bronx and serves more than 100,000 people. Residents in the area have been calling for safety improvements and increased services at the park for years. A softball coach recently launched an online funding campaign to repair the patchy grass and decrepit benches of the ball fields.
"Living in one of the communities that struggled the most for decades, they deserve this investment and we think it's going to change lives," de Blasio said.
The other four parks to receive funding will be Highbridge Park in Manhattan, Freshkills Park on Staten Island, Betsy Head Park in Brooklyn and Astoria Park in Queens.
Each park will receive $30 million in funding as part of a multi-year-effort that should wrap up by 2020, said Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver. The five parks were chosen because they have a history of under investment and a large population that uses the park.
"This is about fairness. We talk about fighting inequality, this is one of the most basic ways to do it," de Blasio said.
"Let's remember that for so many New Yorkers, parks are not just a place they go for a little exercise or for a walk, but for a lot of New Yorkers, this is where they spend their summer vacations."
Even though parks in communities such as Mott Haven are arguably more important to residents, they received less investment in the past, de Blasio said.
"The people who needed it the most got the least," the mayor said.
And residents who live around parks such as St. Mary's don't have the resources to fund the conservatories that have led to the revitalization of green spaces such as Madison Square Park and Battery Park, said Councilman Mark Levine, chair of the parks committee.
"For decades, these five parks really haven't been living up to their full potential because of deferred investments. You see it in ball fields that need to be fixed up or rec centers that need renovations or lighting that doesn't work and has been removed, and we're going to be able to fix that," said Levine.
Park potential was also a factor in choosing the five parks. St. Mary's already has a recreation center with a pool, tennis courts and basketball courts.
"This park was chosen because the city sees that the future of The Bronx is only growing brighter," said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents the area around the park.
Silver said that the city's parks are being focused on more and more. The city has already launched a separate initiative to fix small parks and the parks budget has increased by $56 million to more than $500 million, the largest ever.
Starting in the fall, the Parks Department will hold meetings to figure out what changes the local community around these five parks would like to see. The agency has already identified major necessary improvements but wants local residents to help shape the changes.
"These five parks are finally getting the big support they need. We will work with the community to address those plans and visions to make them a reality," said Silver.