“Do something. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t, do something else.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
Whether or not you believe RIOC’s account of when notice was given that Good Shepherd would not open for Sunday services last week, it is clear there was a communication lapse somewhere and the consequences went far beyond general inconvenience.
We need more say in how our community spaces and public spaces are managed and maintained.
The Public Purpose Fund provides a good example. It represents something we need more of: democracy.
Applications for Public Purpose Funds (PPFs) are presented to, and reviewed by, a committee of democratically elected representatives. The Committee’s recommendations are presented to the full RIRA Common Council where they are debated and voted on in full public view. And while RIRA only makes recommendations to RIOC on how PPFs are allocated (and RIOC is free to disregard our decisions on how we wish to direct this limited pool of money), Islanders have been successfully engaging in this process for decades.
It is the only shred of true democracy Islanders are allowed. Without a doubt, it is a messy process that spreads minimal resources over far too many deserving organizations. Our Albany Overlords provide mere crumbs for us to fight over. Crumbs which represent a tiny fraction of RIOC’s overall operating budget. These crumbs represent Islanders’ only form of self-determination; this is our only form of quasi-democratic rule.
As flawed as the PPF process is, it is democratic. And it works. We should do more of it.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the stewardship of our public spaces. Islanders have no democratic say in how money is spent on our parks, playgrounds, piers, promenades, or our dwindling open spaces. Myriad plans to reinvigorate existing spaces have been announced to great fanfare, predictably delayed, and ultimately, forgotten.
Islanders new and old will recall the various plans for Blackwell Park (which never materialized), or the budgeted improvements to Capobianco Field (which continue to be delayed). Parents note with dismay the dangerous condition of the turf on the soccer field. And we all lived through the closing of Lighthouse Park, simple repairs to the footbridges were inexplicably delayed again and again. Joggers lament the deterioration of the promenade pavement, and we welcome visitors with decrepit seawall railings. RIOC’s undemocratic management of our public spaces doesn’t work.
The open space on Roosevelt Island is unique among New York City neighborhoods. And yet, it is neglected, rather than emphasized; it goes without maintenance until it has to be torn down and cheaply replaced. It is reserved for use by off-Island groups for minimal rent, rent not reinvested in our precious green-spaces. This is decided without public debate on residents’ priorities.
Why are Islanders not trusted with directing how money is spent on our public spaces? If our limited opportunity to direct Public Purpose Funds has been successful, why is this responsibility not expanded to encompass funds budgeted for the maintenance and improvement of our parks and playgrounds?
It is time to do something else.
It is time to democratize our public spaces.