A Better Parks Department

Study after study confirms that access to and availability of green spaces play vital roles in human development and overall well-being. Green spaces improve mental and physical health for all ages and promote activities that help our seniors age with dignity. New Haven parks are treasures, and the City’s next mayor needs to treat them as such.

City Job Fairs: As Mayor, Shafiq will host regular job fairs at City Hall to fill critical positions, such as those in the Parks Department, which is in desperate need of green-collar jobs. By not staying on top of these vacancies, we allow our green spaces to deteriorate. In years past, the City has had as many as 30 (FT+PT) people supervised by a coordinator and a deputy. Today, the service work in the Parks Department is done mainly by part-time seasonal employees. As Mayor, Shafiq will eliminate unnecessary and redundant upper management. The Parks Department will focus resources on frontline staff out in the community rather than City Hall bureaucrats. As the valuable Friends of the Parks Associations have warned us with greater and greater urgency, the efficiencies we were guaranteed have not led to any improvements in park services, and our parks are on the decline. 

School-to-Parks Jobs Pipeline: In addition to regular City job fairs, Shafiq will work with NHPS, Youth At Work, and federally-funded organizations like AmeriCorps to build a jobs pipeline for high school students seeking careers in environmental leadership with green-collar jobs in green spaces. Through this inclusive effort, New Haven can build the next generation of stewards and advocates for our green spaces. 

Revive Park Rangers: The City hasn’t replaced long-serving Park Rangers who have retired and isn’t attracting new talent to fill these roles. Park Rangers are critical to the fabric of City services and as caretakers of the parks. They assist in programming in our green spaces, summer camp training, and address park issues such as trail erosion, forest fire prevention, and identifying damaged or compromised infrastructure and facilities in disrepair. The school-to-parks jobs pipeline will also have a special focus on hiring more Park Rangers. 

End the Parks Merger: There were some operational synergies between DPW and the old Parks Department, and a few parts of the merger that worked such as recreation programs that naturally fall under YARD. But leadership requires recognizing a fundamental philosophical incompatibility when you see one. Merging a smaller department under a larger one with radically different metrics for success, methods of operation, and guiding principles means that the smaller department suffers. 

Reorganize Parks Under EDA: Under the Abdussabur Administration, the new Parks Department will come under the direction of the Economic Development Administration (EDA), which oversees the overall development of our City through departments like City Plan; Transportation, Traffic, & Parking; and Arts, Culture, & Tourism. Parks should be at this table. Through this reorganization, New Haven parks won’t be treated like problems to be solved but instead as assets in need of care and enrichment, just as they enrich the lives of New Haven residents. 

City-Wide Anti-Litter Campaign: Many parks and green spaces are dumping grounds, and the proliferation of garbage throughout our City is oppressive. Under Shafiq’s leadership, an inter-departmental task force that includes the Parks Department will be established to increase public awareness of city resources to remove garbage, change behaviors, and introduce practical and creative tools to reduce litter and illegal dumping. For example, parks and green spaces will be refitted with additional and modified trash and recycling receptacles, which cannot be left open. Modified trash receptacles will encourage park visitors not to litter and limit animal access. This anti-litter campaign will extend to all neighborhoods improving our parks, our streetscapes, and our quality of life. Residents will be empowered to request trash receptacles through their Alder, Parks Commissioner, or Friends of the Park Association, and each request will receive consideration at the following Parks Commission meeting.

End Lifetime Appointments: The community has spoken on the issue of park governance. As Mayor, Shafiq will work with the Board of Alders and the Parks Commission to bring it in line with the best practices of other mayoral-appointed boards by eliminating lifetime appointments and introducing five-year terms.

Equity & Equality for Parks Investments: Today, we have the misfortune of watching the deterioration of many of our parks play out in real time. Much of this deterioration occurred during the lockdown crisis when New Haven residents deserved and needed green spaces more than ever. This deterioration occurred everywhere except for the Mayor’s backyard, East Rock. During the lockdown, he shut down the surrounding road to improve access for East Rockers while contributing to crime-related issues in the abutting Cedar Hill neighborhood, a neighborhood once represented by the Mayor as Alder. This Administration has also sold off green spaces that meet community needs. Under Shafiq’s leadership, the city government won’t play favorites when it comes to embracing our green spaces.