A small group of Fort Greene’s hip young parental set saunters onto the dance floor, dancing and drinking craft beers. Top 40 music blares from the speakers inside Roulette, a dark music hall on Atlantic Avenue. The party is being thrown by the Fort Greene Park Conservancy, which hosts fundraisers like this to supplement the money it needs to support maintenance and projects in Fort Greene Park, according to The Local.
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has seen a drop in city-allocated funds from 1.4 percent of the total budget in 1968 to less than a quarter of that today. With most local parks in the city in need of serious repair, alliances and conservancies have formed to raise money to maintain New York’s green spaces.
Fort Greene Park Conservancy, which has been raising funds for the park for the past five years, hosted their second annual Dance Craze fundraiser at Roulette on Thursday, Oct. 20. Its goal was to raise more than $20,000 to help purchase materials and maintain park gardens, said Charles Jarden, executive director of the conservancy.
They have raised over $100,000 through their fundraising efforts so far–but it doesn’t come close to the tens of millions that Geoff Croft, the president of NYC Park Advocates, estimates Fort Greene Park needs to repair the runoff problems and the cracks in the tennis courts, and to maintain the Revolutionary War Memorial and concrete steps leading up to it.
“Fort Greene Park clearly will never be able to raise funds that will match the type of giving and operation that the Central Park Conservancy has,” said Mr. Croft.
As a newer organization, the Fort Greene Park Conservancy looks to the successes of the 30-year-old Central Park Conservancy and the 25-year-old Prospect Park Alliance as models for what it hopes to accomplish for its own park.
But with a different demographic in Fort Greene, the group has had to take a different route–which includes holding the Roulette fundraiser–to help maintain the park, Mr. Jarden added.
Fort Greene Park, unlike Central Park and some parts of Prospect Park, is not surrounded by a vast number of wealthy people. The median income in Fort Greene is about $58,000 a year.
The Central Park Conservancy began in 1980 during a time when the city’s economy was fragile, with employment steadily dropping and the country suffering from a recession. The city had no money to care for Central Park, and wealthier residents, with the park as their front yard, took it upon themselves to gather the money and influence needed to fix and maintain the park.
“The wealthiest people in the world are taking care of Central Park but 99.9 percent New York City doesn’t live around Central Park,” said Mr. Croft.
Conservancies and alliances would be better served if they pressured the city to do more in their local parks, he added.
Community District 2 Manager Robert Perris said he is also concerned about the Fort Greene Park Conservancy’s ability to make substantive improvements to the park.
“They don’t operate at a high level,” he said. “It’s all volunteers and no one has given $100,000 check. But they do what they can.”
Dena Libner, public relations manager for the Central Park Conservancy, said it’s more difficult for groups like the Fort Greene Park Conservancy to raise money.
“Those associations or organizations should define their ambitions and goals based on the access they have to funding,” she said.
But this has not deterred the Fort Greene Park Conservancy. Instead, the group is trying to tap into a more artistic community of actors, authors and writers to come up with more creative ideas to raise funds for the park.
“This is exactly the people that we want to know about Fort Greene Park,” said Mr. Jarden. “We have this great event as a fabulous way to introduce them to the way that a park survives.”
“These are some fine New Yorkers trying to make a positive impact and that should be encouraged,” said Mr. Croft. “We should be harnessing this enthusiasm.”
But Mr. Croft has his doubts about the effectiveness that smaller and newer conservancies have in raising money to make a difference in a park’s life.
“The truth is you just don’t have the wealth or political power like you do in Central Park,” he said. “If that was what people were planning on doing in Fort Greene Park, unfortunately it is not going to work.”
The Local - October 27, 2011 - By Rebecca Sesny