Your Local Parks Are Full Of Trash. Here’s Why.

Jayna Rohslau

October 20th, 2020

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During the COVID-19 Outbreak, Teens Have Flocked to Parks. Some of These Parks May Be Under Threat From Budget Cuts.


Most teens would agree that Covid has turned traditional free time and hanging out with their friends into an almost impossible option.


Indeed, the coronavirus has completely changed the landscape of where people are meeting up. Scientific studies show that the coronavirus spreads primarily indoors, and as a result, numerous parents have forbidden indoor meetings, particularly amongst teenage friend groups. In an Instagram survey of students at Bard High School Early College, 60% of the 114 respondents said that they have not been hanging out with friends indoors at all. These results rule out not only people’s houses but also malls, stores, and other common gathering places. With that knowledge in mind, it makes sense that 80% of respondents to the Instagram survey have been going to their local park regularly to meet their friends or have gatherings.


However, recent developments are making some change their minds. This summer, the Parks Department had their budget reduced by nearly $85 million due to the pandemic, and many parks have been hit hard by these losses. With services reduced and approximately 1,700 jobs cut, some parks have noticeably been deteriorating in physical appearance. According to one student that I surveyed in the poll, “It’s just gotten harder to enjoy [going to the park]since you’re constantly looking for empty, clean places to sit.” Another added, “I always need to go far away from my house to see friends, I guess because the ones [parks] near me are not that nice.”


Understandably, the situation varies from park to park.  While about half of the survey’s respondents reported their local parks had not been impacted, it is essential to note that the parks they mentioned most frequently were Prospect Park and Central Park. Central Park is managed by a separate organization from the Parks Department, the Central Park Conservatory, which maintains it under a city contract. Prospect Park has many committed volunteers from groups like the Prospect Park Alliance dedicated to keeping it clean, and receives more attention from the Parks Department than most parks, due to its tremendous 526 acres.


Meanwhile, other parks have seriously devolved in terms of cleanliness.  Coffey Park, the closest park to Trissa Andrews within the Red Hook area, displays an apparent scene of chaos: empty water balloons and cigarettes litter the ground next to overflowing trash cans, and suspiciously damp-looking tissues stick to benches and tables. Frequent visitors of Coffey Park agree it’s an unusual sight to behold, and Trissa agrees it has taken a turn for the worse over the course of this summer due to unhygienic socialization. “People are having parties, and I don’t think it’s right,” Trissa, a student at Digital Arts and Technology High School, said. “I think it definitely needs to be cleaner here. I want to tell people about that, but they don’t listen.”


The natural solution to the persistent littering and deterioration of these parks might seem obvious at first: go to Prospect Park with your friends, and avoid parks that are not well-maintained.  However, what are you supposed to do if you and your friends are not in the vicinity of such parks?  What if all the benches in your nearby parks are similarly cluttered and dirtied by litter and suspiciously damp tissues?


The people surveyed had a variety of different opinions on how to handle the situations in these dilapidated parks best.  “You could get together with your friends and organize a cleanup,” suggested one student at Bard High School Early College, and another suggested donating to the Parks Department, which maintains the parks. Both are viable options, and the Parks Department is also currently accepting donations of personal protective equipment so workers can clean the parks without risking infection.  Additionally, many volunteer opportunities involve cleaning up parks, such as Partnerships for Parks, which is currently beautifying local parks in Brooklyn and Manhattan.  Regardless of different opinions on potential solutions, everyone who has noticed a change in their local parks agrees that something should be done.


So how does your local park become cleaner?  It has to start with you. When you go to the park, don’t wrinkle your nose at the suspiciously damp tissues on the benches.  Instead, you can wrinkle your nose and pick it up.  Don’t use avoidance as a tactic; instead, organize a cleanup or volunteer.  You and your friends will likely reap the benefits many times over. After all, where else are you hanging out during the pandemic? “I need somewhere to go,” said one survey respondent, “but I don’t want to go somewhere that’s full of trash.”


Photo credit: Jayna Rohslau. Coffey Park in Red Hook, Brooklyn.