Parks and Cities

In New York, where anything’s possible, the privatisation of Manhattan’s Central Park is even stranger than fiction.


I imagine that few people would choose to travel back in time to visit the run down and quite frankly often dangerous Central Park of 1970s Manhattan. But many people don’t realise that a casual and relatively safe stroll through Central Park today has come at significant cost to the park’s maintenance workers.

“My dream is to have the park system privatised and run entirely for profit by corporations”

Ron Swanson, fictional Parks Department Director,

American Television sitcom Parks and Recreation

We’re talking to John Krinsky about his new book with Maud Simonet, Who Cleans the Park? and their research about parks management in New York. John and Maud bring the often-invisible work of the park’s maintenance workers into view. What’s exposed is much more that than an underpaid and unvalued workforce, but a set of questions that go to the heart of urban management today.

In America, hundreds of millions of dollars of both public and private funds are dedicated to the upkeep of public assets like Central Park. Keeping a park in order requires not just money, but labour – the not so glamorous and often invisible jobs that are associated with picking up the garbage, painting benches, maintaining equipment, cleaning toilets, raking leaves and removing homeless people.

“Parks have been absolutely critical to the maintenance and argumentation of real estate value.”

Professor John Krinsky

John talks about how wealthy individuals and corporate actors have directed significant philanthropic funding into the Central Park Conservancy, which holds considerable sway over this public space. He questions the idea that public parks, and the public domain more generally, are best served by allowing the people who have the money to fund and maintain the public domain have their way with these public assets. And what’s in it for the wealthy? Well, in the end, the public space rewards the park-side property owners with a financial return on their real estate holdings.

John Krinsky is professor of political science, with an interest in labor and community organising in New York. He specialises in urban politics, the politics of social movements, and the politics of work, welfare and labor. He is a co-editor of the online peer-reviewed journal Metro-politics and a co-editor of the journal Social Movement Studies. He co-coordinates the Politics and Protest Workshop at the CUNY Graduate Centre and is a founding board member of the New York City Community Land Initiative.

Read more in John Krinsky and Maud Simonet’s new book, Who Cleans the Park?

Additional Audio:

NBC Parks and Recreation: https://www.nbc.com/parks-and-recreation

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