The 1850s

The 1860s

The 1870s

The 1880s

Early 20th Century

The 1920s

The 1930s

Post World War II

The 1960s

The 1970s

The 1980s

All text from:
The Park and the People

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The Fiscal Crisis
The fiscal crisis of the 1970s hit the parks particularly hard. It was, indeed, difficult to defend parks against the competing claims of hospitals and schools and fire and police protection, and the parks department now had little clout at City Hall, in part because of political feuding and rapid turnover at the top. Between 1974 and 1980 the department's appropriation dropped by more than $40 million, a 60 percent cut in real dollars. Even by the early 1970s the number of full-time permanent park workers had dropped from their late 1960s peak of almost 6,100 to about 4,800. Between 1974 and 1979, the department lost another 2,200 workers, although temporary workers provided through the federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act program made up some of the gap. In the aftermath of the fiscal crisis, the summer work force -- crucial to a seasonal agency like parks -- dropped from 6,000 to fewer than 2,700. The loss of more than half of the permanent and seasonal work force and of a significant portion of the budget for supplies, maintenance equipment, and trash baskets devastated the park system. Between 1974-1975 and 1975-1976, the department's capital budget, the money used for major rehabilitation projects, dropped from $24 million to $5 million. Asked whether his budget had any "fat" left, Park Commissioner Martin Lang retorted: "We have taken off the fat and we are into muscle and bones." [Ch1785]

A Times reporter who toured the city's parks in May 1977 found them "in an advanced state of deterioration." More than five hundred parks and playgrounds received only weekly cleaning from mobile task forces. In the absence of regular maintenance, supervision, or policing, many parks and playgrounds suffered vandalism and were filled with piles of garbage. Even after the city's financial plight eased three years later, the parks continued to decay. A later three-part Times investigation of the park system described it as "a dirty, unkempt, vandalized shadow of its former self. ... Perhaps no other municipal facilities have suffered so much in recent years." By 1982 a state study estimated that the city's parks had almost $3 billion in deferred maintenance needs. Although Central Park did not approach the virtual abandonment that some city parks suffered in the late 1970s, its maintenance funds were slashed as well. The Sheep Meadow turned into a dust bowl; vandalism closed Belvedere Castle; beer cans filled the Pond, and graffiti marred Bethesda Terrace. [Ch1786]