The City Limits September 2010 issue focuses on New York City's shift away from grass athletic fields in its parks to artificial turf. NYC spent $300 million over 12 years building artificial turf fields in its parks, and that investment may have been a mistake. We encourage you to purchase the September issue of City Limits and absorb the detailed investigation and analysis it contains.
City Limits begins with a look at the decaying conditions of the turf fields that NYC has installed in recent years. The $300 million was invested in approximately 200 fields, and approximately half of the fields analyzed by City Limits were found to be unacceptably dangerous because of a lack of maintenance. City Limits found "gaps, tears, and holes forming obvious trip hazards."
In Upper Manhattan, City Limits discovered that the artificial turf fields within Riverside Park were in good condition but that Eugene McCabe Field on the east side had a large sinkhole. On the Lower East Side of Manhattan, City Limits determined that Baruch Playground was in poor condition and was dangerous for those making use of it.
Purchaser of City Limits will benefit from an in-depth look at the impact of the lack of maintenance of NYC's artificial turf fields.
Lack of Resources
After reaching a high of nearly eight-tenths of one percent of the New York City budget in 1988, the spending on our parks has fallen now to its lowest point at approximately four-tenths of one percent. Our city spends less per capita on its parks than nearly all of the other largest cities in the United States, but our city actually has a larger percentage of its land devoted to parks than nearly all of those cities.
Also, while the headcount of the Parks Department is growing, it is still far below the levels it achieved in the 1980's, when the overall New York City budget was far smaller.
For our fields, both artificial and natural grass, we need a strong Parks Department with adequate resources and personnel. To the extent that the massive investment in artificial fields was driven by a desire to reduce annual maintenance costs, the calculations have proven to be flawed. Artificial fields needs greater maintenance and attention than natural grass, and we need to support an increase in the resources of the Parks Department in order to create safe and enjoyable public spaces for athletic activities, irrespective of whether the fields are made of grass or synthetic materials.
Artificial Turf's Health Risks
Even when an artificial field is properly maintained, it brings dangers that natural grass fields do not.
New York City uses a type of artificial turf that utilizes ground tires to simulate dirt and create a softer cushion in and around the artificial grass. But, those tires can contain dangerous chemicals and high levels of lead. Tires are not designed for children to lie on them or play with them for hours each week.
The artificial field in Upper Manhattan at Thomas Jefferson Park had to be removed because it had lead levels that exceeded the acceptable limits set by the EPA. In some parts of the field, the lead levels were four times higher than the EPA limit.
While New York City has declared that all of its artificial fields are safe (now that the Thomas Jefferson Park Field has been replaced), City Limits found that 23 fields had levels that exceed the limits set by California for its fields. There are also critics who claim that New York City's testing approach is flawed in that it averages the results of multiple samples from a given artificial field instead of accepting that "hot spots" of lead contamination that exceed the EPA limit need to be addressed even if the average lead level from multiple samples is within EPA guidelines.
Buy City Limits and Advocate for More Resources for the NYC Parks Department
We encourage you to purchase the September issue of City Limits and use the information to advocate for greater investment in our city's parks as well as a renewed appreciation for the superiority of natural green grass over synthetic field surfaces.