In a recent study that compared parks spending amongst the country’s 100 most populous cities, Jersey City came in last.
In 2022, parks in Jersey City received $33 per person through a combination of state, county, and municipal budgeting versus a national median of $124, according to the study’s author, the Trust for Public Land. Less than half that amount – $15 – was spent by the city itself. This is considerably less than cities with higher poverty rates and lower median incomes than Jersey City, such as Newark, NJ (which spent $22) and Buffalo, NY (which spent $46).
Jersey City’s poor showing came as no surprise to one local knowledgeable about the issue.
Said Brett Miller, a member of the city’s Open Space Trust Fund Committee and a former member of the Central Park Conservancy in New York, “Always my complaint with Jersey City has been the upkeep of the parks … That’s what’s really important with parks spending, and if you have parks like we have in Jersey City that are falling apart, kids don’t go to those parks any more. It’s basically a dead space … you may as well not consider it a park anymore, take it off the map, no one wants to go there. So, when I saw the results, I wasn’t surprised.”
While 98 percent of residents live within a 10-minute walk to a park, according TPL, that statistic includes “parks” as small as .004 acres. This could explain why Jersey City also ranked very poorly — 97 out of 100 — on “median park acreage.”
Roughly half of our 70 municipal parks are smaller than a half-acre. Even counting Liberty State Park and Lincoln Park (the latter of which is owned and operated by Hudson County), Jersey City features smaller parks per person than all but 3 other cities in the ranking.
Miller opined on this as well.
“What Jersey City was doing recently is calling things a green space when there wasn’t a green space. For example, Triangle Park is just a couple of benches, and they call that a green space. Whereas in a real healthy city, a kid or a family would be expecting a park, not a triangle of concrete with a plaque.”
While the last place finish for Jersey City would appear to undermine Mayor Fulop’s claim that Jersey City is “one of the greenest cities in America,” Fulop has received credit in some quarters for completing several large parks, most notably Berry Lane Park, that his predecessor, Jerremiah Healy, had started building. Fulop has also pushed forward Healy’s project to create Skyway Park on the Hackensack River.
But under Fulop, relatively little new land has been dedicated to parks. Jersey City has gained Fairmount Park (0.3 acres); Bethune Park (0.6 acres); and Coles Park (1.5 acres). Fulop also expanded the diminutive Triangle Park.
Earlier this year, the City Council approved the purchase of three acres for a park near the new Hudson County Courthouse near Journal Square, a move that pleased the grassroots Courthouse Park Advocacy Group that lobbied for it. According to the group, Journal Square is “one of the most underserved communities in Hudson County when it comes to accessible public green space.”
Mayor Fulop also presided over the adoption of the city’s Open Space Trust Fund, which has raised $5 million for park “improvements” since its creation in 2016. The Fund has yet to add any acreage to the city’s roster of open space.
On July 12, the council voted to apply $846,550 in federal funding to rehabilitate 21 municipal parks. This translates to an additional $2.78 per resident based on the 2020 Census. Had the money been applied in 2022, rather than this year, residents’ per capita benefit would have increased to $35.69. In Newark, which came in immediately above Jersey City in the 2023 ParkScore Ranking, the equivalent benefit was $37.30.
Except for 2021, Jersey City’s Division of Parks and Forestry has spent less on its parks every year since 2018.
Asked to comment on the city’s last-place finish on TPL’s 2022 ranking of parks spending, Mayor Fulop’s office and Paula Mahayosnand, board president of the Jersey City Parks Coalition, declined.