Riverside Park suffers from decaying conditions, flood issues as official decries ‘screaming moment’ for NYC parks

Riverside Park’s crumbling infrastructure and lakes of mud have locals fuming – as park officials blame City Hall for starving the greenspace of years of needed funding.

The Upper West Side has resembled Roman ruins in recent months: century-old stairs are crumbled into piles of wayward blocks, cobbled paths have grown into hedgerows of weeds, and pools of rainwater have turned lawns and walkways into bogs of muck and murky water.

“It’s just sort of a threadbare carpet,” said Jonathan Weiner, 70, a Columbia University teacher who has lived by the park for 20 years.

“There’s a lot that is a little bit sad to see remembering what it was like two decades ago,” he told The Post.

An Upper West Side dad named Joel, who regularly brings his son to the park, said the state of the place was “unnecessary.”

“The city runs the park like this? It’s ridiculous. They should be cutting the grass,” he said and pointed to a closed entryway. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that entrance open.”

Even the Riverside Park Conservancy, the nonprofit that manages the park alongside the city Parks Department, acknowledged the sorry conditions but says City Hall is just not providing enough money to keep up basic repairs and maintenance.

“This administration has cut the parks budget severely. Years and years of austerity budgets, years and years of cuts,” Conservancy CEO Merritt Birnbaum told The Post.

“We, and my many colleagues at other parks advocacy groups around the city, are screaming until we’re blue in the face that we need more funding for parks, not less.”

Steps at 106th Street, which are currently being repaired after private donations were secured for the project. Matthew McDermott

Stretching a narrow 4-mile corridor along the Hudson River from 72nd Street to 158th Streets, Riverside Park has earned reputation as one of the city’s crown jewels.

The park was first designed in the 1870s by Frederick Law Olmstead – the famed architect behind Central Park – who filled it with large rock cliffs and outcroppings, tree-lined promenades, and stone verandas overlooking the river.

It was extended under Robert Moses in the 1930s and over the train tracks where the Amtrak lines now run, with new promenades and verandas being joined pitched lawns that swept up the rise to Riverside Drive. A long walkway filled with playgrounds and flowerboxes were also installed.

But since those constructions were completed little has been done to update the infrastructure of the park, and the seams are showing in some cases literally.

By night it’s not uncommon to see vast stretches of the park in darkness because path lights cut out. Support beams from the train tunnel below are breaking through the pavement in places. Fenced-off areas under repair are a common sight. When there is a storm people are forced to dodge massive water puddles that remain for days after the rain stops.

A common sight in Riverside Park: weeds upon weeds growing up through broken cobbled paths Alex Oliveira/NY Post
Washes of mud, sand, and matted leaves obscuring the ground are commonplace across Riverside Park Alex Oliveira/NY Post

Birnbaum described such lamentable conditions as “the new normal” in Riverside, and said severe weather in recent years coupled with the park’s antique drainage system was driving the decay.

“You only have to look at the weather of last September, which was the wettest September on history in over 100 years,” she said, “We have never had rain like this. And the park is where all of the water from the rest of Manhattan on the West Side floods down.”

But volatile weather and old pipes are only two culprits, Birnbaum said, explaining if the city just paid to repair its parks the problem might never have arisen in the first place.

“What you’re seeing happening in the park right now is deferred maintenance – it’s the fact that the city builds things and doesn’t allocate money to maintain them,” she said.

“The Parks Department is doing everything it can with less and less. Its budget has been decimated and is continuing to be decimated,” Birnbaum said. “They’re just not able to keep up with a basic state of good repair because they don’t have enough staff or resources. We see it in Riverside every day.”

A deep puddle of water that forms by 97th Street after every rain, which neighbors recognize as a local body of water Alex Oliveira/NY Post

Birnbaum pointed out a hiring freeze currently in place at the Parks Department as an example of the kind of institutional neglect driving the problems in Riverside. Mayor Adams is now planning to slash $55 million from the Parks Department budget in the 2025 fiscal year.

In the 1970s the Parks Department had a staff of about 11,000, Birnbaum explained, but that number has dropped to about 7,000 in recent years. But over those five decades, the park has created about 200 new parks.

“I don’t understand that math. How can we have 200 more parks and 4,000 fewer parks workers?” she said.

Adam Ganser, executive director of the advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks, shared similar stats.

“The city’s parks occupy 30,000 acres of the city’s land –14% of the whole city – and we don’t have enough parks enforcement patrol officers to cover even 150 of that,” he said.

“If we don’t have a person to operate the lawnmower, the lawn isn’t getting mowed.”

Stairs by the Dinosaur Playground that have crumbled into disrepair, another common sight across Riverside Park Matthew McDermott
One of several sinkholes that have left the Dinosaur Playground closed off, leaving families frustrated Matthew McDermott

Ganser thinks the problem at Riverside would begin to be solved if Mayor Adams would come through on his campaign promise to devote 1% of the city budget to parks – but can’t fathom why Hizzoner hasn’t delivered on that initiative.

“We’ve seen pretty much nothing other than budget cuts for the last several years and the conditions in Riverside demonstrate what’s happening broader, citywide,” Ganser said. “I would consider a real sort of strikeout for this mayor.

“The Parks Department proposed budget is $582 million out of $110 or $112 billion budget. That’s .5% of the city budget. Cutting Parks is not going to balance the budget,” he said.

“The beginning of this is to reset everybody’s understanding of the budget, and how little money it takes to really fully fund the parks system.”

Jonathan Weiner, 70, navigates stairs near 104th Street which are known by neighbors for being precariously slick Matthew McDermott

City Hall told The Post it remained dedicated to hitting Adams’ 1% goal within his administration, and that it had recently freed up funds to pay for a Parks Department program giving low-income New Yorkers paid training positions that would help maintain parks.

“The data is clear: Our parks are safer and better maintained than they were this time last year. As we’ve always said, we are aiming to reach the 1% target during our administration,” a representative from City Hall said.

A representative for the Parks Department said $300 million had been invested in the Riverside since Adams took office in 2022, and highlighted an $8.66 million renovation of the beleaguered Dinosaur playground on 97th Street that is expected to be completed by summer 2025.

The St. Clair stairs past Grant’s Tomb are in pieces, with many of the steps sagging loose in the structure. Matthew McDermott

Until the necessary funding comes through, Birnbaum said the Riverside Conservancy and Parks Department staff who toil to maintain the park every day work “exceptionally hard” and are an invaluable part of keeping whatever problems at bay that they can.

“I’m really, really proud of our team and the Parks Department team for how they just keep doing more with less,” she said, but added that without support from the city they were fighting “a losing battle.”

“It’s a screaming moment for parks in the city right now,” Brinbaum said.

“They’re cutting off the oxygen to our parks. And conservancies can only do so much. We really are working as hard as we can.”

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