These Parks Are Our Parks
An Examination Of The Privatization Of Public Parks In New York City And The Public Trust Doctrine’s Protections
By Thomas Honan 1
The Great GoogaMooga, advertised as “an amusement park of Food, Drink, & Music” was a music, artisan food, and drink festival in Prospect Park.2 GoogaMooga lasted two days during the summer of 2012 and three days during the summer 2013,3 and demonstrates the negative impact of private use on public space.4 The Prospect Park Alliance, a non-profit organization founded to raise private funds to supplement the financing of Prospect Park,5 and Superfly, a privately owned music festival company, organized GoogaMooga. 6 The festival was strategically placed in Nethermead Meadow, a lovely tree-lined meadow located in the center of the park.7 Nethermead Meadow is traditionally used by the public for dog walking, tossing a football, and gathering with friends for a picnic, the leisure activities one would expect to take place in a park meadow. Over the three-day event, Nethermead Meadows played host to approximately 120,000 people, and accommodated approximately 75 restaurant stands, 65 drink stations, and two stages where 20 bands performed.8 As one Prospect Park local aptly put it, “It’s like bringing a boombox into a library – it doesn’t belong there.”9
The festival was intended as a fund-raising opportunity for the park.10 The idea was that the event would raise sufficient funds to provide a benefit to all the park users.11 Instead, the festival resulted in the destruction of the Nethermead Meadow and prevented the public from its use for a month after it ended.12 Additionally, the festival was promoted as a community event.13 The Great GoogaMooga website explains: “And that’s why The Great GoogaMooga is more than a festival. It’s a community brought together by a shared passion.”14 However, many of the communities surrounding the park were unable to attend because of the high admission cost of $79.50,15 and the Nethermead Meadow prevented non-ticket holders from access by way of a fence.16 The most disturbing aspect of The Great GoogaMooga experience is that in consideration for allowing the park’s use, The Prospect Park Alliance received a mere $75,000.17 Essentially, the festival was intended to provide a substantial benefit to the public and promoted itself as a community event, when in reality the surrounding community lost part of its park for a month.
The GoogaMooga experience illustrates the effects privatization can have on the public’s use of its parks. Public parks are areas of land that are dedicated to be used for the public interest.18 Since the 1970s, there has been a steady trend toward the privatization of public parks in New York City.19 Over the past ten years, new models of privatization have emerged, and, more than ever, the public is in danger of losing out on its use of parks.20 This trend corresponds with a substantial decrease in state and city funding for public parks.21 Since 2008, the City has slashed its overall maintenance and operation of parks budget by 21%.22