Following reports of overcrowding in New York City’s public spaces, including parks and playgrounds, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would close down all city playgrounds in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is still a problem,” Cuomo said of crowding on playgrounds during a recent press conference. “Use the open space in a park, walk around get some sun… no density, no basketball games, no close contact, no violation of social distancing, period, that’s the rule.”
Cuomo’s announcement came a day after Mayor Bill de Blasio closed 10 out of the 2,067 playgrounds across the five boroughs. Shortly after Cuomo’s announcement, the de Blasio administration agreed that it was time to close all playgrounds.
“As the weather warms up, we must act early to limit any possibility of crowding,” Jane Meyer, a spokesperson for City Hall said in a statement. “We know this will be painful for many families, but we must put the health of New Yorkers first.”
The Mayor’s Office confirmed that all playgrounds will be closed by end of day tomorrow. It is unclear when they will reopen.
During a press conference early last week, Gov. Cuomo spoke about overcrowding in city parks and requested a plan for social distancing through open streets: “There are many options, you have much less traffic in New York City. Get creative, open streets to reduce the density. Let’s open streets, let’s open space, that’s where people should be,” he said.
A day later, the City Council sent a proposal to the Governor’s office to tackle park overcrowding by closing streets to vehicular traffic (similar to what the city already does with Summer Streets), and opening up other private spaces—like large college campuses with large outdoor areas or botanical gardens—to give New Yorkers more room to spread out. The Council had also pushed for closing playgrounds in that same proposal.
In response to those calls, the de Blasio administration announced that it would implement a pilot program to pedestrianize four streets in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, for New Yorkers to have space for social distancing. But many advocates say that’s not enough and that more streets should open to pedestrians.
“Just as every family in New York deserves access to a nearby playground in ordinary times, this crisis demands rapid action to create an extensive network of emergency open streets, accessible to more New Yorkers,” a joint statement from Transportation Alternatives’ Danny Harris and Bike New York’s Jon Orcutt reads. “Providing residents access to open space that allows for social distancing is critical to public safety.”
Both advocacy groups suggested some streets the city should consider opening up to pedestrians and cyclists, including Jackie Robinson Parkway and Mosholu Parkway in Van Cortlandt Park.