By Kamelia Kilawan
Twenty-seven years ago, many playgrounds in the poorest city neighborhoods were drug-infested, vandalized and ill-equipped, according to a New York Times review. But since the mid-‘90s, parks officials throughout the five boroughs have been graded on their efforts to keep playgrounds in shape based on a system of surprise inspections.
In an effort to standardize and monitor the quality of parks throughout the city several thousand inspections have been conducted since 1994 under the Park Inspection Program (PIP), an annual independent audit of city parks, playgrounds, green streets and comfort stations led by the city’s Operations and Management Planning agency.
The city’s parks department says that nearly 6,000 inspections are conducted at random by PIP each year. Now parks officials, borough commissioners, and playground attendants must maintain clean and safe standards for parks at all times, or risk failing a pop inspection.
“We’re sort of the subjects of their ratings,” said Tricia Vanderbeck, Bronx deputy chief of operations for the parks department. She said that inspection standards “apply to each borough equally.”
According to the PIP ratings, the city’s parks, playgrounds, green streets and comfort stations are in acceptable condition overall. Even though Staten Island ranks the highest with nearly 90 percent, the rest of the boroughs fare just a few points lower. The borough with the lowest overall grade is Brooklyn, with a little over 80 percent.
Armed with a tape measure, digital cameras and handheld computers for recording results, the inspectors say they try to make it to each playground twice a year.
The manager of the park-inspection program, Alex Butler, said every year eight park inspectors are assigned to conduct the audit, rating facilities in categories such as litter and vandalism, erosion paths and weed infestation, and equipment safety.
Butler noted that borough commissioners, district supervisors and playground attendants have no communication with the park’s independent audit program and its park inspectors.
“We’re not supposed to be connected to the maintenance side of things,” he said.
“It’s definitely a useful tool to develop specific standards of how things should be,” said Butler of the audit data.
The ratings are delivered to the mayor and could be presented at any time to the whole agency, parks supervisors or the public.
“Before the park-inspections program, I don’t wanna say we were lackluster. I think we’re doing a pretty good job,” said a long-time parks manager.“But since the park inspection program, I think we’ve exceeded our expectations.”