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East River Park shows signs of improvements according to a recent report

By Nora Bosworth

If New Yorkers for Parks, an award-winning nonprofit, had done their report on East River Park in late October, they would have found a recreation area utterly submerged in salty water. Old, deep-rooted trees were torn out of the earth and destroyed. The water flooded up to and over the FDR drive, killing off plant life in its path.

"This whole place was downed," says Israel Schauder, 18, gesturing toward the grounds, still colorless from winter. Born in Israel, he has lived a couple blocks from the park since he was a kid, coming at first to play baseball and to celebrate with his community on Rosh Hashanah. Now he and his friends come to get away from their families and have some guy time, chatting in the faded amphitheater. Now and then rock bands come and perform at this concrete structure, and Israel says excitedly that one time he could hear them from his apartment.

"There's lots of opportunity here," says Aaaron Patterson, Israel's long-time friend and neighbor. Aaaron says that after Sandy the city fixed the park's basic structure but couldn't work on the beautification, since it was still winter.

Nonetheless, according to New Yorkers for Parks' recently published "report card" of the city's larger parks, the East River Park gets a B+ grade.

The organization rated 43 parks based on the following features: bathrooms, courts, drinking fountains, lawns, natural areas, pathways, playgrounds, sitting areas, trees, and water bodies. Each of these facets was judged for its maintenance, cleanliness, safety, and structural integrity, on the same grading scale typically used in academia.

Overall, New York's parks seem to be on the up and up. The report found that a greater percentage of parks got As or Bs than in 2011, when the last study was conducted.

Holly Leicht, however, the Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks, has reservations about the survey's positive results.

"When you scratch below the surface and look at trends across park features, it becomes apparent that the Parks Department is caught in a property management version of "Whac-A-Mole," she writes in the report. "In order to address one problem, resources must be pulled from another area, causing a new problem to arise."

Her theory is exemplified at East River Park, which earned 3 more points than it did two years ago for its improvements in water fountains and lawns. Yet simultaneously, the athletic fields' grade has decreased by ten points.

Despite this low score, 76, the fields are clearly in frequent use. As Israel and Aaron joke around, dozens of members of ZogSports, a co-ed social sports league, race around in a soccer match.

"Honestly I think it's a great park," Aaron says proudly.

Leicht's conclusion is at once a succinct explanation of the report's findings, and a plea for more economic help from the city. "Only by growing the budgetary pie can we expect New York's park system to be maintained at the high level of care we've come to expect in the past two decades."

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