In an effort to find out why it was so hard to find a decent place to play basketball in New York City, Wall Street Journal writer Stu Woo personally visited all 172 of Brooklyn’s public courts listed on the Parks and Recreation Department website this spring, and found that only a third of them were in good shape. “The rest had problems that varied from the annoying, such as bent or missing rims, to the ankle-breaking, such as cracks so wide that weeds actually grew out of them,” Woo writes at WSJ.com.
Woo wasn’t surprised, having conducted a similar review of Manhattan’s courts in 2013 (NYC boasts 1,800 courts in all). But, he writes, parks officials were disappointed to learn of the widespread problem while explaining that shrinking budgets make it hard to keep up with repairs. According to Woo’s report, the parks budget in the 1960s was 1.4 percent of NYC’s total budget. The current year’s $400 million parks budget is only half a percent of the city’s budget, and that amount is already spread thin among labor, gardening, playground equipment, recreation centers, pools, restrooms and other sports courts.
“We’re underfunding parks relative to New York City’s history and relative to where other big cities are today,” Parks and Recreation Committee chairman Mark Levine told Woo. “Your survey reveals, in pretty stark ways, the unmet needs of the system.”
Parks and Recreation Department commissioner Mitchell Silver added that Brooklyn’s reliance on recreational basketball is unique. “What makes Brooklyn different is that other boroughs have a lot of large parks. Brooklyn has a lot of small parks,” he told Woo. “Open space in Brooklyn is basketball.”
Parks are inspected twice annually by a team of 300 full-time inspectors. In addition, a hotline fields roughly 150,000 parks-related complaints (though off-leash dogs are among the most typical targets). But awareness is only the beginning, and court repairs don’t come cheap. A rim replacement runs $100, and a rim and backboard is $550. It costs $3,000 to paint a basketball court with a sports coating, and up to $150,000 to both resurface and repaint.