If New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, gets his way, the Big Apple will undo one of the most successful philanthropic experiments of the past three decades: transforming Central Park from decaying and dangerous to vibrant and verdant in just a few short years. Millions of people who use and love Manhattan’s green oasis can thank the Central Park Conservancy for this makeover. A private nonprofit that manages the park and raises the bulk of the funds needed to restore and operate it, the conservancy’s success has spawned similar efforts in other parts of New York and across America, attracting hundreds of millions of donated dollars for providing natural sanctuaries to ordinary people who live in cities. (See “Philanthropy on the Green” in Philanthropy, Fall 2012.)
De Blasio has endorsed a plan to raid the coffers of the Central Park Conservancy and others. Every year he would take funds representing a fifth of their operating budgets from conservancies with budgets totaling more than $5 million, and redistribute them to other municipal parks. This will damage the parks that rely on conservancies (Could you manage your business with a 20 percent across-the-board budget cut tomorrow?) and alienate the donors who have made voluntary offerings to specific parks they cherish. What donor wants his gifts vacuumed up by the New York City government?
De Blasio’s plan is an assault on the liberty that Americans have always enjoyed to choose the objects of their private giving. Why would he want to stymie the spontaneous and voluntary sharing of private wealth that has made green spaces across his city such delights for everyday residents?