Grassroots Revitalization, Private-Public Partnerships, and the Transformation of New York City’s Parks in the 1970s and 1980s

Benjamin Holtzman

This paper concerns the decline and then “revitalization” of major New York City parks through their control by private non-profit organizations. I chart this shift back to New York’s urban crisis of the late 1960s and 1970s when community residents began organizing to revive these degenerating local spaces that had suffered municipal neglect. What first began as community park revitalization efforts in neighborhoods throughout the city spread to involve broader elements of the public and private sectors. I argue that grassroots revitalization groups helped to lay important groundwork for subsequent structural changes in park policy that opened the financing and management of parks to those outside of government, including the private sector.