- A Risky Play
City Should Be Cautious About Synthetic Turf
Executive Director, New Yorkers for Parks
New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P) is the leading, independent organization fighting for greener, cleaner and safer parks in all five boroughs. We provide tools to help communities build better parks for better neighborhoods.
NY4P has been monitoring and advocating around the issue of artificial turf since the early 2000s, when artificial turf began to be more frequently installed in parks across the city. We recognize that artificial turf has the advantage of extending playing times, an important asset in light of increased demand. We also recognize that artificial turf is a comparatively new technology (as compared to grass) and best practices in terms of installation, maintenance, replacement and recycling are still emerging.
To address concerns and questions from New York City communities, in 2006 our organization published “A New Turf War: Synthetic Turf in NYC Parks,” the first comprehensive examination of artificial turf in NYC parks. The report was an important resource for community groups, elected officials, and park managers across the country. Due to many unanswered questions, particularly regarding public health and environmental safety, NY4P recommended that the Parks Department “proceed with caution.” Instead, installations continued at a rapid rate with no new testing or visible improvements to the process.
In 2007 NY4P launched a focused advocacy campaign for improved policy for artificial turf in coalition with the Office of Public Advocate, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Riverkeeper, and Sustainable South Bronx. Regular meetings with elected officials allowed us to highlight our concerns and resulted in further testing and monitoring of turf fields. While legislation now requires a review of new types of artificial turf prior to installation – a great first step – New Yorkers for Parks remains concerned about the public process and the importance of monitoring the performance of new surfaces.
In 2008 and 2009 New Yorkers for Parks used our award-winning Report Card on Parks project to evaluate synthetic turf fields. The Report Card is an independent inspection program that measures the performance of park features. We surveyed 48 artificial turf fields for our first Report Card on Artificial Turf. The overall condition of the fields declined from an average grade of B- (80%) in 2008 to C- (72%) in 2009. This decline was primarily due to the deteriorating condition of the artificial turf blades, turf seams and overall field structure.
The City of New York is a leading purchaser of artificial turf, and its fields arguably experience more use than any other city in the nation. New Yorkers for Parks calls on the Parks Department to use this position of market significance to encourage the artificial turf industry to improve materials, installation, maintenance, and removal of fields. Improvements to the turf, such as more resilient blades that can withstand the unusually high level of use that NYC fields experience, could decrease maintenance needs and extend the lifespan of the fields. And most importantly, the City must ensure sufficient funding for park maintenance to ensure that fields do not deteriorate prematurely.
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