Testimony on Making NYC Parks More Affordable to Veterans

On Friday, October 2, Samuel Innocent testified before the NYC Council Committee on Parks and Recreation in favor of Introduction 856, which would make NYC parks more affordable to veterans by discounting recreational facility fees:

Good afternoon Chairman Levine, Councilmember Mealy, Councilmember Cabrera, Councilmember Van Bremer, Councilmember Cohen, Councilmember Maisel and Councilmember Treyger.

My name is Samuel Innocent and I testify before you on behalf of the New York City Veterans Alliance, its membership, and the veteran community at large.

When speaking of New York City Parks, veteran is not a word that is often affiliated with that, because to most people it just doesn’t seem to fit. Why would one think veteran when thinking about a park or a green space? It is my goal to provide insight as to what city parks means to veterans, and most certainly what they meant for me.

New York City is a daunting place and can be a bit much to consume for those who visit; for those who choose to make this great city home, the fast pace and the symphony of car honks, loud music and rumbling tracks is something that you grow accustomed to over time. That period of transition from newcomer to tried and true New Yorker is important. If it is good, you’ll be a proud New Yorker, if it’s bad, you’ll despise living here and continue to look for the first opportunity to leave.

I was born in Brooklyn and raised in New York, where I’ve spent my whole life. I even spent my entire military career in the state of New York, minus the year I spent in Afghanistan. Yet despite all this, when I came home I was a stranger to this City and it felt unknown to me. Neighborhoods had changed as well of the faces in old hangouts. I was no longer a child enjoying the rush of all things but a man who had to make his own way. The lights, sounds, fast-paced pedestrians, and overcrowded metro were overwhelming and caused me to shy away from outings with friends.

The Parks were my only escape. First in Brooklyn where I lived it was Prospect Park. Though there were still many people who frequented there, I was always able to find my own space where I could read my college books or lay back and enjoy the surrounding activities. When I moved to the Bronx the first thing I did was look for a park that would serve as my escape just as Prospect Park did. This new place was Wave Hill and it was everything I needed and more. It has more green space than one could ask for and most important, it was quiet and had a moderate amount of visitors. I would have visited this park a few times a week but the fee of $8 per adult limited my visits to a reasonable 2-3 times per month. The very day that the IDNYC with the veterans identifier was released, I went and got one because it meant that for one year I could visit Wave Hill as often as I’d like rather than only as often as I could afford.

The Parks of New York City were as a big a part of my transition as the veteran groups, the VA hospital and the friends and family that I came home to. In times of stress they were my relief and I hope that they can be the same for the veterans who call New York home. I’m happy that our council members are recognizing the value that green spaces and parks have in the lives of our nation’s heroes and I hope that parks as a place of tranquility for veterans will become a part of the larger conversation about veterans in transition.

For these reasons, the NYC Veterans Alliance strongly supports making facilities at New York City parks as accessible and affordable as possible for veterans. Parks are places of tranquility where a veteran like myself can regain peace of mind. They are also places for recreational activities that allow us to channel our minds and bodies in healthy outlets, whether that be swimming pools, gyms, athletic courts, game rooms, or other places that allow us to find the tranquility of focus and exertion. If we say we truly want veterans to come home and feel at home in New York City, we must make our parks as accessible as possible to them.

Thank you for allowing me to testify and thank you for your time.