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Are Playgrounds the Site of New York City’s Next Big Land Grab?

A proposed luxury development in Manhattan has highlighted the murky status of Jointly Owned Playgrounds. Are they people’s parks or possible development sites?
The Marx Brothers Playground sits at the border of Manhattan's East Harlem and Upper East Side. It has become the site of a battle over the jurisdiction of New York City's Jointly Operated Playgrounds.
The Marx Brothers Playground sits at the border of Manhattan's East Harlem and Upper East Side. It has become the site of a battle over the jurisdiction of New York City's Jointly Operated Playgrounds.Rick Stachura/CityLab

In New York City, public parks, or, as the New York City Zoning Resolution of 1961 reads, “any publicly owned park, playground, beach, parkway or roadway within the jurisdiction and control of the Commissioner of Parks” are special.

They’re exempt from zoning laws and don’t generate usable floor area. In other words, developers can’t build on them. As the City Charter reads, “The rights of the city in and to its … public parks … are inalienable.” Only an act of the State Legislature can strip them of their protected status and free them for other purposes.