The past week has brought much attention to Holiday Lights in the Park. A central aspect of the discussions in the press, on social media, chat boards, and among many citizens is the numerous burdens the event places on the neighbors, businesses, and services. These quality of life issues are debated against the undeniable good work that the Police Athletic League (PAL) does for our city’s youth and the holiday tradition they have created for the Capital Region. These facts have been widely known before 2020 and the Conservancy is grateful for the expanded discussion and the opportunity to work with the city, neighbors, and PAL.
The Washington Park Conservancy does not support the Lights in the Park event in its current car-centric format being held in the Washington Park. While the mission of PAL is quite clear, so is that of the Conservancy. Since its founding 35 years ago, the Conservancy advocates for the environmental and historic stewardship of the park. Many issues have been raised in all of the talk of tipping points and weighting the good with the bad. However the significant question of the environmental impact of emissions from 1000s of idling cars has been left off of the table. This issue is of paramount importance when assessing public policy regarding use of all public spaces. This is not a question of a ‘privileged’ neighborhood’s inconvenience, as one editorial described it, but a question of responsible stewardship of our environmental and historic landscape.
In an era increasingly defined by public health concerns, parks play a central role in our citizens being able to enjoy outdoor space for physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. For 24 years the Lights program has decreased access to these public benefits, damaged the historic landscape, and promoted an unhealthy environmental practice. The Conservancy deeply respects the mission of PAL and looks forward to future discussions. We remain committed to environmental justice for all.
2021 marks the 150th year of Washington Park. It is time to plan a celebration and recommit to the park’s ecological care and future.
Daniel McEneny, President
Washington Park Conservancy