Who Cleans the Park?: Public Work and Urban Governance in New York City
For New Yorkers, the answer to the question “Who cleans your park?” is complex: Welfare-to-work trainees, volunteers, unionized city workers (working within or outside their official job descriptions), summer youth workers, workers for private, nonprofit parks “conservancies,” staff of companies working under contract, and people sentenced to community service all perform routine maintenance in parks. With public services no longer being provided primarily by public workers, the state and the nature of public work have to be reevaluated. Based on four years of fieldwork in New York City parks and on nearly 140 interviews with workers inside and outside the Parks Department, and with others involved in the parks maintenance system, this book is an investigation of the conditions under which New York City’s parks are maintained, of changing labor relations and contracts of the parks’ cleaners, and of their relations at the workplace with each other. It argues that we cannot understand these unless we also try to understand the ways in which the city’s institutions have changed—with the Parks Department sometimes at the avant-garde. We must also, in turn, comprehend how and why even more encompassing changes in urban political economy shape these institutional changes. In taking this view of parks maintenance work, the book moves stepwise up levels of analysis, from an analysis of labor contracts and workplaces through organizations and their legitimation strategies, and up to larger public policies and to an understanding of the State that, in its diverse composition, produces them.