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Who Cleans the Park?

Public Work and Urban Governance in New York City

Who Cleans the Park?

Public Work and Urban Governance in New York City

America’s public parks are in a golden age. Hundreds of millions of dollars—both public and private—fund urban jewels like Manhattan’s Central Park. Keeping the polish on landmark parks and in neighborhood playgrounds alike means that the trash must be picked up, benches painted, equipment tested, and leaves raked. Bringing this often-invisible work into view, however, raises profound questions for citizens of cities.

In Who Cleans the Park? John Krinsky and Maud Simonet explain that the work of maintaining parks has intersected with broader trends in welfare reform, civic engagement, criminal justice, and the rise of public-private partnerships. Welfare-to-work trainees, volunteers, unionized city workers (sometimes working outside their official job descriptions), staff of nonprofit park “conservancies,” and people sentenced to community service are just a few of the groups who routinely maintain parks. With public services no longer being provided primarily by public workers, Krinsky and Simonet argue, the nature of public work must be reevaluated. Based on four years of fieldwork in New York City, Who Cleans the Park? looks at the transformation of public parks from the ground up. Beginning with studying changes in the workplace, progressing through the public-private partnerships that help maintain the parks, and culminating in an investigation of a park’s contribution to urban real-estate values, the book unearths a new urban order based on nonprofit partnerships and a rhetoric of responsible citizenship, which at the same time promotes unpaid work, reinforces workers’ domination at the workplace, and increases the value of park-side property. Who Cleans the Park? asks difficult questions about who benefits from public work, ultimately forcing us to think anew about the way we govern ourselves, with implications well beyond the five boroughs.

288 pages | 5 halftones, 4 line drawings, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Political Science: Public Policy, Urban Politics

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work, Urban and Rural Sociology

Sport and Recreation


“Provides useful insights on the current issues of public works and urban governance in contemporary cities. . .Written in a storytelling manner, the book is both descriptive and analytical and, it is hoped, will lead to a new set of inquiries on neoliberal public administration.”

Journal of Urban Affairs

“A major contribution right at the intersection where studies of urban policy, political economy, and labor should meet studies of care work and of civic engagement. . . . Who Cleans the Parks? meticulously documents and theorizes everything you vaguely suspected about public/private/nonprofit partnerships. . . In this richly complex, colorful, and analytically provocative book, all the pieces fit together in relation to each other.”

American Journal of Sociology

“A brilliant examination of the complexities of neoliberalization, the fluid categories of workers, and the constituencies the process produces.”

Adolph Reed, University of Pennsylvania

Who Cleans the Park? makes important contributions to the study of public-private partnerships, labor precarity, volunteerism, and neoliberalism. Krinsky and Simonet for the first time study the park as a workplace, describing and analyzing employment relations institutionalized in the park’s labor market and showing how through neoliberal policies workers are being undermined, dismissed, and restructured. In the end, the book is not just about the neoliberalization of public parks, but that of workplaces everywhere.”

Luis LM Aguiar, University of British Columbia

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. The Workers
Chapter 3. The Work
Chapter 4. The Workplace
Chapter 5. Public-Private Partnerships
Chapter 6. Institutional Boundaries, Accountability, and the Integral State
Chapter 7. The Politics of Free Labor: Visibility and Invisibility
Chapter 8. Valuing Maintenance, Valuing Workers


ASA Occupations & Organizations Section: Max Weber Award
Honorable Mention

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