Bowling Green

The Daily Plant : Thursday, December 6, 2007

Joseph Davidson, Former Parks Commissioner, Passes Away

Joseph Davidson, NYC Parks Commissioner in the Beame Administration from 1977 to 1978, passed away on November 18, 2007.

Davidson was a nationally recognized expert in parks and recreation. He earned his bachelor's degree from St. Joseph's College and a master's degree in parks and recreation administration from Columbia University. From 1962 to 1968, he served as Parks, Recreation & Conservation Commissioner in Yonkers. From 1968 to 1970, he served as Senior Associate and Director of Communications and Development for the National Recreation and Park Association in Arlington, Virginia.

In 1970, Davidson returned to New York City and was appointed by Mayor John Lindsay as First Deputy Administrator of the Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs Administration. When the agency was reorganized in 1976, Davidson assumed the title of Deputy Commissioner of Parks & Recreation. There he founded and organized the Urban Park and Recreation Alliance, which brought together administrators of parks and recreation programs in the nation's 25 largest cities.

On July 1, 1977, Davidson was appointed Parks Commissioner by Mayor Abraham Beame. He succeeded Martin Lang. Upon his appointment, Mayor Beame remarked, "I am delighted to announce the appointment of Joe Davidson as our new Parks and Recreation Commissioner. He has a well-deserved reputation as a career administrator of public parks and recreation programs. He has demonstrated a unique and essential understanding of park management and the role they play in maintaining a healthy and stimulating environment for all citizens of all ages."

As Parks Commissioner, Davidson presided over a turbulent era where a large portion of the Parks staff was cut. Permanent personnel was trimmed by 30% since the beginning of the Beame Administration (more than any other city agency) and the capital budget was cut by an astounding 82%. Indeed, the summer of 1977 was a rough one for New York City with the fiscal crisis, blackout and Son of Sam on the loose.

During this budget crunch, Davidson had to staff two-thirds of the 3,300-person Parks Department with Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) workers. These employees were paid through Federal job funds. Some were former civil servants laid off at the height of the fiscal crisis, others were unemployed individuals with little experience. Davidson remarked at the time, "By no means do they overnight replace the expertise of what we once had in our agency." Still, the CETA workers were invaluable in implementing "Operation Facelift," a program that painted, spruced up and repaired playgrounds in every district.
Davidson also oversaw the successful rehabilitation of Bowling Green Park, historically important as New York City's first public park. The renovation restored Bowling Green to its 18th century appearance. Improvements included the redistribution of subway entrances, the installation of new lampposts and benches, and landscaping. Publisher and philanthropist George Delacorte donated the park’s central fountain.

Other projects that Davidson worked on during his tenure in New York City were the design and construction of the U.S. Tennis Association complex, the expansion of the New York City Marathon to all five boroughs, and the establishment of the first playground to the disabled in Queens.

Davidson served as Commissioner until January 20, 1978, when he was succeeded by Gordon Davis. Not ready to retire from the Parks Commissioner line-of-work, he moved to White Plains in 1979 and was appointed Commissioner by Mayor Alfred Del Vecchio. There, Davidson was responsible for upgrading White Plains' recreation offerings. He created the Noon Day Concerts, the Pops in the Park program, and worked to bring Little League Baseball to White Plains. Davidson continued to serve in this position until his retirement in 2002.

Although Joseph Davidson's tenure as NYC Parks Commissioner was only a brief seven months at the tail-end of the Beame Administration, his dedication to our parks and open spaces were unparalleled. He will be missed.

“A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.”

(1475 – 1564)

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