Panel Paper: Do Public-Nonprofit Partnerships Result in More Equitable Allocation of Public Services? Evidence from Parks and Partnership in New York City

Friday, November 9, 2018
8209 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Yuan (Daniel) Cheng, University of Minnesota and Zhengyan (Ian) Li, Indiana University

Partnerships between nonprofit organizations and government agencies have received increasing attention from scholars ever since the privatization era in the 1980s (Gazley & Guo, 2015; Gray, 1989). As a form of cross-sector collaboration, it stands out a as a key mechanism of governance to remedy complex public problems and address society’s most difficult public challenges (Bryson et al., 2006; Goldsmith & Eggers, 2004). While recognizing the difficulties in carrying out cross-sector collaboration initiatives (Bryson, 2006), existing literature mostly focuses on the necessity of these partnerships and the benefits public-nonprofit partnerships can bring to the table. However, there is little research that examines whether public-nonprofit partnerships result in more equitable allocation of public services.

Situated in the context of public-nonprofit partnerships for public parks in New York City, this paper contributes to existing literature by examining how public-nonprofit partnerships for public parks influence the distribution of capital projects managed by the NYC parks department. Are public parks with nonprofit partnerships more likely to get capital projects funded by the city government? From a capacity perspective, partnering with nonprofits may create voting constituencies for city officials to increase funding allocation to selected park units (Marwell, 2004). However, from a social equity perspective, distributing more government-funded capital projects to parks that have already had nonprofit partners may be problematic for park units that are located in less resourceful neighborhoods where additional private support is hard to find. Tis question is not only of theoretical importance to scholars who study cross-sector collaboration, but also has important policy implications as governments at all levels are suffering fiscal stress and constantly looking for for-profit and nonprofit partners.

Data come first from a directory of official nonprofit partners of the NYC Parks and Recreation Departments. The information of these park-supporting nonprofits are linked to the 2010 to 2015 National Center of Charitable Statistics (NCCS) Core PC files database to trace their financial information. A second data source is the Capital Project Tracker which tracks government-funded capital investment in city park units throughout the NYC from 2010 to 2017. The third data source is the American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates data from 2010 to 2016, which provides information about socio-economic characteristics at the census tract level. 0.5-mile buffers around the location of selected park units are taken to capture the surrounding neighborhoods of the park units. Areal apportionment method is used to construct the demographics of the neighborhoods based on census tract information.

This research is built at the intersection of the public and nonprofit sectors and should be of interest to scholars studying public service provision, government-nonprofit partnerships, urban sustainability and social equity. Our paper discussion will offer new data, new methods, and empirical evidence of public nonprofit partnerships for managing urban green spaces. It suggests that public managers need to manage and adapt to this new level of engagement of nonprofit organizations to ensure both the quality and equitable distribution of public services.