How Can I Improve My Park? New Poster Shows Advocates the Way

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It’s a familiar complaint among even the most ardent park lovers in New York City: navigating the road toward effective park advocacy is just too confusing.

But now, through a collaboration of New Yorkers for Parks, the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) and Partnerships for Parks (PfP) there is a guide aimed at lifting that fog: “How Can I Improve My Park?”

The fold-out poster, which features engaging design by Elana Schlenker and colorful illustration by Brooklyn artist Leslie Wood, is designed to help advocates cut through the often-onerous process of advocating for park improvements – from maintenance concerns like litter, broken benches or overgrown grass, to capital projects, like a new dog run or playground, increased signage or better wheelchair access.

Download the full poster here.

“Park advocates contact us all the time to ask: ‘where do I start?’” said Tupper Thomas, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks. “It’s a complex process, so we wanted to create a guide that eliminates any of that confusion and makes the process much smoother for those who know their local parks best but may not know how to navigate the city’s budget process. This poster will really empower park advocates from across New York City to make a difference in their communities.”

“This issue of Making Policy Public will make it easier for people, regardless of their backgrounds, to advocate for improvements to their local parks,” said CUP Executive Director Christine Gaspar. “We developed the poster with a focus on reaching underserved communities, who often have less access to resources. As with all CUP projects, this poster breaks down a complex process into a step-by-step guide to meaningful participation.”

"Partnerships for Parks is dedicated to sharing information and opportunities so people can effectively participate in the care and planning of their neighborhood parks and green spaces," said Sabina Saragoussi, Director of Partnerships for Parks. "This publication is an important part of empowering New Yorkers to have a meaningful impact."

“How Can I Improve My Park” was produced after soliciting extensive feedback from park advocates, and those who know the ins and outs of the park advocacy process at each step: community board members, borough president and Council staffers, and Parks Department officials.

In particular, the poster addresses several of the common concerns among park advocates: whom to contact about an issue or desired project, and when. It neatly lays out a course of action – from coalition building and letter-writing, to community board presentations and meetings with public officials. It also clearly describes the difference between advocating for a capital project and a maintenance or staffing issue.

New Yorkers for Parks, CUP and PfP will distribute posters at a free Partnerships Academy Workshop launch event for advocates on July 24 at the Parks Department’s Arsenal headquarters. Speakers at the event will include NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, New York City Council Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine, NYC Parks Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh, and NY4P Executive Director Tupper Thomas. Partnerships Academy is a training program of Partnerships for Parks that supports community-based park groups and individuals to achieve success.

The project is part of CUP’s Making Policy Public initiative, which features foldout posters that use graphic design to explore and explain public policy. Making Policy Public is published four times a year. Each poster is the product of a collaboration of a designer, an advocate, and CUP.

Additionally, the poster complements, an online toolkit developed by Partnerships for Parks and Hester Street Collaborative to help community members understand and participate in the NYC Parks capital process.

Support for “How Can I Improve my Park?” was provided by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Surdna Foundation, A Blade of Grass, and the North Star Fund, and public funding was provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council.

To order a free hard copy, contact Emily Walker, NY4P's Outreach & Events Coordinator, at or 212-838-9410, extension 314.

A Victory for NYC Parks

Friday, June 27, 2014

Mayor de Blasio and the City Council agreed Wednesday to add $16.25 million to the Parks Department's budget: a significant victory for park advocates across the city.

The increase, to be funded by a blend of Council and mayoral money, includes:

·    $8.75 million for 200 full-time maintenance workers and gardeners
·    $5 million for 80 Parks Enforcement Patrol officers
·    $1 million for tree pruning
·    $750,000 for a neighborhood parks equity fund for "friends of" groups
·    $750,000 for the removal of approximately 2,300 stumps

As we’ve noted throughout the spring budget season, addressing park inequities begins with the public budget. This significant increase, for which the Council and de Blasio administration are to be commended, is a great start. The addition of full-time maintenance workers and gardeners will boost on-the-ground accountability, and the added PEP officers will help alleviate quality-of-life issues. And in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and other significant weather events, we’re grateful that our call for additional tree pruning and stump removal money was answered, too.

While just a start, this increase – and the momentum in the Council and among advocates that helped bring it to fruition – sets a strong precedent for future de Blasio administration budgets. It’s clear that the Council, under the leadership of Parks Committee Chairman Mark Levine, made park funding one of its priorities this year, and that is in no small part due to the efforts of park advocates. Next year, with your help, we’ll build on those efforts and aim even higher. From all of us at New Yorkers for Parks: THANK YOU!

Surveying for 2014 Report Card on Beaches to Begin in July

Friday, June 27, 2014


South Beach, Staten Island

Few Parks Department properties sustained as much damage from Hurricane Sandy as the city’s public swimming beaches and boardwalks. Now, we are conducting our first post-storm assessment of their condition using our Report Card survey tool.
NY4P published Report Cards on Beaches in 2007, 2009 and 2011. While the maintenance conditions dramatically improved over that time, these spaces require a fresh assessment following Sandy. Our new report will be two-fold: it will score maintenance conditions – including bathrooms, drinking fountains, pathways and shorelines – and it will assess how the Parks Department is handling beach recovery from a management perspective. We are hopeful that the report will provide the Parks Department with a helpful independent assessment of its post-Sandy beach recovery work, and look forward to sharing the findings of the report with the City Council and de Blasio administration, as well as advocates in areas with public beaches. As increasingly volatile weather becomes the norm, it’s critical that the Council and Administration work to staff and fund the Parks Department accordingly. We hope our new report will help ensure just that.

NY4P Welcomes Jon Kornfeld as Development Director

Friday, June 27, 2014

We’re excited to announce the arrival of our next Director of Development, Jon Kornfeld. Jon has extensive nonprofit fundraising experience, most recently at Yeshiva University, where he has served as Director of Stewardship and Donor Recognition, and at the Nature Conservancy, where he served as Senior Donor Relations Manager.

Jon is particularly looking forward to focusing on three areas: building relationships with individual donors, growing the NY4P board, and increasing corporate support for initiatives like the Daffodil Project, research reports, and advocacy campaigns.

We’re thrilled to welcome a fundraiser with a proven track record of success, and look forward to engaging with our constituents even more through his work.

NY4P Statement on $16.25 Million Parks Budget Increase

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Mayor and City Council agreed Thursday night to add $16.25 million to the Parks Department's budget. 

The increase includes:

  • $8.75 million for 200 full-time maintenance workers and gardeners
  • $5 million for 80 Parks Enforcement Patrol officers
  • $1 million for tree pruning
  • $750,000 for stump removal
  • $750,000 for a neighborhood parks equity fund for "friends of" groups

Statement from NY4P Executive Director Tupper Thomas:

"Addressing park inequities begins with the public budget, and this significant increase, for which the Council and de Blasio administration are to be commended, is a great start. The addition of 200 full-time maintenance workers and gardeners will boost on-the-ground accountability, and the added 80 PEP officers will help alleviate quality of life issues. The Council has delivered on its commitment to neighborhood parks."

Commissioner Silver Makes First Council Appearance

Thursday, June 05, 2014

In his 16th day on the job, NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver made his first appearance before the City Council last week at an executive budget hearing at City Hall.

Though the most pressing budget matter at hand – the Council’s request for a $27 million increase to Parks’  budget for additional full-time maintenance and Parks Enforcement Patrol Officer (PEP) positions – is still being negotiated, Silver did provide some news.

The Parks Department, he said, is undertaking a comprehensive assessment of its capital construction process, which Silver said “currently takes too long.”

“It's a broken system that doesn't achieve either input or efficiency,” Council Member Brad Lander added.

We agree. And so we were pleased to hear that the Parks Department is working on creating a publicly accessible online database that would allow the public to track the progress of ongoing projects.

It’s just a first step toward a better capital process, but it’s a good one: it will make the process more transparent and increase incentive for the Parks Department to finish jobs more quickly.

Though Silver didn’t offer any details on how the de Blasio administration aims to address inequities across the park system, he noted the administration’s commitment to working on a solution.

“Parks equity is important to Mayor de Blasio, and it is important to me,” he said. “We will work to address these concerns, ensuring that there is equitable distribution of resources throughout our park system.”

"We don’t know the how at this point," he added after the hearing when asked by reporters about addressing equity issues. “Park equity is the goal, and there are many ways to go in that direction.”

One direction we hope City Hall will go: adding that $27 million to the Parks budget. Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine continues to lead the way in negotiations, and many in the Council are backing his request. Discussions will continue over the next several weeks, so it’s not too late to contact your Council Member and City Hall and tell them how much of a difference an additional 50 maintenance workers and 25 gardeners – all full-time – would make for neighborhood parks in need, along with 150 more PEP officers. And, we hope the City will add an additional $4 million to fund 55 new capital division staffers, enabling Parks to start work on capital projects funded by the new $80 million allocated for neighborhood parks.

Budget season is coming down the home stretch, and we hope you’ll join us in urging the Council, and City Hall, to make it clear, through a better public budget, just how important parks are for neighborhood life in every corner of the city.

And the Winner Is...

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Congratulations to Jay Waber of Queens and the Astoria Park Alliance, whose photo of Astoria Park daffodils has been selected as the winner of our annual photo contest. Jay's photo was chosen for both artistic value and exemplifying this year's "Daffodils in the City" theme.


Steve Mercer, Bronx Home for the Aged
Phil Hawkins, Friends of Brower Park
and Margarita Mladenova, also our 2013 winner

Thanks to all who submitted photos!

Addressing Equity Issues Through a Better Capital Process

Thursday, June 05, 2014



For more than a year, we have focused our research and advocacy on reforming the way the Parks Department’s capital process works; namely, by rethinking both how it is funded and how the agency manages the process – with the goal of addressing park equity issues across the city.

With Commissioner Mitchell Silver now in office and budget season heating up, more and more attention is being paid to substantive interventions, like those included in our study, that could truly benefit the park system as a whole.

At last week’s executive budget hearing before the City Council’s Finance and Parks Committees, momentum to reform the capital process continued to build. We heard questions about this issue from Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine and Council Member Brad Lander. And we heard concerns from Commissioner Silver himself, who bemoaned the sluggishness of the capital process. These issues have present for a while, and now, there are signs that they are going to be addressed.

Working with Public Works Partners, a respected urban policy consulting firm, we conducted extensive interviews with several City agencies that oversee capital projects, along with the City’s offices of Management and Budget and Contract Services, to identify best practices as well as problems and constraints that each agency faces. In nearly every facet of the capital process, we discovered that other agencies can provide valuable lessons for the Parks Department to explore.

Funding for the report was provided by Council Members Lander and Vincent Ignizio, and Staten Island Borough President (and former Council Member) James Oddo.

Read the full report here and a story on the report from Capital New York here and The New York Times here.

Creating a better capital process can ultimately play a huge role in addressing park equity issues across the city, and our report offers a number of straightforward steps that the Parks Department can take to ensure a capital process that is timelier, more cost-effective, and transparent.

Perhaps the most significant change must come from City Hall: the Parks Department should have a well-funded, flexible capital budget that it can use to prioritize parks and neighborhoods with the greatest needs.  Because many capital projects rely on funding from Council members and borough presidents – whose priorities are not always aligned with citywide needs – the system simply isn’t designed to reach the areas that need the most help. For an administration so rightfully focused on park equity, here is a perfect example of reform that could make a sweeping difference.

Fortunately, the FY15 executive budget takes a great first step, by allocating $80 million in discretionary capital funding for “neighborhood parks.” Now, we’re hopeful that the final budget, to be released at the end of June, will include an additional $4 million for the Parks Department so it can hire 55 more full-time capital division workers to help get those new projects up and running.

Second, there are several internal steps Parks can take to make the capital process better. A few examples detailed in the report: a faster and more clearly defined design process; a better system for selecting and working with vendors; more collaboration with other City agencies; and through all these changes, ways of fostering a greater sense of accountability within the capital division at Parks. Each of these suggestions is expanded upon in the report.

What’s next? The good news is that this report won’t just go in a drawer somewhere. Commissioner Silver has already begun taking a hard look at reforming the capital division, and the department is using our report as one of the starting points for the assessment.

In the end, this study comes back to that now very familiar phrase: park equity. After all, when we began our work on this topic, our goal was to make the Parks Department really work better for all New Yorkers – and that means more projects in higher-need areas that are addressed in a timelier fashion. That’s a Parks Department benchmark that City Hall and the Council can get behind. This report can help take them there.


Help Secure a Better Parks Budget

Friday, May 16, 2014

Last week's executive budget did not include any of the City Council's requested Parks Department expense budget increase of $27 million.

That funding would, most importantly, go toward the creation of at least 75 full-time maintenance and gardening jobs for parks in need across the city. It would also allow DPR to hire approximately 150 more Parks Enforcement Patrol officers.

While the news is disappointing, there’s reason to be hopeful.

The Council, led by Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine, continues to push City Hall on the request. He made a strong case for the increased funding this week on “The Brian Lehrer Show" on WNYC, and last week sat down with Mayor de Blasio to discuss the potential funding increase.

Levine told Capital New York that the mayor "reiterated his commitment to closing the parks equity gap…He didn't commit on the spot to that money,” Levine said, “but I feel like there's room for discussion there. And there's not a difference on principle I think."

Another sign the mayor wants to make a difference for parks: he has continued to include $80 million in capital funding for use at DPR’s discretion for "neighborhood parks" in the budget, which was inserted by the previous administration in early budget planning last fall. We hope the final budget adds the 55 capital division jobs that DPR has requested to really get those new projects moving forward.

Finally, on Tuesday, amNewYork added to the momentum with this editorial.


·    Call City Hall and your local Council Member and talk to their office about how important a role your local park plays in community, and what a difference more full-time workers would make.

·    Make it clear that the $27 million shouldn't just be added to the budget on a one-time basis
; it should be baselined – that is, made a permanent fixture in the annual budget – so that the new workers and PEP officers truly are full-time, long-term staff additions.

The mayor and council have talked about the importance of community building and of lifting neighborhoods across the city – now's the time to tell them that adding more funding for parks would do just that.

Mott Haven Falls Short of Open Space Benchmarks in New Report

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mayor de Blasio wants to tackle park equity issues. The South Bronx’s Mott Haven neighborhood is a great place to start.

A comprehensive assessment of the area’s open-space resources released Thursday by New Yorkers for Parks paints a picture of a community with great potential, but one that has been neglected for too long.

There are parks and playgrounds, but their equipment is worn and dated. The spaces lack shade trees and green landscaping that would attract visitors and improve the neighborhood's air quality and storm water management. The waterfront and Randall’s Island Park are nearby, but there is little access to them. Open spaces in the neighborhood’s five public housing complexes abound, but could be improved to feel safer and more accessible. And in the once-grand St. Mary’s Park, bathrooms flood, bleachers have been ripped out and pathways are deteriorating. The 35-acre park should be a gem for the neighborhood, which is in the poorest community board district in the city and poorest congressional district in the country.

Ultimately, Mott Haven failed on 11 of 15 open space benchmarks, including the amount of and access to open space, tree canopy, surface permeability and overall maintenance.

“There is a substantial open space canvas to work with in Mott Haven,” said Tupper Thomas, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks. “Armed with our study's findings, the de Blasio administration, which has spoken often about addressing the needs of every-day New Yorkers at the neighborhood level, has a great opportunity to really spearhead an open space renaissance in Mott Haven’s parks and public housing properties. Here is a chance, through significant public investment, for the City to send a strong message about its dedication to solving park equity issues and building more livable neighborhoods in every corner of the city.”

To conduct the study, surveyors assessed 15 categories of open space resources, including the total amount of active and passive open space, walking distances to parks, permeable ground surfacing, and the number of features such as recreational facilities, courts and fields. Each category was then contrasted with citywide benchmarks developed by NY4P in consultation with a variety of urban park policy and planning experts.
In addition to this data, the report offers preliminary recommendations about how local advocates and officials might increase and improve open space in this dense community. Among the recommendations:

·    Make capital investments in aging playgrounds: Local elected officials and the Parks Department should engage with the community to prioritize improvements to spaces like Saw Mill Park, Ranaqua Playground, Playground 134 and Pulaski Playground.

·    Revitalize St. Mary’s Park:
The City should spearhead a major capital and long-term maintenance initiative in what should be one of the great neighborhood parks in the city. A commitment of public funding could also catalyze targeted private open space investments in St. Mary’s and throughout the district.

·    Expand programming, especially in NYCHA developments:
  Our surveyors overwhelmingly found NYCHA open spaces to be places residents, especially women, tend to avoid. Much more should be done to make these spaces desirable and welcoming, and that can start with increased programming and stewardship initiatives, such as through NYCHA’s successful Garden & Greening Program.

·    Take advantage of Randall’s Island Park: Even with the expected completion of a connecting bridge in 2015, getting to the island, which offers a wide array of top-notch recreational amenities, is difficult for most Mott Haven residents. Wayfinding signs, bike lanes, traffic-calming measures and streetscape improvements could help alleviate the issue.

·    Explore creative ways to provide waterfront open spaces: Mott Haven residents and community groups have advocated for better waterfront access for years. There is significant momentum building around better waterfront access: Mayor de Blasio’s recently released Housing New York plan includes a detailed discussion of Harlem River waterfront revitalization, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. discussed a similar proposal in his recent State of the Borough speech.

·    Address public safety: Any attempt to improve open spaces in Mott Haven, which has one of the highest crime rates in the city, must first consider residents’ personal safety concerns. Better maintenance, increased programming and strategic capital investments in parks and open spaces would be a signal from the City that it believes in the neighborhood.

"We have a unique opportunity to address inequities in our park system via the City’s budget, which currently allocates substantial capital dollars for improving our neighborhood parks," said New York City Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the Council's Parks Committee. "The logical next question is: how can we bring fairness and transparency to the process by which these funds will be allocated? This report begins to answer that by providing rich primary source data that will both be a valuable resource toward improving parks infrastructure in Mott Haven and set an example for how we should evaluate all of our parks needs throughout the City."

"New Yorkers for Parks’ report will serve as a guide in helping direct government resources to help meet open space needs in Mott Haven," said Borough President Diaz. "I deeply appreciate the concepts advanced, many of which dovetail with my current open space work in the area.”

Funding for the report was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.


Read the full report

About the Open Space Index project:
NY4P’s open space assessments – this is the 5th – provide residents, civic organizations and elected officials with detailed snapshots of their open space resources – data that can help them prioritize their needs and advocate for strategic investments. The 2010 assessment of Jackson Heights, Queens was the springboard that civic groups and elected officials used to garner support and funding for several recent open space improvements, including a new park and public plaza. The 2012 East Harlem study was done in partnership with Mount Sinai School of Medicine Children’s Environmental Health Center as part of a comprehensive study analyzing the links between local children’s access to a variety of open spaces and their physical activity and health. The 2013 Manhattan East Side report has already catalyzed efforts by a local community board and elected officials to create more open space and improve the East River Esplanade.