Momentum Builds for Parks Budget Increases

Thursday, May 01, 2014

New York City Council Parks & Recreation Committee Chairman Mark Levine has left no doubt that the Council is serious about addressing park equity issues.
Last Thursday, following a hearing on park equity and months of discussion on the topic, Levine announced the Council’s request to City Hall: a $27 million increase of the Parks Department’s maintenance and operations budget.
The time is ripe to take on the equity issue. After all, we have a new administration that talks often, and passionately, about improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers, and especially at a neighborhood level. And as we wrote recently in the Gotham Gazette – and as Council Member Levine noted in his opening statement at last week’s hearing – park issues are, at their core, neighborhood issues. Now is the time to aim high and think big.

That's exactly what the Council is doing. Specifically, the requested amount would provide:
·         $17.5 million for 50 new full-time workers and 25 new full-time gardeners
·         $10 million for 150 new Parks Enforcement Patrol officers

The request takes aim at some the most pressing issues DPR faces. As we noted at the hearing, addressing inequities on the maintenance side should begin through the creation of a new fund for parks most in need (an idea Levine endorsed in his opening statement). First and foremost, that fund should add more full-time workers to a Parks Department whose maintenance staff is 75 percent temporary. Such a jobs program would start to move DPR away from its reliance on roving work crews and really begin to restore some accountability on the ground. In his opening statement, Council Member Levine added some historical perspective:

Even with a small bump-up in the past year, the department’s full-time current headcount of 3,762 is down over 20% since 1987 and down over 37% since 1961 when full-time staff numbered 6,015.  Today New York City’s Parks Department has less than 6 full-time equivalent employees per 10,000 city residents, ranking it 41st out of the 52 largest urban park systems in America, according to a recent analysis by the Trust for Public Land.

At the same time, Levine noted, the ranks of the Park Enforcement Patrol “have been so thinned out that there are only 28 assigned to the 6,000 acres of park land in the Bronx – and as little as 2 on duty on some shifts for the entire borough.” While it’s not their job to combat serious crimes, PEP officers play an important role in enforcing Parks Department rules and addressing quality of life issues in parks.

Our proposed pot of expense funding would provide incoming Commissioner Mitchell Silver, who arrives at the Arsenal May 12, with a tool to start strategically directing resources toward high-need areas with a clear goal: deliver quick, tangible results for park users.

The $27 million request offers Mayor de Blasio an opportunity to start doing just that.
It’s also essential, as we have repeatedly noted over the past year, that Commissioner Silver be granted a similar level of discretion on capital spending. Relying on piecemeal discretionary allocations from Council members and borough presidents for the majority of projects, which has been the case for the better part of two decades, inevitability leads to results that don’t address the areas of highest priority.
Fortunately, there is momentum on that front, too: the FY15 preliminary budget includes a large infusion of capital money to be spent at the discretion of Commissioner Silver, including roughly $80 million earmarked for “neighborhood parks.” This is a critical step in the right direction. We’re also encouraged to see that the Council is supporting a Parks Department request for much-needed capital division staff – 55 new positions – to help DPR both clear its capital backlog caused by Sandy recovery projects and to more efficiently take on the new neighborhood parks projects.

The private sector also has a part to play in helping the City, but that role must be secondary and only in place to augment a more robust, focused public-sector effort. Still, the city’s larger conservancies – several testified at the hearing, including the Central Park Conservancy, Prospect Park Alliance and Friends of the High Line – understand their role in helping lift the system as a whole and are eager to work with both the Council and Commissioner Silver on creating a sustainable, effective plan to do that.

This is, of course, just the start of the equity conversation – really, the wheels won’t start churning until Commissioner Silver starts work. But the Council, particularly Levine and the Parks Committee, are to be commended for their ambitious push toward a more equitable park system.

We were glad to see Mayor de Blasio’s chief spokesperson acknowledge last week in The Wall Street Journal that “we can’t have parks that are so underfunded.” Now, as City Hall weighs the Council’s request and prepares its executive budget, we’re hopeful it will work with the Council to provide Commissioner Silver with the best possible welcome gift to New York City: a reinvigorated Parks budget.

Park Equity Begins with a Better Public Budget

Thursday, April 10, 2014

An early springtime sun was shining down on Seward Park as Mayor de Blasio introduced Mitchell Silver as New York City's next parks commissioner last month on the Lower East Side. It was an inspiring day for park advocates across the city, as both the mayor and incoming commissioner offered thoughtful, even-handed commentary centered on a clear goal: a fairer park system for all New Yorkers.

Now, with budget season upon us, we're pleased to see that the mayor's preliminary budget for parks not only baselines many of the important restorations made over the past few years, such as street-tree care and stump removal, but funds items up front that are usually subject to the annual budget dance, such as Playground Associates and seasonal workers to staff pools, among other facilities.

This good news gives the parks community the opportunity to turn its attention to the larger issue of addressing inequities across the park system – including at a city council hearing next Wednesday, April 23rd. The solution is complex and nuanced. While many of the large park conservancies are ready to work with the commissioner on bringing more private resources – financial and otherwise – to parks in need, it's clear, as council parks and recreation committee chair Mark Levine noted recently in the Huffington Post, that addressing inequities must begin with the public budget. There are several specific budget and policy reforms that the administration and its Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) can undertake in the name of equity and fairness.

Expense budget

On the expense side, fostering greater equity will require addressing the top concern of many local park advocates across the city: there simply isn't enough full-time staff assigned to the parks that need them most. Rather, 75 percent of DPR's maintenance staff is made up of Job Training Participants (JTP) who work at DPR up to six months but are almost never given an opportunity for permanent employment once their training is complete. "Almost as soon as they're really up to speed on the park, they cycle out," a local advocate told us recently. Her comment rings true across the city.

At the same time, many advocates tell us that having full-time staff – a familiar face in the park – goes a long way toward improving the overall park experience for users. These issues offer Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Silver an opportunity to both address park equity issues and create good entry-level jobs.
What would those jobs be, where would they make the most immediate impact, and how much money is needed to create them? A good place to start would be to create a neighborhood parks fund of $10 million, which would allow Commissioner Silver to work with the Council on a plan that really starts to address needs in underserved parks. Here are a few ways such a fund could be spent in high-need areas:

·    $4 million for 100 full-time workers to staff playgrounds with comfort stations.

·    $3 million for 50 skilled full-time gardeners to help maintain midsized neighborhood parks

Our organization learned first-hand how important these positions are when we helped lead the Neighborhood Parks Initiative almost 10 years ago.

Not only would these new positions start making a difference for parks most in need right away, but they’d offer an opportunity for the Department’s part-time workers to gain full-time employment through a new, robust training program to help transition JTP staff into full-time maintenance workers and gardeners.

·    $3 million for park-tree pruning and stump removal. Though DPR has shortened its street-tree pruning cycle thanks to recent budget restorations, it still prunes very few park trees.

·    $2 million would allow DPR to prune at least about 25,000 trees in parks: a good start toward a pruning cycle.

·    An additional million dollars would allow DPR to remove approximately 4,000 more stumps.

Capital budget

There is also an opportunity to address park inequities through the capital budget. In recent years, the Department of Parks and Recreation has not had a meaningful discretionary budget to really enable it to plan for and fund capital projects over time across parks citywide. Rather, DPR has been reliant for funding for the majority of its projects on piecemeal discretionary allocations from city council members and borough presidents. Cobbling together allocations over multiple fiscal years from different elected officials is inefficient, leads to inequitable results, and often means the nuts-and-bolts needs of parks across the city fall through the cracks.

We are pleased to see that our call for increased discretionary capital funding, as highlighted in our Parks Platform 2013, seems to have been heard: the initial fiscal year 2015 budget contains a significant amount of capital funding for parks, and it appears to be at the discretion of Commissioner Silver. We call on the Council and administration to ensure that this funding remains in the final budget. At the same time, our recent research on improving the timeliness of capital construction shows that funding should be added to the budget for additional full-time positions in the capital division.

The introduction of Mitchell Silver, an urban planner, ushered in a new era not only for New York City's parks, but for its neighborhoods. After all, parks lie at the heart of city neighborhood life, in every corner of each borough – infrastructure as essential as housing, sewer lines and roads. The community building impact these spaces have extends far beyond their boundaries. Park issues are neighborhood issues.

As Commissioner Silver takes office, we're hopeful the administration and Council will supply him with the budgetary tools needed to really address inequity – and, in turn, lift the park system as a whole.

The above piece was published in Gotham Gazette on April 17, 2014

2014 Daffodil Project Awardees Announced

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Last fall, NY4P brought the Daffodil Project to schools and New York City Housing Authority developments hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, including in Broad Channel and Far Rockaway, Queens, Midland Beach in Staten Island, Red Hook, Brooklyn and Manhattan’s East Village. As these and millions more daffodils eek their way into bloom after the long winter, NY4P will honor five outstanding participants next Thursday at the Annual Daffodil Breakfast at Bryant Park Grill.

2014 Lynden B. Miller Citywide Daffodil Award Recipient

Horticultural Society of New York
Sara Hobel & Hilda Krus
GreenHouse Program

NY4P staff boarded a bus before 7am last fall at Queensboro Plaza, bound for Rikers Island. There, we spent the day with Krus, planting daffodils bulbs in a traffic circle that greets jail visitors and staff, and on a lawn next to the juvenile detention center. This memorable morning was made possible through the remarkable work of the Horticultural Society of New York’s GreenHouse Program, which has engaged pre-release Rikers inmates since 1989. Since then, program participants have started a successful on-site greenhouse and designed several acres of gardens. And a new public-private partnership through the initiative works to employ graduates of the program as horticultural maintenance staffers at Department of Transportation Public Plazas, particularly those in lower-income communities.

Borough Award Recipients

Justin Czarka and Grace Binuya
P.S. 48 Joseph Rodman Drake School and Hunts Point Slave Burial Ground Project

In 2010, P.S. 48 teacher Justin Czarka found a photo from the turn of the century that piqued his curiosity. It described a slave burial ground in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx, where the school is located. Determined to find out exactly where the ground was located, he and colleague Grace Binuya developed a new curriculum and led their students on a search for clues. Their work led them to nearby Joseph Rodman Drake Park. A recent federal site survey has confirmed their finding. Now, their work at the park has evolved into a broader stewardship effort. Last fall, NY4P joined them to plant daffodils there, which will serve as an annual reminder of a site that had long been forgotten.

Anne Marie Rameau
Breukelen Sight Garden, Brooklyn

Anne Marie Rameau didn’t just attend NY4P’s distribution at the Seth Low Houses in Brownsville to pick up her daffodil bulbs. Almost immediately upon her arrival, she was busy clearing out the butterfly garden in front of the community center. A few hours later, weeds had been cleared and the space was ripe for planting. This work was nothing new for her. With the help of the New York City Housing Authority’s Garden and Greening Program, Rameau has cultivated a sprawling garden at the Breukelen Houses, in Canarsie, since she moved there in the late 70s. Her work illustrates not only how essential the Housing Authority’s gardening program is across the city, but also the potential of often-overlooked NYCHA open spaces.

Richard Toussaint
Harlem River Park Task Force

In the 1980s, there was no park along the shores of the upper Harlem River: just an inaccessible stretch of land sandwiched between the river and the Harlem River Drive. Richard Toussaint helped change that. He pushed the Parks Department to acquire and develop the space, and when Harlem River Park opened late 90s, his dream was largely realized. Now, he continues to advocate for the park’s expansion as a member of the Harlem River Park Task Force – a complex task given the array of city and state agencies that control land adjacent to the park. Between a slew of community meetings, he finds time to join NY4P in the park – both for cleanups and Daffodil Project plantings.

Rockaway Waterfront Alliance

At a moment when there is no shortage of public officials and planners from New York City and beyond thinking about the long-term future of the Rockaway peninsula’s waterfront, the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance is working on the ground to foster a deeper connection between the community and its shoreline. Much of their work is focused on greening open spaces through local school partnerships. In 2013, Dupont, the Alliance’s founder, hosted a Daffodil Project distribution event, NY4P’s first in the Rockaways. Daffodils are, of course, just a small symbol of resilience. But this spring, they are a bright spot in an area still struggling to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

Staten Island
Friends of Historic Tappen Park

Stapleton, on Staten Island, was once a center of commerce, home to several German-American breweries in the 19th century. But the 1964 completion of the Verrazno-Narrows Bridge shifted the Island’s commercial center away from the neighborhood, and the community felt the economic effects. Tappen Park suffered too. Kamillah Hanks was elected to lead the newly formed Friends of Historic Tappen Park in 1999, and has since worked to restore the greenspace’s role as a true town square. She has partnered with the city to being bring programming to the park, and has cultivated a local volunteer network that includes local businesses and a nearby school for autistic children. Now, she says, the neighborhood is on an upswing – and that it all flows from the park at its center.

Statement from New Yorkers for Parks Executive Director Tupper Thomas on the Appointment of Mitchell Silver

Friday, March 21, 2014

Parks lie at the heart of New York City neighborhood life, in every corner of every borough – infrastructure as essential as housing, sewer lines and roads. The impact these spaces have extends far beyond their boundaries.
It is for this reason that we commend Mayor de Blasio’s appointment of Mitchell Silver as the next commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Commissioner Silver’s expertise in planning and community development is an inspiring signal that the de Blasio administration acknowledges the essential role parks play in the health and development of our city’s neighborhoods.
The opportunity before Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Silver is complex, but golden: creating a more equitable park system for all New Yorkers. The solution must be a nuanced one. First and foremost, the public budget for park maintenance and operations should be increased, and more full-time jobs should be created. The city’s successful, established conservancies – an essential pillar of our park system – have a role to play, too. The key to involving the private sector is to bring these groups into the fold, as part of the solution.
As the city’s leading park research and advocacy organization for more than 100 years, New Yorkers for Parks looks forward to working with Commissioner Silver on these and a host of other essential issues, working to build a stronger New York with great parks – and great neighborhoods.

Tupper Thomas appeared on NY1's "Inside City Hall" last Friday to discuss top priorities for Commissioner Silver. You can watch it here (Time Warner Cable subscription required).

Daffodils in the City

Thursday, March 20, 2014

We're pleased to announce the opening of our annual Daffodil Project photo contest to all amateur photographers, gardeners, and New Yorkers who love their parks. We're excited to see the beautiful results of the hard work of the volunteers who have helped to plant more than five million daffodil bulbs every fall since 2001.

This year, our photo contest theme is Daffodils in the City. We want to highlight the unique juxtaposition that occurs every spring  as daffodils bloom in NYC's dense urban environment. Show us your best shot of the blooms in front of your high-rise, or the daffodils that greet you as you run in the park every morning. We are looking for images that truly convey the incredible impact these little flowers have on making our city a more beautiful place. A preference will be given to photos that show flowers in an urban, NYC-centric context.

Email photos to Photos must be in jpeg format, ideally with resolution suitable for printing (300+ dpi). No filters, please! The photograph of the blooming daffodil(s) must have been taken in one of NYC’s five boroughs in the spring of 2014. Daffodils must be found growing (please do not cut and place daffodils in a different location).

When submitting your photograph, please provide: name of photographer, phone number, address, date the photo was taken, and the exact location (park, intersection, etc.) where the picture was taken in the body of the email. If you are a member of the community group that planted the bulbs, please include the name of your group as well. Please put “Daffodil photo contest submission” in the subject line of the email.

All submissions will be uploaded to New Yorkers for Parks' Facebook page. Winners will be chosen based on content and artistic value. The submissions that receive the highest number of votes from our Facebook “fans” will advance to the final round of judging.

Photographers will retain the copyright and all other rights to photographs submitted except those rights specifically listed below.

Good luck!

You are granting New Yorkers for Parks a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free license to publish the photographs you enter in editorial, educational, promotional and other uses. Unless otherwise stated, you also grant New Yorkers for Parks the right to use your name in connection with the photograph as well as in promotions and other publications associated with the contest. By submitting your photo, you are agreeing to these terms.

Tupper Thomas Named Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tupper Thomas, a nationally renowned parks expert who spearheaded the rebirth of Brooklyn's Prospect Park, has been named Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks. 

Thomas retired in February 2011 after 30 years as Administrator of the 580-acre Prospect Park and 23 years as the founding President of the Prospect Park Alliance. She was responsible for the ongoing operation of the park and its multimillion-dollar restoration. 

She will start at New Yorkers for Parks in early March.

“Not only is Tupper a leading expert on park management and policy, but she’s also a revered figure within the parks community – both in New York and across the country,” said Edward C. Wallace, Chairman of New Yorkers for Parks. “As a new administration takes office with a focus on equity, she’ll ensure that New Yorkers for Parks continues to provide a valuable, and trusted, voice on behalf of neighborhood parks in every corner of the city.”

“New Yorkers for Parks plays a critical role, both in helping to inform park policy through research, but also as an advocate on behalf of park users across the city,” Thomas said. “More than nearly any other city service, parks lie at the heart of neighborhood life in New York City. That fact has helped guide my career, and it crystallized why, with the de Blasio Administration poised to focus on neighborhood parks, I decided to come out of retirement to join the city’s leading independent park research and advocacy organization.” 

Community outreach and participation was a centerpiece of Thomas’ work at the Alliance. In the mid-1990s, she formed the Alliance’s Community Committee, which continues to meet monthly and comprises more than 50 local organizations, including community boards and elected officials surrounding the park. The Committee has served as a model for other public-private park organizations across the country.

Prior to Thomas’ retirement from the Alliance, The New York Times noted in 2010 that she “has become a Brooklyn institution and is widely seen as the park’s indefatigable savior.”

“Few are the public servants who deserve credit for personally improving the quality of life for millions of New Yorkers,” The New York Daily News wrote in a 2010 editorial. “Tupper Thomas is one of them.”

During her time at the Alliance, annual park usership increased from 1.7 million to more than 10 million. She oversaw several significant restoration projects within the park, including the Ravine and Carousel, and helped springboard fundraising for the Lakeside restoration project. 

For the past 14 years Thomas has served as a board member of the City Parks Alliance, the leading independent national organization that advocates for urban parks. She was a founding member of the group in 2000 and served as its Co-Chair for seven years. She has received numerous awards, including the American Society of Landscape Architects' LaGasse Award, and has been a guest speaker for parks groups throughout the United States and abroad.

Thomas holds a Master’s degree in Urban Planning from Pratt Institute and a BA from Goucher College.

She takes over for Holly Leicht, who left New Yorkers for Parks in January to serve as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Regional Administrator for the New York/New Jersey region. 

“In a field of very distinguished candidates to replace Holly Leicht, Tupper stood apart," Wallace said. "It is a tribute to Holly and the entire NY4P staff that someone of Tupper's stature would come out of retirement to lead New Yorkers for Parks.”

Transition Recommendations for the de Blasio Administration: Four Ways to Equitably Improve NYC’s Parks

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In every neighborhood, in every borough, parks bring together New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds unlike any other public amenity. They lie at the heart of our neighborhood life, fostering community and providing peaceful respite and healthy recreational opportunities amidst a dense urban environment.  Keeping all our parks well programmed, safe and beautiful for all New Yorkers to enjoy is integral to the very lifeblood of our city. Quite simply, neighborhoods without quality parks and public spaces are not places where people want to live. 

Maintaining and programming all 30,000 acres of city parkland requires both informed decision-making about resource allocation and an acknowledgment of the unique value of these spaces. For more than 100 years, New Yorkers for Parks has protected, studied and fought for our city’s parks. Our positions are informed by in-depth, independent research, making us the city's premier park advocacy group and the most trusted citywide voice among local park groups and City officials alike.

Adopting the following recommendations would send a resounding message from the de Blasio Administration that acknowledges the value of parks as critical components of healthy neighborhoods in every corner of the city – and that when it comes to parks, equity matters.

1. Give the Parks Department a well-funded, flexible capital budget to plan a long-term pipeline that targets parks most in need.

Unlike many agencies that oversee a large portfolio of capital projects, the Parks Department does not have a meaningful discretionary budget enabling it to plan for and fund capital projects over time across parks citywide.  Rather, the Department has been reliant for funding for the majority of its projects on piecemeal discretionary allocations from City Council Members and Borough Presidents, whose priorities may not align with each other or with the on-the-ground assessment of needs within the Department.  Cobbling together allocations over multiple fiscal years from different elected officials is inefficient, leads to inequitable results, and often means the nuts-and-bolts needs of parks across the city fall through the cracks.  The Bloomberg Administration provided consistent capital funding for parks, but those funds have been targeted to a limited number of large-scale projects.  Without increasing the Mayoral budget for parks by a single dollar beyond the current level, giving the Parks Department a discretionary capital budget to target and prioritize spending across the park system based on need would do more than any other single action to address disparate conditions among parks citywide. And park capital projects would get done in a timelier, more cost-effective manner than today.

2. Create a new jobs program that would give temporary workers a meaningful chance at full-time work within the Parks Department.

The Parks Department’s maintenance budget was slashed for many budget cycles, leaving the Department woefully understaffed to care for its 30,000 acres of parkland.  Seventy-five percent of the maintenance staff is made up of Job Training Participants who work at the Department up to six months but are almost never given an opportunity for permanent employment once their training is complete.  The new Mayor could show commitment to both improving neighborhood parks and creating new jobs by developing a program that would provide a robust training program and transition qualified temporary workers into full-time positions as park maintenance workers over time.  

3. Be a leader in protecting New York’s public realm by restricting and strongly regulating the privatization of parkland.

In a city as densely built as New York, parks should be vigorously protected and should be the last places considered for non-park uses.  Parkland alienation should only occur if the City can show that there is no other land available for an essential municipal need.  And when parkland is alienated, the law should require that it be replaced acre-for-acre with new, proximate parkland of comparable size and program.

Parks are not potential development sites and should not be considered viable locations for economic development projects, no matter how worthy the project.  We have already given away too much of our parkland for stadiums and other so-called “compatible” private uses; it is up to the new Mayor to draw the line.  

4. Be the Mayor for NYC neighborhoods by integrating the public realm, physically and administratively.

Parks are part of a broad network of public spaces that provides the physical foundation of every New York City neighborhood.  Parks need to be considered as part of the larger infrastructure of neighborhoods and the city as a whole, and City agencies must coordinate to create a safe, cohesive public realm.  Too often City agencies operate in silos, but interagency cooperation is essential if New York is to be a truly sustainable urban environment.  The Parks Department, DOT, DEP, SCA, and NYCHA all have open space in their jurisdictions, and the operation of the spaces should be coordinated to maximize public use and resiliency measures.

In Memoriam: Greg Hopper

Monday, February 10, 2014

Saint John’s Pentecostal Church was packed to the rafters on January 3. But four blocks to the east, in Harlem River Park, something just wasn’t right.

Greg Hopper wasn’t there.

Not teaching neighborhood children how to fish; not walking his pit bull, Blue; not providing support for the park’s homeless encampment under the 135th Street FDR Drive overpass. He had been a nearly constant presence in the park for more than ten years, and made people from all walks of life feel welcome there. But when he passed away of a heart attack on December 26, he left a void along the shores of the lower Harlem that may be impossible to fill.

If the park was empty on that Friday in January, it’s because most of its regular users were at Hopper’s services – whether they had known him for years or had simply fished with him once.

“This is a man who touched people,” said Richard Toussaint, a longtime park advocate and member of the Harlem River Park Task Force who lives in the building where Hopper lived. “He brought our community into the park. When he passed, it broke everyone’s heart.”            

Hopper, who was in his mid-40s, was memorable to anyone who met him simply because he was such an enormous man.

“You’d see him and you’d jump back,” Toussaint said. “He’d walk toward you with his pit bull and you’d expect him to be outside a nightclub throwing people across the street. But he’d open the door to you before you even had a chance. The guy had a smile that would make the devil give up his horns. And Blue was as friendly as Greg was.”

“He was the eyes and ears of the park,” said Lucian Reynolds, an urban planner at the Harlem Community Development Corporation, which sponsors the park’s Task Force. “His touch was always attuned to what was going on around him, and to the needs of those around him.”

Hopper employed that touch when dealing with a seemingly intractable problem in the park: its longstanding homeless encampment.

“He approached them with the idea that parks can have many uses, and that even if not everyone likes it, this is how these people had decided to use the space,” Reynolds said.

Hopper enlisted the help of a nearby social service agency, and at the same time – with a social worker’s sensitivity – gently convinced many in the encampment to be receptive to the agency’s assistance.

On the other end of the park, Hopper was a member of the A-Team, the park’s longtime fishing contingent.

“Everyone in the park knows the A-Team,” Toussaint said. “They said hello to anyone passing through, and they’d take their time to teach anyone who wanted how to fish. They bring people on board, welcome them back. If you live in NYC, you have an open invitation to join them.”

Not only was Hopper a leader of the group, but he went out of his way to help others get involved. Last July at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance’s City of Water Day, he was concerned that there weren’t enough supplies for all the children who’d want to fish. Though the budget had run out, he spent his own money to buy hooks and bait.

“We had run out of money and he looked at me and said ‘I got this,’” Toussaint said. “Eight out of 10 kids were catching fish that day. These were kids who were fishing for the first time.”

Hopper also ran karate and exercise classes for children, and relentlessly cleaned the park and its overpasses, which are too often littered with syringes and other illicit materials. NY4P staff members joined him for such a cleanup on a sweltering day last July.

“It didn’t matter how uncomfortable it was – he was going to get it done,” Reynolds said.

Hopper employed that same approach many times on behalf of the park, particularly when it suffered extensive damage in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. After the storm, Toussaint said, Hopper was “like the jolly green giant out there cleaning, like a human bulldozer.”

In speech after speech at the funeral service, neighbors and friends recalled stories like this, and now must come to terms with a Harlem River Park without Greg Hopper.

“If,” Reynolds said, “there was an architectural rendering of the park, you know, with all of the people using it for different activities, Greg was all of them in real life.” 

Holly Leicht Appointed HUD Regional Administrator for New York/New Jersey

Thursday, January 02, 2014

New Yorkers for Parks Executive Director Holly Leicht has been appointed by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan to serve as Regional Administrator of HUD Region II, which comprises New York and New Jersey. In her new role, Leicht will be instrumental in carrying out ongoing Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts in the region.

Her final day at New Yorkers for Parks will be January 10, 2014. A search for her successor is underway.

“New Yorkers for Parks has had extraordinary success under Holly’s leadership,” said Edward C. Wallace, Chairman of New Yorkers for Parks. “It’s rare to find a leader who possesses such a sterling combination of passionate idealism and strategic pragmatism. Thanks to that combination, New Yorkers for Parks has truly made an impact and delivered results during her nearly three-year tenure.

“As the city’s premier parks advocacy organization for more than 100 years, we look forward to building on Holly’s accomplishments, working with the de Blasio Administration, City Council and parks advocates across the city to help ensure that every New Yorker, in every neighborhood, has access to quality parks and open spaces for generations to come.”

Bronx Shapes Advocate’s Identity as She Greens its Parks

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bronx is Blooming volunteers.

In the past two and a half years, Jenn Beaugrand’s Bronx is Blooming nonprofit has overseen 18,000 hours of park volunteer work – as many as nine years of work by a fulltime Parks Department employee. After Hurricane Sandy, Bronx is Blooming volunteers logged 2100 hours of cleanup work.
She has worked hard to cultivate her network of helpers: from students at Lehman College, which named her its 2012/2013 Outstanding Community Partner of the Year, to volunteer organizations like buildOn and New York Cares.
It’s no surprise, then, that she’s become a fixture in the Bronx park advocacy world since starting the organization in 2011, and is a familiar face in parks across the South Bronx – including Claremont, Mullaly, Franz Sigel, Joyce Kilmer and Hunts Point Riverside, to name a few.
“She’s the most enthusiastic person you could ever know,” said Dart Westphal, a longtime Bronx advocate and former President of the Moshulu Preservation Coalition. “She just knows how to get people involved and to care about a space. She has a tenacity and energy that’s unusual.”
It’s that tenacity – an innate ability to get people hooked – that draws volunteers in: from students who may begin with little enthusiasm, to Bronx park-users she recruits as they’re passing by.
Case in point: Alice, who was walking her dog in Williamsbridge Oval Park in 2005 when she passed Beaugrand, who was then a Parks Department worker, gardening. Before she knew it, Alice had tied her dog’s leash to Beaugrand’s wheelbarrow, put down her coffee and spent the next four hours working with her.
“After that she became my dedicated Sunday volunteer,” Beaugrand said.
Then there are the students, most of whom hadn’t spent much time thinking about park stewardship before they met Beaugrand. For example, Oscar (his name has been changed), with whom she worked last summer, now notices even the smallest of New York City streetscape features: tree pits.
“This spoke to the heart of what we are trying to achieve,” Beaugrand said. “Here was a student and Bronx resident who had never thought about his environment, and we brought it to the forefront of his attention.”
And not only does Bronx is Blooming help raise her volunteers’ consciousness of local environmental issues; it also highlights the critical role parks play in community building and neighborhood life.
“[Bronx is Blooming] gives our students and volunteers the opportunity to connect to people they would not necessarily meet, making use of the park as an equalizer,” Beaugrand said. “It gives our youth the opportunity to be leaders in their communities.”
Bronx is Blooming volunteers are highly efficient and organized. They fan out across parks in teams, hauling debris, removing invasive species, mulching and planting daffodils.
Beaugrand has been one of the most prolific participants in New Yorkers for Parks’ Daffodil Project for several years. Her work with Westphal earned the Moshulu Preservation Coalition Preservation NY4P’s Bronx Borough Award in 2009, and this fall, Bronx is Blooming volunteers planted more than 1,500 bulbs in Franz Sigel Park, and thousands more across the borough.
On a weekday afternoon last August in Claremont Park, Beaugrand proudly pointed to a few of her group’s successes: a hillside restored after Sandy, trees free of invasive vines, and grassy areas neatly defined with fresh mulch.
A constant theme of any conversation with Beaugrand about her work is her effusive praise for the Bronx Parks Department staff, with whom she works closely and has a special bond; after all, it’s where she got her start in the parks world in 2005, as a gardener in Williamsbridge Oval Park. She recalls how welcoming the staff was to “the new girl” with little gardening experience, who had travelled all the way from Brooklyn to the northwest Bronx.
Particularly inspiring for her was Juan Morales, a former longtime Parks Crew Chief at Williamsbridge Oval, who helped her understand the importance of a reliably constant presence – a familiar face – for park-users.
Now, she often fills that same role in South Bronx parks that were once more synonymous with the burnt-out buildings alongside them than anything grown within. That’s the Bronx Beaugrand grew up too often hearing about on Manhattan’s east side.
“There was often a perception of the Bronx as an unsafe place,” she said. “But that’s the antithesis of my experience there. There’s a sense of community here. It seems like those who have stayed are stronger for it.”
Now, having forged not only professional but also personal relationships in the Bronx, she, too, is staying. This month she’ll move into an apartment near Franz Sigel Park, by Yankee Stadium.

Reporting contributed by NY4P Communications Intern Erica Cooperberg.