News

Participatory Budgeting Turns Out New Yorkers for Parks

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Last spring, New Yorkers in eight City Council districts made clear through the Participatory Budgeting (PB) process just how important parks are to them and their neighborhoods.

PB is an initiative gaining popularity nationwide, through which community members determine directly how to spend part of the public budget. And last spring, thousands of New Yorkers chose parks.

In 2011, four New York City Council Members – Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Eric Ulrich, and Jumaane D. Williams – dedicated a portion of their discretionary funding to the process, allowing their constituents to develop proposals and vote on how those funds would be spent.  Last budget cycle, four more Council Members – David Greenfield, Dan Halloran, Stephen Levin and Mark Weprin – joined the PB movement.

In all, more than a million New Yorkers live in PB districts, and the eight Council Members dedicated more than $10 million toward the 46 winning projects in PB's second year.

When the time came to vote on the various proposals last April, park projects emerged as the most popular, with 260 proposed projects out of 1,641 total.

In the end, the PB process yielded 24 park and open space improvement projects across the city.  To name a few: renovated basketball courts in East Harlem’s Thomas Jefferson Park; an enhanced concert stage and picnic area in Fresh Meadows’ Cunningham Park; ADA-compliant access ramps to the beach in the Rockaways; and a revamped dog run for East River State Park in Williamsburg.

The third season of PB is now in full swing, and over the next month you can attend a Neighborhood Assembly to help decide which projects move forward to a vote in the spring.

Click here to find out if your district participates in PB, and to learn how to get involved this fall to help ensure parks remain a top priority in this ambitious program.

Latest Mayor's Management Report Shows Progress in Maintenance and Tree Care

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), an annual report card of City government performance, tracks key metrics for each City agency, and as usual, NY4P took a hard look at the Parks Department (DPR) section upon the recent release of the Fiscal Year 2013 MMR, which you can download here.  The good news is there is nothing as dramatic as the plunge in recreation center memberships that took place last year after the City increased fees for adults and seniors.  Here’s a closer look at the major indicators in this year’s report on the Parks Department:

Overall Maintenance

While DPR’s Park Inspection Program (PIP) average scores improved in small parks and playgrounds from 79 to 83 and in large parks from 69 to 74, both categories still fall short of the PIP target of 85. Clearly, large parks continue to pose a significant maintenance hurdle. As we found in our most recent Report Card on Large Parks, the average performance of parks improved, but DPR is forced to distribute too few resources over too many spaces.

Tree Care

In a challenging year for tree care, the Parks Department made positive strides in pruning, thanks to a $2 million increase in its pruning budget, and emergency funding in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. DPR pruned nearly 47,000 trees, compared to just 29,000 last year. Though still less than the nearly 80,000 pruned in FY 2009, it gets the department back on track for keeping to the ideal 7- to 8-year pruning cycle. One statistic to work on: a nearly two-week average response time for emergency tree-limb repairs, further illustrating the salience of one of the 10 goals in NY4P’s Parks Platform 2013:  DPR should be viewed as an essential service agency, subject to more modest staff cuts than non-essential service agencies.

Crime

Crime is only tracked in 30 large parks – not nearly enough to draw meaningful conclusions about park crime citywide. Nevertheless, it’s troubling to see that major felony crimes increased by 23 percent in FY13. It is worth noting that 55 percent of all property crimes took place in only two parks, Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Randall's Island, both of which have large parking lots for events, and that more than half of all crimes against persons occurred in three parks: Prospect, Crotona and Riverside.  We’d like to see DPR to work with the NYPD to dig into this data to understand why these specific parks saw a spike in these specific crimes, and to develop targeted prevention strategies where appropriate.

Recreation Center Memberships

Last year’s MMR revealed a 45.5 percent decrease in recreation center memberships among adults and seniors between 2011 and 2012 – a drop that followed a decision by the Parks Department to double membership fees for adults, and more than double fees for seniors in response to a mandated citywide budget reduction. (Memberships for kids under 18 remain free and saw no change in number.) The strategy backfired, resulting in a revenue loss of $200,000, instead of the projected $4 million gain. Membership stayed low through the first four months of FY 2013, falling below a million visitors for the first time since 2008. In January, we were pleased to hear Parks Commissioner Veronica White announce a new reduced $25 dollar annual membership for 18- to 24-year-olds – a group that declined by 55 percent over the past two years – along with an outreach campaign to seniors, many of whom were unaware they were grandfathered at the former rates. Last year’s MMR broke down membership statistics into each category – youths, adults and seniors – but this year’s only provides total memberships, making an annual comparison more difficult. The report’s narrative does note a 28 percent increase in youth memberships and a more than 8 percent increase in adult memberships, but a full breakdown by membership category would help assess whether DPR’s renewed efforts to increase membership levels are successful. The new young adult category took effect in July 2013, and we look forward to assessing its impact in the next MMR.

Supporting Conservancies – and Making Them Better

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Despite their significant role in some of the city’s most utilized parks, conservancies – non-profit organizations that have varying operating agreements with the Parks Department – have only been around since the mid-1980s.  Most began as grassroots efforts aimed at improving abysmal conditions in parks resulting from the City’s fiscal crisis of the ‘70s.  Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteer groups dedicated to New York’s parks, but fewer than 30 that have formal legal agreements with the City.

And even those organizations with legal agreements have differing roles. Most fundraise and operate programs, some provide park maintenance, and several undertake capital projects with oversight by the Parks Department. The work they do, and particularly the private funds they raise, allows the Department to spread its public budget more broadly across the parks system as a whole. For this reason, these organizations benefit all New York City parks, not just those in which they operate.

Some critics argue that conservancies remove control of parks from the Parks Department, encouraging privatization of these public assets, and breed inequity among parks.  But the reality is the opposite.

Conservancies have a dual reporting structure for maximum oversight. In almost every case, the head of the conservancy is also the park administrator, meaning he or she reports jointly to a nonprofit board of directors that bears fiscal responsibility for its activities, and to the borough commissioner of the Parks Department. As nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations, conservancies have to account to the IRS for every dollar they bring in and spend, and this financial information is publicly available. In addition, the Parks Department has ultimate approval over all decisions and activities of conservancies. Far from ceding control, this belt-and-suspenders approach means there are more checks and balances for these parks than for other city parks.

As for inequity, while there’s no doubt that conditions vary from park to park across the five boroughs, our research on public-private partnerships and park maintenance makes clear that singling out conservancies as the source of the problem misses the mark.  Parks with conservancies are not uniformly better maintained than those without. That's in part because the majority of conservancies have modest revenues and struggle to keep their parks at a standard of care that New Yorkers rightly expect. To truly address inequitable park conditions, the Parks Department needs more full-time maintenance and enforcement staff, and it needs greater control of its capital budget so it can target funds more effectively, prioritizing those parks with the greatest need.  It is by bolstering and redistributing the public budget for parks, not reallocating relatively small amounts of private funding, that we will equalize the standard of care across all 1,700 city parks.

All this is not to say the conservancy model is perfect. Last year, NY4P analyzed 26 legal agreements between conservancies and the Parks Department and developed the following recommendations to encourage greater consistency, transparency and accountability, while still allowing for flexibility in recognition of the diversity among these organizations:

1)    There are now enough conservancies in existence to identify what works and what doesn’t.  A standard license agreement should be developed, incorporating best practices from existing agreements. This new template should be used for organizations seeking to enter into their first license agreement with DPR, as well as for organizations whose agreements are being renegotiated at the end of their terms.

2)    All agreements should require that the DPR Commissioner and relevant borough commissioner be ex officio members of the organization’s board of directors to ensure DPR involvement in decision-making. In addition, Community Committees such as that for Prospect Park should be required to ensure public input.

3)    All organizations' 990 tax filings should be available in one place on the DPR website. Ideally, DPR would also require organizations to report their financial information annually in a more simplified, consistent form that would be posted on its website.

4)    Parks maintained by private organizations should be held to the same maintenance standards as other city parks.  License agreements should explicitly mandate that all parks be inspected through PIP, the department’s Parks Inspection Program.

Public-private partnerships for parks are still relatively new, but we now have enough experience with them in New York City to tweak the model and encourage best practices as we move forward to renew agreements and create new conservancies.  New Yorkers for Parks firmly believes that conservancies play a critical role in helping to manage our city’s parks, and with increased consistency and transparency, they will be even more effective in assisting the Parks Department so that precious public resources can be weighted toward those parks most in need of them.

Meet a New Yorker for Parks: Pat Jacobs

Monday, September 16, 2013

By Erica Cooperberg, NY4P Communications Intern

The imposing brick wall of the Jackie Robinson Park Pool casts a formidable shadow along Bradhurst Avenue in Harlem. But from her favorite seat opposite the bandshell, Pat Jacobs has watched the park transform into a welcoming neighborhood retreat.

“It’s a hub of neighborhood activity – of all kinds,” she observed on a recent visit to the park, gesturing toward nearby park-users, including students writing in notebooks, a grandmother eating sandwiches with her young granddaughters, and a girl taking a break from her workout to chat on her phone.

Today, Jackie Robinson Park hosts a steady stream of visitors taking advantage of its pool, weight room, playgrounds, handball court, baseball fields, cooking classes, library, bandshell performances, and Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation's after-school program. But it hasn't always been this way.
 
Longtime community members remember the 80s, when the park suffered from severe neglect and became a haven for drug activity. And they remember, Jacobs said, that it took a real effort from the community itself to bring the park back to life.
 
The Jackie Robinson Park Conservancy was created in 1999, and with the continued love and attention of park stewards, it has evolved into an effective partner with the Parks Department and its local manager.
 
That success, Jacobs says, is largely due to the makeup of her group. She moved to Harlem in the early 1990s, joined Community Board 10, and joined the Conservancy soon after. Its board includes, among others, an environmentalist, doctor, forensic accountant, government affairs consultant, social worker, curator, and developer, along with several entrepreneurs, social-service providers and educators.

 “It’s like seeing the park through a kaleidoscope,” she said of serving on the board. “It mimics the diversity of our community.”
 
Their work has provided tangible results. Aided by grants from the City and elected officials, the Conservancy hosts concerts and annual holiday events. And they’ve helped cultivate a sense of community pride and ownership in the park.
 
“We have helped bring accountability,” Jacobs said. “We’re seeing more and more that people love this park, and it has grown into a community. If someone’s walking their dog they know we’re going to be making sure they have that little blue bag. They know it’s their responsibility to clean up. If you drop paper or litter in the park, they know people will say, ‘What are you doing?’”
 
As if on cue, Jacobs was stopped minutes later along the park’s Bradhurst Avenue edge by a woman who was troubled by how dirty the playground’s rubber safety surfacing was, suggesting they bring in water to clean the mats. Jacobs was proud to note that such concern for the park is common – even if park-goers aren’t directly affected by a problem or don’t get credit for attending to it.
 
But loyal park-users reap other benefits, like camaraderie with the park’s Recreation Specialist Jeffrey McFarlane, who seemed to know the name of every person who walked through the doors of the recreation center. Though he lives outside the neighborhood, he’s worked in the park for eight years and has no plans to leave his post anytime soon. This pride and neighborly familiarity, Jacobs said, reflects what makes Jackie Robinson Park so special.
 
“He knows this place inside and out,” she said of MacFarlane. “He knows the children, and they know and trust him. If you have ownership, like he does, you make sure things are done right. The Parks Department can’t ever let him leave. Hands off Jeffrey!”
 
Jacobs has an ambitious wish list for her two-year tenure as Chair of the Conservancy. She hopes to see new bathrooms built near the bandshell, a refurbished Rachel Robinson Lending Library, and a new garden planted next to the 145th Street entrance. She also hopes to begin a language program for students to learn Mandarin, French and Spanish, along with a computer programming class for kids.
 
But even with big plans for the future, Jacobs doesn’t lose site of the park’s venerable history: from its WPA-era pool, opened before a crowd of 25,000 in 1936, to its historic ties with youth baseball in Upper Manhattan – reflected in the park’s name. Originally called Colonial Park, it was renamed in 1978. And the ballplayer’s family took notice, Jacobs said. Another member of that kaleidoscopic board: Jackie Robinson’s granddaughter.
 
“We have great respect for the Robinson family, and they love this park,” Jacobs said. “Their name doesn’t go on just anything.”
 
Jacobs & NY4P will host volunteers from Daffodil Project sponsor Ernst & Young for a cleanup of Jackie Robinson Park this Friday.


Daffodil Project Reaches New Heights – Again

Monday, September 16, 2013

470,000 bulbs requested. 211 schools registered. Nearly 30,000 children scheduled to plant. The 2013 Daffodil Project will be by far the biggest yet, with more bulbs scheduled to be planted in more neighborhoods than ever before. And we'll be planting once again with New York City public schools and the New York City Housing Authority's Garden & Greening Program in every borough, with a special focus on areas hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

Based on last year's record-breaking number of 536 requests, we ordered 345,000 bulbs from our distributor. This year, we've received 827 requests...and counting. Just last week, thanks to the generous donations of NY4P Board Member Lynden B. Miller and an additional donor, we ordered the remaining 75,000 bulbs that our distributor had left to help meet that demand.

But because we're still short, all orders over 550 will be reduced by one 550-bulb bag. So, for example, if you requested 1,650+ bulbs, you’ll receive 1,100.  If you requested 1,100, you’ll receive 550.  These cuts will allow us to provide some bulbs to everyone who requested them.

Have additional questions? Feel free to contact Emily Walker, who runs the Daffodil Project. You can call her at 212-838-9410 extension 314, or e-mail her at ewalker@ny4p.org.


2013 Daffodil Project distribution schedule:

Saturday, September 21 – Rockaways bulb distribution, co-hosted by the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, Firehouse 59 (5803 Rockaway Beach Blvd), 9am-1pm

Saturday, September 21 – Queens bulb distribution, Forest Park at the Overlook, 10am-1pm

Sunday, September 22 – Staten Island bulb distribution, Silver Lake Park at the Tennis House, 10am-1pm

Saturday, September 28 – Bronx bulb distribution, in front of Betances Community Center, 10am-1pm

Tuesday, October 1 – Bronx bulb distribution, at the Bronx Borough Hall Greenmarket in Joyce Kilmer Park, 10am-1pm

Saturday, October 5 – Brooklyn bulb distribution, at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, 10am-1pm

Sunday, October 6 – Manhattan bulb distribution, Union Square, 10am-1pm

Saturday, October 12 – Brooklyn bulb distribution, at Seth Low Houses Community Center, 10am-1pm

Setting the Record Straight on Conservancies

Monday, September 16, 2013

Recent large gifts to the Central Park Conservancy and Friends of the High Line have fueled a misperception that such nonprofits breed inequity in the parks system as a whole. With a City Council oversight hearing on park conservancies scheduled for Sept. 17, it's time to set the record straight.

There's no doubt that conditions vary from park to park across the five boroughs. But New Yorkers for Parks' extensive citywide research on public-private partnerships and park maintenance makes clear that singling out conservancies as the source of the problem misses the mark.

One proposal that has garnered attention calls for appropriating money from the city's most successful conservancies to bankroll a citywide fund for underserved parks. Before rushing to eradicate park inequity on the backs of a handful of conservancies, it's important to better understand these organizations.

Most conservancies in New York City have modest revenues and struggle to keep their parks at a standard of care that New Yorkers rightly expect. Redirecting a percentage of their operating budgets toward a citywide fund would result in debilitating cuts to these parks' maintenance staffs and programming.

What's more, the sum total of funds from such a tithe would not actually generate enough money to make meaningful improvements in other parks.

This isn't to say successful conservancies have no part to play in helping underserved parks. A more appropriate role would be sharing their expertise and staff with other parks, as the Central Park Conservancy does now under its contract.

But parks inequity can't be solved by the private sector alone. If the next mayor is serious about serving the entire park system equitably, he must focus first on how public resources are allocated across the city's 1,700 parks. An adequately funded, full-time maintenance and enforcement staff for every park is essential, and capital spending should target those parks most in need.

City Hall should continue to support the efforts of conservancies across the city while requiring transparency and accountability to ensure that private funds augment public dollars rather than displace them.

It's great news that New York's philanthropic community views parks—and the public realm in general—as a worthy cultural cause. Exploring ways to bring private funds into the city's neediest parks is a noble endeavor. But the goal should be to broaden parks' overall donor base, not cannibalize contributions to existing conservancies and potentially chill future gifts to them.

Diverting donations would cripple the very conservancies that have transformed some of the world's most heavily used parks from dust bowls to gems, without actually solving the problem of disparate park conditions.

The above Op-Ed was published in the September 23, 2013 edition of Crain's New York Business and is available on the Crain's website.

Meet a New Yorker for Parks: Aresh Javadi

Friday, August 30, 2013

By Erica Cooperberg, NY4P Communications Intern

From around the corner of the massive chain link fence that protects the Children’s Magical Garden on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a little girl in pink pants appeared on a recent afternoon. She stopped in front of a gap in the fence: before her lay a cement-free patch of dirt, a rarity in Manhattan, and a jungle of greenery.

“Come in! We’re open!” two voices called from a bench within the garden.

A smile slowly spread across her face and she eagerly skipped inside, bounding toward a large, colorful see-saw. She sat on one side and looked around, from the enormous wall mural to the blue bathtub planter to, finally, Aresh Javadi and his wife, Kate Temple-West. Temple-West, the Garden’s president, indulged the little girl – though, from the sound of her laughter, she was enjoying herself too – and Javadi grinned.

“Bring kids to a park, and they know what to do. It’s in their blood,” he said.

Javadi would know. Some of his most vivid memories of his childhood in Iran involve being outside in a garden: climbing trees, admiring jasmine flowers and watering plants with his grandfather.

“Gardens are important in Iran,” he said. “There is a natural inclination toward greenery and socialization in the culture.”

Add art to the mix, and you have Javadi in a nutshell. Since moving to New York City in 1989 to pursue art through further education and a career as an artist, Javadi has made his mark by creatively combining his passions.

Javadi has earned a reputation for his unusual advocacy tactics on behalf of community gardens.

His activism began in late 1998 when he learned that, under the leadership of then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Cherry Tree Garden, a green space in the South Bronx that he frequented, was on the auction block.

“Cherry Tree Community Garden got attacked,” but it wasn’t the only garden in jeopardy, Javadi recalled. “There were over 100 gardens set to be auctioned off.”

Javadi knew that while gardens were important to him, not everyone felt the same. Thus, the fight became multi-faceted: impart the importance of gardens to New Yorkers, save the green spaces from being developed, motivate others to get involved and, of course, thread the arts throughout the process.

“It was about getting everyday people to understand the need for gardens in a fun and colorful way,” Javadi said. “We made puppets, performed street theater. We even created a bulldozer – made of a carriage! – that pulled apart and became a toolshed. It expressed the idea of transformation.”

The battle to save the threatened community gardens made clear to Javadi the need for more green space throughout New York City and, in 1999, he partnered with five others to create More Gardens!, an advocacy group of community gardeners and activists promoting the preservation and creation of community gardens.

The animated protests and community outreach resulted in the preservation of all the gardens slated for auction, a great victory that made gardeners realize that “the power is in our hands,” Javadi said.

But it wasn’t long before Javadi was introduced to another threatened green space, Esperanza Community Garden on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which was targeted as a site for new construction. Using the same tactics as before – eye-catching artwork paired with the cultivation of enthusiastic advocates – Javadi and his fellow organizers once again galvanized troops of supporters.

“It brought the community garden together in a way they never would have otherwise; we realized that any challenge can bring people together.”

Advocates were further brought together (literally) in a giant coqui sculpture erected in the garden. Modeled on the tiny frog that provides Puerto Rico’s nocturnal soundtrack,  the canvas structure was large enough to fit six people and drew the attention of many more.

Recalling the February day in 2000 when the garden was demolished, Javadi said, “There was red fabric in the frog’s eye, so it looked like blood pouring out when the artwork was jackhammered,” he said. “It was all about creating drama and connecting human hearts with the issue at hand.”

Today, Javadi advocates to make all community gardens permanent, having seen how vulnerable they can be if City Hall is not sympathetic to their value. His current focus is Children’s Magical Garden, which has been the subject of a contentious battle over the past few months.  The gardeners won a significant victory when the City agreed to preserve the publicly-owned portion of the garden, which is about 2/3 of the total area, as a garden, transferring it to GreenThumb, the Parks Department’s community gardening program.  However, in mid-May, the owner of the remaining third of the garden unexpectedly constructed a chain-link fence separating it from the publicly-owned part; less than two months later, the chain-linked fence was covered with tall pieces of plywood, restricting the garden from public view.

But, sitting on a bench in the middle of the garden, Javadi saw the positive in his latest advocacy effort.

“We can see the power of youth,” he said, pointing to the hand-painted signs hung around the garden that boast uplifting messages encouraging its survival. “The kids are making banners, wearing costumes.” He held up a snake head and a butterfly outfit worn by children just a night prior.

“They come to Children’s Magical garden and find their own way of expressing themselves.”

For Javadi, advocating for the city’s community gardens is much more than a job:  it’s a passion that pervades every aspect of his life.  The first thing he and Temple-West did upon returning from their honeymoon in France was attend New Yorkers for Parks’ August 15th Rally for Parks and Gardens. The couple entered City Hall plaza festooned with flowers and surrounded by friends, handing out vegetables to other participants to emphasize the bounty of New York City’s community gardens. As the rally culminated, the two stood together on the steps, Temple-West clasping four sunflowers and Javadi waving a “Save Children’s Magical Garden” sign – and an eggplant – in his right hand, and a fresh bunch of red radishes, aloft, in his left. 

 

Mayoral Candidates Release Positions on NYC Parks as NY4P Hosts Advocate Rally at City Hall

Saturday, August 17, 2013

NY4P was joined by more than 100 park advocates from every borough and mayoral campaign representatives at a City Hall rally on August 15, where we called on mayoral candidates to make parks a priority.

“Calling parks a ‘quality of life’ issue “makes them seem non-essential,” Holly Leicht, Executive Director of NY4P, told the crowd. “I prefer to call them a ‘life issue.’  They…determine whether New York is a place we want to live, work and raise our families. Before we're asked to make a decision [about whom to vote for], we deserve to know where the candidates stand on critical life issues. What is their vision for our city, for our neighborhoods, for our parks?”

NY4P RallyWhile the funeral of political consultant Bill Lynch precluded mayoral candidates from attending the rally, the campaign of Christine C. Quinn was represented at the rally by New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, and John C. Liu’s campaign was represented by Policy Director Doug Giuliano. Other speakers included New York Restoration Project Executive Director Amy Freitag and New York City Community Gardens Coalition officer Karen Washington.

After advocates from parks and community gardens citywide called out in turn their #1 concern for the next administration to address, Leicht closed the rally by saying, “We need a leader who appreciates the vastness of our park system, and the importance of every one of [its 29,000] acres to all New Yorkers, in all neighborhoods. Someone who will dedicate the necessary resources to maintaining and improving our parks for today, and preserving and protecting them for generations to come.”

We asked the campaigns of mayoral candidates Sal Albanese, Adolfo Carrion, Jr., John A. Catsimatidis, Bill de Blasio, Joseph J. Lhota, Christine C. Quinn, William C. Thompson and Anthony D. Weiner to provide statements outlining their vision for NYC’s parks and open spaces.

Following are the statements we received, in alphabetical order:

Mr. Albanese:  "Anybody with basic common sense knows that great neighborhoods need great parks and open spaces. Unfortunately, local parks across the five boroughs are being underfunded and sold off for luxury development. That is why I'm proud to stand with New Yorkers for Parks and endorse their platform. To keep New York City great, we need to invest in our parks. As Mayor, I'll do just that."

Mr. Carrion, Jr.: “I support expanding upon Mayor Bloomberg’s vision of ensuring there is a park within a ten-minute walk of every person’s home.  We need to double-down on both Public Private Partnerships and community involvement to improve parks across all boroughs and underserved neighborhoods.  We need to reimagine what a park should be to include a place for fitness, recreation, events and even work - including free Wi-Fi hot spots - for residents in all parts of our city.”

Mr. de Blasio:  “The era of giving away prime land to commercial interests at bargain basement prices must come to an end.  For every well-maintained park in the city, there are so many more that are falling prey to neglect and encroachment, especially in the outer boroughs. We need a renewed commitment to restore and maintain world-class parks in every community."

Mr. Liu: “The residents of outer-borough, lower-income neighborhoods needs parks just as much, if not more, than residents of wealthy neighborhoods. As Mayor, I will ensure that our parks and open spaces receive the funding that they need to serve all of our residents. I will start with the great ideas in the New Yorkers for Parks platform to create equity in open space across the city.”

Ms. Quinn:  "If we're going to keep New York City a place for the middle-class and everyone working to get there, we need to make sure all New Yorkers have access to open and recreational space.  As Mayor I’ll work to distribute park resources equitably so that every neighborhood has access to safe, quality spaces; create a new land trust for community gardens; and direct city agencies to make open space a real priority in their projects.  And New Yorkers know I can deliver, because that's what I've done as Speaker – funding repairs to hundreds of parks and playgrounds in all five boroughs, helping secure critical protections for our community gardens, and passing a law to create a database of city-owned vacant property to determine whether it can be used for open space."

Mr. Thompson:  "I know that a greener city means we can have a greater city. By investing in programs and supporting good policies that foster sustainability for our parks and protect the environment, together we will ensure New York City's future for generations to come. I commend New Yorkers for Parks on their efforts to bring more focus on both the need to ensure more transparency for park funding, as well as ensuring that every park, regardless of neighborhood receives adequate maintenance to create clean, safe and sustainable parks."

The rally was part of a five-month campaign by NY4P , during which we shaped our ten-point Parks Platform 2013 at an April town hall with more than 100 parks advocates, and met with community boards and residents in all five boroughs, as well as almost every mayoral campaign team. The Platform has been endorsed by 14 New York City Council Members, 16 community boards, a host of open space and civic organizations, and hundreds of New Yorkers.

Meet a New Yorker for Parks: David Karopkin

Friday, August 09, 2013

By Erica Cooperberg, NY4P Communications Intern

We all have childhood treasures: a blanket, a doll, a piggy bank. For David Karopkin, it was Prospect Park.
 
“When I was little, I ran away from home,” he said. “I ran to Prospect Park.”
 
Living less than a mile from what he deemed “the best park in the city” for his entire life, Karopkin admitted he used to see his park through rose-colored glasses. “For most of my life, I took this for granted. Now, I have a new appreciation and care for what’s going on here.”
 
He’s demonstrated that appreciation through his participation in Wildlife Interests, Learning and Development (WILD) and GooseWatchNYC, two advocacy groups that promote humane treatment of wildlife in New York City parks.
 
His formal parks advocacy began in July of 2010 when Prospect Park, which is situated along an ancient migratory bird path, suddenly became devoid of waterfowl. To his dismay, Karopkin learned that the birds’ disappearance was part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture effort to reduce the Canada geese population, a contentious initiative resulting in the slaughtering of the animals administered following the “Miracle on the Hudson” incident in 2009.

He found the unexpected loss of more than 300 Canada geese to be overwhelming. “I wasn’t sure what could be done,” he said. But he was comforted to find himself surrounded by advocates.
 
By working together, Karopkin and other supporters, including individuals from FIDO, the Fellowship in the Interests of Dogs and their Owners, made sure that every morning throughout the summer, while the geese were molting, someone was at the park taking a stand for the waterfowl.
 
“We had people out with cameras, ready to let the public know what happened if something happened,” Karopkin said.
 
After a successful summer of protecting the geese, WILD was born, with Karopkin as one of the five members of the steering committee. The community group focuses on the main threats to wildlife – feeding, fishing and litter – through lakeside education and outreach. From its very first event, Karopkin realized how challenging that work would be.
 
“We had all met at the boathouse by Prospect Park Lake, and a woman ran up to us and said there was something wrong with a duck,” Karopkin recalled. “We went over and it was swimming in circles. So we got the duck out of the water and found it was impaled by a fishing hook in its tongue – which was also attached to its leg.”
 
Though the volunteers rescued the duck, Karopkin said the situation made him wonder: “If that happened when we’re there, what happens when we’re not?”
 
Occasionally, Karopkin finds an unhappy answer to that question. Walking along the edge of the lake on a recent Monday, Karopkin grabbed a black plastic bag and gently shook it over the water.
 
“Many times we find fish trapped inside these,” he said.
 
Other times, volunteers just find trash discarded carelessly that later collects along the water’s edges. (WILD's most recent three-hour litter pick-up resulted in 15 full bags of trash.)

“We find bottle caps, syringes, you name it,” Karopkin said as he pointed out a soda can floating on the lake.
 
While many simply consider litter an eyesore, Karopkin said it’s important to also think about the repercussions of careless park treatment on wildlife in Brooklyn’s most popular park.
 
“This zone is prohibited from barbequing,” he said, gesturing to the grassy area surrounding the lake. “But people do. And they dump their coal here, and then the grass dies. Then it rains and the coal remnants get washed into the water. And dogs can get sick from swimming in the lake.”
 
But with the help of numerous park groups, including dog walkers, runners and even a coalition of playground mothers, Karopkin can rest assured that the park is ultimately in good hands.
 
“I know that if I’m here and I see litter, I don’t have to go home and kick the wall, we can do something about it,” he said. “Instead of being upset, you can see possibilities that things can get better.”
 
The Prospect Park Alliance serves as an additional ally for WILD.

“The Alliance has been very supportive of WILD’s efforts,” Karopkin said, adding that the Alliance often provides supplies and promotional assistance for WILD events.
 
"We have been very pleased to work with David and the rest of WILD for the past couple of years," Eric Landau, Vice President of Government and External Affairs at the Alliance, said. "We greatly appreciate their efforts to help preserve wildlife habitat and keep the park clean." 

WILD’s community partnerships aren't always with organized groups, though. “One of the best parts of WILD is meeting people around the lake, joining us, who didn’t have any intention to help when they first got to the park,” Karopkin said. “That’s a success.”
 
Another success? WILD’s reception by members of the park’s surrounding community, who often e-mail the group about wildlife issues.

“It’s a vehicle for people who care about wildlife and the environment,” Karopkin said.
 
WILD is still new and small, with a modest core of about 20 advocates, and that means the group has limitations. But Karopkin is confident it will continue to gain supporters.

“Everyone cares about clean parks, and no one wants to see an animal in distress,” he said.
 
He looked out to the lake on the recent afternoon. “We can’t say our work is done,” Karopkin said as he noticed a family of ducklings and got close to snap some pictures. “There is a habitat here we need to protect. But with willpower and common goals, we’ve seen how things can really happen.”

New Yorkers for Parks Releases East Side Open Space Index

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

New Yorkers for Parks today released the East Side Open Space Index, which gives residents, civic organizations and elected officials in New York City Council Districts 4 and 5 a detailed snapshot of their open space resources -- data that can help them prioritize their needs and advocate for strategic investments. 
 
As the report illustrates, the open space needs of these communities, which extend roughly from 14th Street to 96th Street between the East River and Central Park, are many. In fact, Districts 4 and 5 fall far short of nearly every one of the 15 New York City-specific benchmarks that comprise NY4P's Open Space Index (OSI) – even when Central Park and Privately Owned Public Spaces are take into account. From overall active and passive space to environmental sustainability, the findings reflect an urgent need for improvement.
 
"Central Park and the parks on Roosevelt Island are indispensable resources for residents in the westernmost and easternmost parts of these districts," said Holly Leicht, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks. "But there are 25,000 people living on the East Side who are not within walking distance of any public park."
 
The East Side OSI report is based on hundreds of hours of on-the-ground surveying and analysis, including a field study of more than 350 blocks of Manhattan, including Roosevelt Island. 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.

In addition to this data, the East Side OSI offers preliminary recommendations about how local advocates might go about increasing and improving open space in such a dense, land-starved community:


-          Reimagine Underutilized Public Spaces: enhance existing open spaces through proven programs like the Trust for Public Land’s Schoolyards-to-Playgrounds, which transforms asphalt schoolyards into public playgrounds during non-school hours, and the New York City Department of Transportation’s Plaza Program, which recaptures surplus street beds for use as public plazas

-          Pair New Development with Open Space Improvements: require the creation or enhancement of open space as part of large-scale development projects and rezonings to mitigate the negative impacts of additional density

-          Realize the Full Potential of the East River Waterfront: build consensus around, and act upon, the best of the numerous plans for improving the East River waterfront to create a seamless esplanade


New York City Council Members Daniel R. Garodnick (District 4) and Jessica A. Lappin (District 5) provided funding for the East Side Open Space Index after learning that their districts rank near the bottom citywide for open space per capita.

"We know that the East Side of Manhattan is starved for open space, but this report reveals that we are failing in every sub-category," said Council Member Garodnick. "We are currently adding a number of local parks and other publicly-accessible spaces to address this problem, but we clearly have our work cut out for us."

"In a borough as dense as Manhattan, parks and open spaces are critical to our quality of life,” said Council Member Lappin. "This survey will help us assess our current open space needs and plan for the future."

You can learn more about the report in The Wall Street Journal, Curbed and Metro

NY4P has also published OSI reports for Jackson Heights, the Lower East Side, and East Harlem, and is currently doing the field survey for an assessment of Mott Haven in the South Bronx. The Jackson Heights OSI 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 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.