NY4P Statement on New Major League Soccer Team in New York City

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New Yorkers for Parks welcomes today's announcement and is particularly pleased that Major League Soccer and the New York City Football Club are open to exploring alternative sites for a stadium outside the heart of Flushing Meadows Corona Park – Queens’ most heavily used public space. We look forward to continuing to work with the Bloomberg Administration, MLS and the team to find a more appropriate location for NYCFC's permanent home.

NY4P Opposes the Proposed Construction of a Professional Soccer Stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Monday, May 13, 2013

Both a destination and neighborhood park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park is a mecca for amateur soccer leagues, a gathering place for family picnics, and a respite for people of all ages. Much of the park is occupied by private institutions and facilities, but its core remains an irreplaceable public space that is actively used by tens of thousands of New Yorkers.

Yet it is on this very parkland that the City of New York now proposes to allow a private owner to construct a Major League Soccer stadium on the site of the 1964 World’s Fair Fountain of the Planets. It was recently reported that MLS has reached a deal with Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, to sponsor a New York-based professional soccer team and is close to reaching a deal with the City to locate a new 25,000-seat stadium – with capacity to expand to 35,000 seats – in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

As New York City’s leading parks advocate for more than a century, New Yorkers for Parks has a long history of opposing the alienation of parkland for private development and cannot support this proposal to build a private, 100-foot-tall stadium in the heart of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Building a stadium on this site will alter not just the site itself, but the nature of the park altogether. The footprint of the arena would be up to 13 acres, but the directly affected acreage, as defined by MLS’s proposed circulation roads and pathways, would be at least double that. On game days, tens of thousands of fans travelling from Citi Field parking lots, the Long Island Railroad and the No. 7 Train would overwhelm the park, exacerbating the already significant maintenance challenges this heavily used public space faces.

Because the site is literally on top of the Flushing River – raising a number of environmental and legal concerns – preliminary designs call for elevating the stadium on a tall berm, making an already looming structure even more imposing. And for most of the year, the stadium would sit vacant and unused, towering over the public soccer fields that would be relocated in its shadow.

Supporters of the stadium point to the drab condition of the once-iconic Fountain of the Planets and claim building atop this long-neglected space will improve the park. But the current state of this historically significant park – under-resourced and ill-maintained for decades – is no rationale for further privatization. Five years ago, the City’s Parks Department unveiled an ambitious plan for the park that included a proposal to fill in the Fountain of the Planets to create a great lawn – a vast, central gathering space which the park sorely lacks – and to daylight the Flushing River to help ameliorate the park’s endemic flooding and drainage problems. New Yorkers for Parks calls upon the City to make this part of the park the grand public space it has the potential to be rather than giving up on it and turning it over to private hands. 
It’s important to recognize who would be most negatively affected by this proposed project. This section of the park is predominantly used by residents of the surrounding park-starved communities of Flushing, Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights – low- and middle-income neighborhoods that fall well below the city’s standard of 2.5 acres of open space per 1000 residents.  Nearly 23 percent of the people living in these neighborhoods are 18 or younger. Childhood obesity in Corona, on the park’s western edge, is 51 percent, the highest in the city. 
To be clear: regardless of the terms of the deal, the design of the stadium, or any offers of replacement parkland, New Yorkers for Parks cannot support a private stadium in the heart of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The location is simply wrong, and no modification or mitigation can make up for the loss of this vital open space.

We welcome efforts to bring a new professional soccer team to New York City. MLS is aggressively expanding across the country, and we support the league’s desire to broaden its reach, especially in the nation’s largest media market – but not at the expense of our city’s public parkland. We call upon the City and MLS to reconsider other locations for a new stadium, and to preserve our parkland for generations to come.

The above post appeared as a guest column in the May 13, 2013 edition of the New York Daily News.

Holly Leicht Participates in New York League of Conservation Voters' 2013 Environmental Candidate School  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

More than 150 people, primarily candidates for Borough President and City Council, attended Saturday’s Environmental Candidate School, a training session for those seeking office, sponsored by the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV).

NY4P Executive Director Holly Leicht participated in the first panel of the day, "Healthy New Yorkers /Safe Neighborhoods,” which was aimed at educating the next generation of city leadership about sustainability and health, including the importance of parks. Other panelists included the Environmental Defense Fund, Transportation Alternatives, GrowNYC and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The event, held at NYU’s Kimmel Center, also featured panels on green buildings and energy initiatives, and environmental justice. The day ended with five current Council Members giving their potential future colleagues tips on to move the environmental agenda forward in city government.

NYLCV has joined the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems to host Candidate Schools since 2001, educating dozens of future Council Members on sustainability issues and laying the groundwork for a stronger relationship between the environmental community and city leaders.

Support Builds for Flushing Meadows Corona Park Alliance

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Flushing Meadows Corona Park (FMCP) is more in the public spotlight now than perhaps any time since the 1964 World’s Fair, thanks to several development projects proposed for the park. An expansion of the existing National Tennis Center, a mall on the Citi Field parking lot, and a Major League Soccer stadium are all being considered for mapped parkland within FMCP’s boundaries.

As the first two of these projects wind their way through the public review process, a productive discussion about the park’s future has begun. That discussion – and a spirit of community optimism amidst the clamor of public debate about the proposals – heightened last Monday at a standing-room-only visioning session hosted by the Fairness Coalition of Queens – a diverse group of well-respected nonprofits working to protect and improve the park – and the Pratt Graduate Center for Planning.

The more than 100 attendees heard a presentation by Council Member Julissa Ferreras about an idea for the park that NY4P strongly supports: the creation of an alliance, based on other public-private partnerships the City has entered, to operate and maintain the entire park and help transform it from an under-staffed, poorly maintained public space into the gem that Queens deserves.

The concept mirrors that of nonprofit organizations that have helped lift parks across the city, including the Prospect Park Alliance in Brooklyn and the Bronx River Alliance. These organizations are hybrids, reporting both to the Parks Department and a nonprofit board of directors that helps fundraise for the park and monitors its finances. The proposed structure for FMCP would also include a Community Operations Council that would advise the alliance on day-to-day park needs, though the Parks Department would retain final approval over all capital projects, programs, events and budgets.

The benefits of such an organization are many: 

·    A nonprofit alliance can fundraise and solicit new revenue sources to augment the park’s  limited  budget.
·    By raising extra funds for the park, an alliance can hire additional staff to supplement the 18 full-time and 35 summer Parks Department employees dedicated to FMCP, ensuring better maintenance. (By comparison, Central Park has 300 workers, and Prospect Park has 135, though both parks are smaller than FMCP.)
·    An alliance would work closely with the community and park-users to develop and implement a long-term plan for the park’s ongoing stewardship and improvement.
·    A nonprofit organization has stringent reporting requirements and an independent board with financial oversight responsibility, which promotes greater transparency in how park funding is used.

Starting such an organization is critical for the park’s future regardless of whether any of the proposed projects actually happen. Already the United States Tennis Association and the Mets are tenants profiting from their facilities in FMCP, yet they don’t have an obligation to give a dime back to the park. An alliance creates the framework for this inequitable dynamic to shift once and for all.

The Parks Department’s maintenance budget has been shrinking for years, and NY4P continues to advocate annually for budget restorations. It’s clear, however, that public money alone is not going to make FMCP the premier park it should be. The time has come for a public-private partnership that will help provide additional resources to this underserved park, and ensure better maintenance and sharper oversight of park funding for generations to come.

We wholeheartedly endorse Council Member Ferreras’ vision for FMCP’s future, and Monday night made clear that many others who know the park and surrounding neighborhoods best do, too.

Holly Leicht Named to FAR ROC Jury

Monday, April 29, 2013

NY4P Executive Director Holly Leicht has been named to the jury for the FAR ROC (For a Resilient Rockaway) design competition, which will explore strategies for the planning, design and construction of a resilient and sustainable housing development at Arverne East, a more than 80-acre site on the Rockaway Peninsula.

The competition is sponsored by the City's Department of Housing and Preservation, the American Institute of Architects' New York Chapter, and several affordable housing developers.

The design competition was organized after Hurricane Sandy to solicit creative ideas for resilient development strategies that can be implemented not only in the Rockaways but also throughout New York City and in vulnerable communities everywhere. Following a first-phase open call for design proposals, up to four finalists will be selected by the independent jury and provided a stipend of $30,000 to further refine their design strategies.

Along with Leicht, the 11-person jury comprises representatives from both the public and private sectors and academia, with expertise in fields ranging from architecture to urban planning to affordable housing development.

The winner of the competition will be announced in advance of the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy on October 24th, 2013.

Outstanding Volunteers Honored at Daffodil Breakfast

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

NY4P honored outstanding Daffodil Project volunteers from every borough at its annual Daffodil Breakfast on April 23 at Bryant Park Grill in Midtown Manhattan.

The Daffodil Project was founded in 2001 as a living memorial to September 11. With nearly five million free bulbs planted citywide by more than 40,000 school kids, parks and gardening groups, civic organizations, corporate volunteers and other New Yorkers, it is one of the largest volunteer efforts in the city’s history. Today, the project remains a powerful memorial but also has become a symbol of civic pride and community unity. Every spring, NY4P honors volunteers at a breakfast celebrating their participation and leadership.

The 2012 planting season was the most successful to date. NY4P distributed free daffodil bulbs to nearly 700 individuals and neighborhood organizations, and 3,000 kids participated in school and NYCHA plantings – including two groups in Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy. As a result, more than 250,000 new daffodils are blooming this spring.

“Every year, we think ‘this year’s honorees are the best ever,’ and 2013 continues the trend,” said Holly Leicht, NY4P’s Executive Director. “The staff at New Yorkers for Parks is continually amazed by the dedication and energy of our volunteers, and by their intense pride in their parks, their neighborhoods, and their city.  It’s an honor to work with and know such passionate and caring New Yorkers.”
This year's honorees were:

Lynden B. Miller Citywide Award:  
New York City Housing Authority Garden and Greening Program

In 1962, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) launched its first resident flower garden competition, and its Garden and Greening Program was born. Over the past 51 years, the program has helped NYCHA resi­dents create and promote community gardens in every borough, and the competition contin­ues to this day. NY4P formally partnered with Garden and Greening staff in 2012 and held Daffodil Project youth plantings at NYCHA community centers in every borough.

“It doesn’t do the partnership justice to merely report that we co-sponsored six youth plantings with NYCHA community centers and distributed 8,000 additional daffodil bulbs to NYCHA residents at Seth Low Houses,” Leicht said. “What we found most rewarding about this partnership was the enthusiasm and dedication that the Garden and Greening staff bring to their jobs. They care deeply about the residents they work with, and about bringing beauty and nature to NYCHA’s developments, and their passion for what they do motivated the kids to care too.”

Borough Awards:

The Bronx: Debra Myers, Friends of Mount Eden Malls and Claremont Park

Spend a few minutes with Debra Myers and you’ll find that her passion for parks is conta­gious. That passion helped her recruit volunteers and build her organization, the Friends of Mount Eden Malls and Claremont Park, into the driving force behind recent improvements in those central Bronx green spaces. Her work has paid off: Claremont improved from a D in NY4P’s 2011 Report Card on Large Parks to a B in 2012. This time of year, it’s replete with blooming daffodils, thanks to Debra’s tireless efforts.

Brooklyn: Tom Buxton and Jennifer Hicks, I.S. 259 William McKinley

Tom Buxton has made sure his middle school students are acutely aware of the events of 9/11, even if they are too young to actually remember that day. That’s because he’s created a unique 9/11 curriculum at the Bay Ridge school, complete with a 270-foot-long mural by the students on the building’s second floor. It is outside the building, though, where Hicks’ contributions are in evidence, thanks to the afterschool gardening program she leads. Together, the two joined with NY4P and Project sponsor Con Edison to plant a 9/11 tribute garden in front of the school – a stirring reminder of the Daffodil Project’s origins.

Manhattan: Tony Hillery, Harlem Grown and P.S. 175 Henry H. Garnet

If you’re invited by First Lady Michelle Obama for a private tour of her White House Kitchen Garden, as Tony Hillery was, it’s safe to assume you know your community gardening. Hillery has overseen a Parks Department Success Garden (a program NY4P spearheaded as the Parks Council) since 2010, helping the children of P.S. 175 grow fresh produce amid a desert of unhealthy food options. The garden spawned Hillery’s Harlem Grown nonprofit, and it services the school’s cafeteria, local businesses and, at no charge, families in central Harlem. In September, Hillery added a hydroponic greenhouse to the mix and, with the help of students and NY4P staff last November, hundreds of daffodils.

Queens: Rosa and Benny Wong, West Cunningham Park Civic Association

This dynamic duo of park stewardship – and Daffodil Project regulars – plays a critical role in the West Cunningham Park Civic Association, from planting and weeding to volunteering at health fairs and student recruit­ment events. And whether they’re showing up at City Hall early on a weekday morning for an NY4P-sponsored budget rally (as they did last spring) or driving to the store to pick up emer­gency water for a park event, they always travel as a team. According to Benny Wong, “when either of us tries to do it on our own, we can’t do it, so we have to stick together.”

Staten Island: Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden

Designated as a Cultural Center in September 1976, Snug Harbor comprises 83 bucolic acres of gardens, historical buildings, museums and a working farm in New Brighton. Once an early 19th-century home for retired sailors, the Center now celebrates its rich history while providing New Yorkers with a truly unique park experience. Ongoing work to restore its landmarked buildings has made Snug Harbor one of the largest adaptive reuse projects in the nation. The Center couldn’t have been a more enthusiastic, dynamic Daffodil Project participant in 2012, including providing the winning photo in last year’s online contest. After Hurricane Sandy, its staff joined NY4P to plant more than 1,000 daffodils in the Healing Garden, a living memorial to 9/11.

Special Recognition for tireless support of community volunteerism in the wake of Hurricane Sandy:  
New York City Council Member Vincent Ignizio

In the days and weeks following Hurricane Sandy, Council Member Ignizio, who represents Council District 51 in Staten Island, was an enduring and tireless advocate for his community, day in and day out. Using social media, Council Member Ignizio became a one-man volunteer coordinator, connecting constituents in need with volunteers looking to help – house by house, street by street. The Daffodil Project celebrates volun­teerism, and Council Member Ignizio found innovative ways – undaunted by the limitations of communication and travel after the storm — to support and encourage neighbors helping neighbors, bringing back their community together.

Park Advocates Speak Out at NY4P Town Hall

Saturday, April 13, 2013

NY4P hosted more than 100 park advocates representing every borough at a town hall and facilitated break-out sessions on April 11 at the National Museum of the American Indian in Lower Manhattan.

Advocate feedback will help shape our election-year Parks Platform 2013, a set of open space goals we'll ask candidates running for New York City office to embrace.

“The 2013 election offers a great opportunity for advocates to help steer the direction of parks and open space policy, both at the citywide and local levels,” said NY4P Executive Director Holly Leicht. “That’s why we’ve convened those who know the system best – park users from every borough – to tell us their priorities.”

Leicht began the evening with a presentation of ten draft goals, encompassing Parks Department funding, parkland privatization, equitable park resource distribution, and the integration of park and neighborhood planning.

Advocates then met in small facilitated groups to discuss and prioritize the goals and suggest additions.
"We received thoughtful, well-informed feedback that is helping us reshape the platform," said Leicht.  "New York City is fortunate to have so many knowledgeable and committed parks advocates."

Parks Platform 2013 will be released in May.

The Urgent Need for Public Open Space on Manhattan’s Upper East Side

Friday, March 22, 2013

Join NY4P and Manhattan Community Board 8 for a free public forum at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we’ll offer a preview of our forthcoming East Side Open Space Index and participate in a panel discussion about the dearth of open space on the Upper East Side. Panelists will include NY4P’s Holly Leicht, New York City Council Member Daniel R. Garodnick, Project for Public Spaces Founder and President Fred Kent, and Lowline project founders Dan Barasch and James Ramsey.

Where: 1000 5th Avenue, Bonnie J. Sacerdote Lecture Hall, Ground Level, Uris Center (entrance at 5th Avenue and East 81st Street)

When: Thursday, April 25, 2013, 6:30pm

Preliminary Parks Budget Offers a Few Reasons to Cheer

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

For the first time since 2008, the preliminary Parks Department budget calls for a significant increase in staff: 414 new positions, the majority of which are dedicated to parks maintenance. The proposed expense budget totals more than $344 million, up from the $337.5 million adopted last year.
At last, NY4P Executive Director Holly Leicht told the City Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee last Friday, our organization’s cry that we can’t keep asking the Parks Department to do more with less – most recently expressed in those very words in our 2012 Report Card on Large Parks released last week – has been answered, at least in part.
The 414 new positions will include 252 maintenance workers, 81 Parks Enforcement Patrol Officers, 30 climbers and pruners, and 51 trades workers.
And there’s more good news in this budget: the $2 million for tree pruning that we successfully advocated to add to last year’s budget has been baselined, enabling DPR to return to a respectable 7- to 8-year pruning cycle. The total proposed amount for pruning is now $3.45 million.
For the fourth year in a row, however, there is no funding – not a single dollar – for stump removal, though stumps have become ubiquitous citywide in the wake of severe weather events like Hurricane Sandy.  As The New York Times reported last week, tens of thousands of stumps pervade the city’s sidewalks, 11,000 the result of Sandy alone. These stumps are a hazard as well as a lost opportunity to increase the urban tree canopy with new trees.  And because it is almost impossible to get stumps removed, some New Yorkers have soured on having new trees planted in front of their homes – a lose-lose prospect.
At last Friday's hearing, NY4P called on the City Council and the Administration to add $2 million to the FY14 budget for stump removal, and to baseline this amount as they have for pruning. Only by investing in the entire lifespan of a tree – from planting to maintenance to removal – will we ensure a greener city for future generations.
We also advocated for the restoration of approximately $26.5 million for 129 Seasonal Associates, 30 Playground Associates, 42 Pool Associates and 850 Job Training Participants (JTP's) - just as we have for three years running. Without funding for these positions, the Parks Department says four pools would be shuttered all summer, and all pools citywide would close two weeks early. NY4P's position is that these functions, which are core services of the Parks Department, should be baselined in DPR's budget rather than being subject to the annual budget dance between the Administration and the Council.
For the first time since 2008, the preliminary budget for the Parks Department looks promising. But NY4P will continue to push for the final FY14 budget to go even further, by restoring funding for critical summer staff and JTP positions and adding $2 million for the last step in responsible tree care: stump removal.

In Middle Village, Advocate Watches Over Fields He Once Played On

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bob Holden wasn’t the biggest or fastest player on his 1965 little league team. But when the ice cream man behind home plate in Juniper Valley Park yelled out an offer of a free cone for a home run, Holden dug in and socked a frozen rope over the shortstop’s head. The next thing he knew, he was sliding into home, safe, and through the cloud of dirt emerged a man in white, his outstretched hand holding the coveted cone.

Today, Holden watches this generation's little leaguers on those same fields from the seat of his tractor, which he uses every two days to keep the fields game ready.

“The fresh grass, it just smells great,” he said. “After I mow the fields I just sit there for a half hour, maybe more. It’s so peaceful. You look at these green gems, and it’s just satisfying. And then you see the kids run out there, and it just doesn’t get any better.”

Between his post as President of the Juniper Valley Civic Association, his seat on Queens Community Board 5, his job and his family life, it’s a wonder Holden has time to provide such impeccable care and oversight of the fields – and, for that matter, the entire park, which scored a 98, the highest grade in NY4P’s 2012 Report Card on Large Parks. The park’s enormously popular bocce courts, our surveyors found, were so clean that one park visitor joked he would eat off them.

The score is due in no small part to Holden’s leadership and volunteer stewardship in the park and the community.

“Bob just does an amazing, amazing amount of work for the community,” said Tony Nunziato, a close friend. “On weekends, this guy puts on that little straw hat and mows acres of grass. He’s up at 2, 3 in the morning slumped over the computer, working on the [Civic Association] magazine. After a storm, like the microburst last year, who’s the first person in the park making sure things are OK, before any elected officials or City workers? It’s Bob. He’s the microburst!  He’s constantly making sure everything is done for the benefit of the community.”

Holden’s work for the park really took off during the Giuliani administration, in the late 90s, when he told then-Council Member Thomas Ognibene about the poor condition of Juniper’s three upper baseball fields. Holden, who is a graphic designer and loves baseball, remembers nights sitting at his dining room table, drawing sketches of what he hoped the fields would look like. Eventually, with Ognibene’s help, Holden presented his vision to the Deputy Mayor. It wasn’t long before then-Parks Commissioner Henry Stern agreed to rehab the fields.

“It was a battle, a major undertaking,” Holden said. “We said if you build them the way we want them, we’ll take care of them. And we still do today.”

He added how pleased he is, in general, with the Parks Department’s upkeep of the rest of the park.

The field project was the first in a string of capital projects in the park, including a refurbished hockey rink, playground, gardens, a new track and that spotless bocce court.

Holden regularly leads clean-ups in every section of the park and has built the Civic Association into a venerable, machine-like force of park and community stewarship. Even the association's magazine, the Juniper Berry, has become a tool to advocate on behalf of the park.

“We use the magazine to keep elected officials and the Parks Department on their toes,” he said. “For example, we’ve had an issue with off-leash dogs on the fields, especially at night. So last week, we put a picture of dogs running freely on the fields and did a feature on the problem. Within a day, the Department had PEP [Police Enforcement Patrol] officers stationed there.”

Holden has also made a big impact in Middle Village beyond the Juniper Park boundaries. He and Nunziato led a campaign for more than 10 years to transform the former Elmhurst gas tank site into a park, though it had been slated to become a Home Depot. Thanks to their persistence, Mayor Bloomberg eventually sided with the community, and a 6.5-acre park opened in May 2011.

“Bob and I met over that campaign, and we’ve been friends ever since, “Nunziato said. “And there’s no more loyal guy. He’s a foul-weather friend.”

Holden, 61, is showing no signs of letting up in his tireless work for the community. He is president of the little league he once played in, and he understands the importance of neighbors vigilantly overseeing care of their beloved parks.

“I’ve realized that as the park goes, so goes the neighborhood,” he said. “It impacts how people living nearby take care of their own personal property.”

And while humble – “You can never do nothing for the guy,” Nunziato said – Holden acknowledges his group’s success. He says it’s a replicable model for park stewardship across the city.

“The keys,” he said, “are to publicize your work, share it with elected officials and the City. Through that, you can build your volunteer base. Even with the smallest successes, you can say, ‘See, I made a difference.’ Build on those successes.”

Holden has done that, in Juniper Valley Park, and in all facets of his life. Just like his ice-cream-induced slide into home plate, he vividly recalls his first dates with his future wife.

“She grew up down the street from me,” he said. “We’d sit on park benches and stroll through the park. We’re still doing that.”