Her Wedding Ring Lost In a Sea of Bulbs, Volunteer Keeps On Smiling

Thursday, October 18, 2012

About halfway through the NY4P Daffodil Project bulb distribution at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, volunteer Jennifer Fragale realized she had lost her wedding ring while loading bags with bulbs.

It was a daunting environment for a search: 53,000 bulbs splayed out in bags along a curb at a teeming farmers’ market.  But though the ring didn’t turn up, Jennifer’s smile didn’t fade, and she continued to pitch in until the end of the event.

Fragale not only loves volunteering, she loves New York City. A New Jersey native, she moved to the city in 2003 and immediately fell in love with the lifestyle – and the city itself – so much that she wanted to share her enthusiasm with others.

“New York was so good to me, so I wanted others to feel the same way about it,” she said.

After she graduated from the School for Visual Arts in 2005, she began volunteering each Tuesday night at New York Cares, teaching a computer class to seniors near her Chelsea apartment.

A longtime nature-lover, she also got involved with the 300 West Block Association, where she enjoyed meeting her neighbors.

“It really felt like a hometown community in the middle of the city,” she said.

The Association connected her with the Chelsea Garden Club, where she helped spearhead an effort to plant flowers in pits along the newly installed bike lanes on 9th Avenue.  The Club’s efforts weren’t officially sanctioned by the City, but no one had been assigned to take care of the pits, so Fragale stepped in.

I was basically just going to the Union Square Greenmarket and buying flowers,” she said.

The City soon noticed and leant support to the Club’s self-appointed stewardship efforts.  With the backing of City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and State Senator Tom Duane, the Club was awarded a grant from MillionTreesNYC in 2011.

“I’ll never forget when we were planting, and a woman came up to us and said ‘you’re adding a piece of heaven to a warzone!’ That’s something that made me realize how much the community appreciated what we were doing,” Fragale said.

The pits plantings include an array of perennials - including daffodils, which is how she became involved in NY4P’s Daffodil Project.  She joined us last year at our Brooklyn and Manhattan distributions, displaying the same upbeat spirit and willingness to pitch in that make her such a valued member of our volunteer Bulb Brigade.

“Jen was always a great help,” said Meredith Ledlie, who ran the Project for NY4P from 2010 to 2011. “She’s very positive and reliable, two great qualities for a volunteer to have.”

That Fragale joined The Daffodil Project, one of the largest volunteer efforts in the city’s history, was only fitting:  volunteerism – whether teaching seniors or beautifying her neighborhood – has been a near-constant in her life since becoming a New Yorker. It’s also fitting that she met her husband, Raymond, at a 2008 volunteer event.

Which brings us back to the wedding ring episode. It was sad for Fragale – but not calamitous.  For one, she said, Raymond lost his, too, so this evened things out. And second, it was lost while working for a cause she loves: making New York City a more beautiful place.

“If the ring ends up planted in the ground next to beautiful flowers,” she said, “that’s OK with me.”

Parks Department Rec Center Membership Falls By 45.5 Percent Among Adults and Seniors

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tucked within last Thursday’s Mayor’s Management Report (MMR) – an annual citywide progress assessment of City agencies’ performance – there’s a chart depicting a dramatic decrease in Parks Department recreation center membership rates among adults and seniors:  membership for these populations fell 45.5 percent within a single year in the wake of last year’s decision to double membership fees.  This is a far cry from the five percent decrease the Parks Department projected during the FY12 budget process when NY4P testified against the fee increase.  Memberships for kids, which remain free, didn’t change.

In our March 2011 testimony before City Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee about the FY12 Preliminary Budget, we cautioned against a proposed measure doubling adult rec center fees and more than doubling rates for seniors, citing significant drops in membership in the wake of past fee increases.  When fees were first imposed in 2003, membership dropped 10 percent, and when they were doubled in 2007, it dropped 38 percent (though it later rebounded slightly).  Our concern was that while fees for Parks Department rec centers may be less than most comparable private venues, the increases would price out lower income New Yorkers – the very New Yorkers that have the most limited alternate recreational options.

The Parks Department has endured brutal budget cuts since 2008 – cuts that we recently fought against and partially helped alleviate.  As we’ve said repeatedly, it’s unrealistic for the City to keep cutting the DPR’s budget and except the same level of service; at some point, New Yorkers will start to feel the pinch.  

Last week’s MMR suggests they’re already feeling it.

Upper Manhattan Trail Is More Than Just A Physical Connector

Friday, September 21, 2012

The long, narrow string of green begins at the northwest corner of Central Park. It snakes its way north through Morningside Park into Harlem. Just five blocks north it continues into Saint Nicholas Park, in central Harlem, then through Jackie Robinson Park, then to Highbridge Park in Washington Heights.

This is the Hike the Heights Giraffe Path, which now connects the neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan, and more than just physically. It’s a social connector, a place where once a year friends and families, along with total strangers, gather to share ideas, frustrations and beliefs. This concept of interconnectedness was hatched in the wake of 9/11, when many New Yorkers were struggling to cope with the tragedy.

That’s when Lourdes Hernandez-Cordero, then a Columbia doctoral student, focused her dissertation on the role of community mobilization in trauma recovery. Long walks through Highbridge Park helped crystallize her vision. She saw spaces for grieving, but also for happier gatherings. She saw how the parks of Upper Manhattan touched a diverse network of neighborhoods and wove them together.

“We had been thinking about environmental strategies for public health prevention,” she said. “And I thought about the problems of our neighborhoods and how no one was coming together in our public spaces to share their fears, to address these issues.”

And then it came to her: “a series of walking meetings in our public spaces.”

After completing her doctorate, Hernandez-Cordero and a group of Columbia faculty from varied disciplines began forming partnerships with organizations, institutions and residents located along the trail, including schools, civic groups and social service organizations. The idea was to conceptually link those entities to create or strengthen services and programming, and most of all, to create a dialogue – all connected by the trail.  She credits Partnerships for Parks, a joint program of the Parks Department and the City Parks Foundation, with playing an integral role in shaping those partnerships.

She named the meetings Hike the Heights, and they kicked off in 2005 with participation from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. By the second year, there were hundreds of participants from neighborhoods ranging from Manhattan Valley to Fort George, and event joined with one of Hernandez-Cordero's projects at Columbia, CLIMB (City Life Is Moving Bodies), where she was working as an assistant professor.

“The day really started to gel as a venue where different people from different walks of life came together to celebrate the neighborhoods,” said Hernandez-Cordero, who now serves as the Associate Director of Community Partnerships for City Harvest’s Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative.

The Hike is literally that – a walk - and it’s now enjoyed every June on National Trails Day with what Hernandez-Cordero calls an “empty bowl approach.”
“It’s there for you to fill with whatever you like – whatever issues you want discussed, whatever activities you want to participate in with friends and neighbors,” she said.

The event is a potluck of sorts: its website encourages participants to bring their “company, an activity, leadership, friends, funds or supplies.” It’s now annually attended by hundreds of Upper Manhattanites – seniors, children and everyone in between.
“It has become one big party,” Hernandez-Cordero said. “And when the High Bridge opens [joining Highbridge Park to a park by the same name in the Bronx], we’ll have a two-borough party!”

In the past few years, the “Giraffe” theme of the hike – named for the long, skinny trail – has taken on new meanings. Head Start, a partner, has integrated a study of giraffe family structures into its curriculum. And Hernandez-Cordero has worked with Creative Arts Workshops for Kids to develop a public children’s art component of the hike that she calls the Parade of Giraffes. The art is displayed along the trail each year during the hike.

“Each giraffe,” The Hike the Hikes website says, “will be unique and celebrate the many voices and cultures of Harlem and Washington Heights.”

As the event approaches a decade, it’s an important example of how our city's parks are much more than just places for recreation and relaxing. They’re the bedrock of New York City’s neighborhoods. And by showing how multiple parks can be woven together to link neighborhoods, as in Upper Manhattan, people like Hernandez-Cordero help realize – and harness – the potential of parks to connect communities in new ways.

Hike the Heights is a model of how looking at public spaces in a new way can make neighborhoods that once seemed far away from each other – physically, culturally, demographically – feel like close-knit family. It's all about making the connections.

New York Times Gets It Right on Pier 40

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

When Hudson River Park was established in 1998, it was funded by the State and City with the understanding that it would eventually be self-sustaining. But the park’s waterfront location has presented far greater maintenance challenges than initially expected, and the financial stability of the park, as well as its completion, is in jeopardy.

To date, up to a third of the park’s maintenance budget has been covered by public parking revenues from a deteriorating garage on Pier 40, located at the western end of Houston Street and home to several local sports leagues. Pier 40 itself is rotting, and damage to its garage has closed off portions of the profitable parking area. Emergency funds from precious reserves have to be tapped to stabilize this situation, but such stop-gap fixes are not a long-term answer.

Today’s New York Times editorial page calls on the State to broaden the legislation governing the types of development permitted at Pier 40, as well as Pier 76, to balance maximizing revenue generation with minimizing traffic and commercial impact on the park.

NY4P has publicly presented the same argument. It is unlikely that a single silver bullet will solve Hudson River Park’s financial crisis, so it is imperative that those who care about the park’s immediate and future sustainability explore a range of approaches to generating additional revenue for the park. We don’t yet know what the answer is – it’s impossible to be certain without seeing actual proposals and balancing what the market will bear with what the community and other key stakeholders will support – but what is certain is that the more flexibility the law allows in that conversation, the more competition it will generate, and – we hope – the more creative options stakeholders will have to collectively consider and choose from.

Parks and open spaces are essential public services that contribute to the economy, environmental health and livability of New York. As such, we firmly believe they should be publicly funded, and that public access and use are paramount. In today’s constrained budgetary climate, however, innovative financing strategies that tap private sources of funding to create, improve, and maintain our parks are increasingly necessary to augment public dollars. It’s important to remember that such public-private partnerships need not be inherently threatening to the public nature and users of our parks if they are thoughtfully developed and regulated.

As The Times concluded:  
“Even if the law is changed to allow more commercial uses, any new proposal would have to address issues of height, noise, traffic, as any major development proposal would, as well as conform to the original vision of the park as a place primarily for public enjoyment. But the worst alternative would be to do nothing.”

Community Forum on the Future of Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Friday, September 14, 2012
The coming months could go a long way in shaping the future of Queens’ largest park. A public review process is expected to begin in October for a proposed expansion of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and Major League Soccer has proposed a plan to construct a 25,000-seat stadium on the current site of the Fountain of the Planets on the park’s northeast edge. The public review process for that plan could begin as early as the spring.

The Fairness Coalition of Queens, a group of local organizations ranging from church groups to the park's soccer leagues, will host a community forum this coming Monday featuring elected officials and community and faith leaders from the surrounding neighborhoods. Proposed plans for the projects aren’t final, and there’s still an opportunity for the public to have a direct say in the park’s future.

Monday, September 17
6:30 PM
Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church
104-11 37th Avenue Corona, Queens

Fresh Meadows Couple, Beneficiaries of Local Park, Decides to Give Back

Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Rosa and Benny Wong live just across the street from Cunningham Park in Fresh Meadows, Queens. From the second-story balcony of their house, they observe walkers and ballplayers, catch wafts from barbeques, listen to Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic concerts, and take in the July 4th fireworks show.

“After a few years of enjoying the benefits, we wanted to give back to the park,” said Benny Wong.

The Wongs, a dynamic duo of civic volunteerism, began attending meetings of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association in 2006 and soon began volunteering at events and frequenting local community board meetings. They’re indefatigable planters, cleaners and weeders, said Bob Harris, the President of the Civic Association.

“If there’s any sort of park improvement event, they’re there,” he said.

The Wongs have taken on several leadership roles in recent years within the Association. Benny, now its 3rd Vice President, has helped conduct a significant outreach campaign to local high schools and colleges and has helped sign up hundreds of student to participate in plantings and cleanups.

“Benny is always contacting the schools, keeping track of our list, and Rosa is always right there next to him with her clipboard to sign people in at every event,” Harris said.

The Wongs have seen dramatic growth in participation over the past several years. When the Civic Association began participating in Partnerships for Parks’ It’s My Park Day events in 2006, less than five volunteers showed up, but the past two years have attracted more than 125 volunteers to the biannual event, and Benny is confident that number will continue to rise.

The local community board also has the Wongs to thank. The couple worked with CB8 to establish the park’s first health fair last year, and they were there all day at the Civic Association’s fair table to hand out information about healthy living in the Fresh Meadows area. Harris cited the fair as a testament to the Wongs’ positive impact.

“Because of them, the quality of life in our neighborhood has greatly improved,” he said. “They’re a cute couple.”

And that’s the key: the Wongs are nothing if not a united team – whether they’re showing up at City Hall early on an weekday morning for an NY4P-sponsored budget rally (as they did this past spring), directing new student volunteers, weeding the park’s dog run, or driving to the store to pick up emergency water for an event.

“When either of us tries to do it on our own, we can’t do it, so we have to stick together,” Benny Wong said. “Plus, she’s a much better driver than I am.”

NY4P Research Helps Deliver Open Space to Jackson Heights

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Jackson Heights is one of the most underserved neighborhoods in New York City in terms of parks and open space. According to NY4P’s 2009 City Council District Profiles, District 25, which encompasses most of the neighborhood, has one of the lowest rates of parkland per resident in the city, ranking 49th among the city’s 51 districts. Only two percent of the entire district is parkland, compared to the citywide average of 14 percent.  

Armed with this data and the 2010 Jackson Heights Open Space Index – which New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras commissioned NY4P to undertake – neighborhood community groups including the Jackson Heights Beautification Group and Green Agenda for Jackson Heights, and Council Members Ferreras and Daniel Dromm have successfully secured multiple open space improvements in a three-year effort marked by persistence and creative thinking.

Where, local advocates wondered after NY4P’s data confirmed their sense that their neighborhood is underserved, could we possibly find more public space? Three years later, the results are impressive: the community has a new pedestrian plaza on 37th Road, a dog run and brand new compost center under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway at 69th Street, plans for an improved Dunningham Triangle in adjoining District 21, and a Department of Transportation Play Street on 78th Street along the northern border of popular Travers Park. And to top off their list of accomplishments, local groups and Dromm helped convince the City to purchase a 25,000-square foot schoolyard from the Garden School, across the Play Street from Travers. The vision:  two parks fluidly connected by a permanently-closed street, resulting in one expansive, integrated public space.

The purchase of the schoolyard is now undergoing land use review, and last week NY4P testified in support of the acquisition before the City Planning Commission. In our statement, we cited the aforementioned statistics, as well as more detailed data from our 2010 Open Space Index of Jackson Heights. The survey revealed a dearth of recreational opportunities, gardens, and green space: approximately 25,000 children live in the neighborhood, yet there are only 5 playgrounds and only three baseball fields, and there is no public recreation center providing indoor space for athletics. Only 36 percent of residents live within a five-minute walk of a neighborhood park, and none live within a 10-minute walk of a large park. 

The schoolyard acquisition won’t solve all these issues, but when combined with the other successes of Jackson Heights advocates and public officials, it is a huge step in the right direction. It also validates the tireless efforts of these local groups and officials, which can serve as a blueprint for other open space-starved areas of the city. And for NY4P, it validates how powerful our research tools can be in the hands of local open space advocates determined to change their neighborhood for the better.

Clean Beaches Are Top Priority for Staten Island Fisherman

Wednesday, August 22, 2012
It only takes one glance at Richie Chan's e-mail signature to realize how much he loves fishing:
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For much of his life, Chan has spent mornings and evenings in the same place: the waters off Staten Island, in his waders, casting out for striped bass, fluke and blue fish. This is his time to enjoy a side of the city many New Yorkers don’t see, where gliding blue herons and cranes often provide the only soundtrack. More often than not, the fish bite for him. But sometimes, he reels in an unpleasant catch:  an aluminum can, a glass bottle, even the occasional diaper.

“I hate that!” Chan said. “Nothing's worse than a peaceful fishing night interrupted by a garbage hook.”

It’s these unfortunate incidents that led Chan to become one of Staten Island’s most active and effective leaders in organizing beach, park and open space cleanups.

Chan has lived on Staten Island for several decades – he now lives in the Dongan Hills neighborhood – and has been a part of the local environmental and maritime stewardship community for much of that time. Since 2000 he’s been a member of the Natural Resources Protective Association (NRPA) and has served as its Secretary. While his duties range from newsletter writing to membership tracking, he is probably most known for organizing cleanups.

“It’s just something I’ve taken on for the good of the island and its environment," Chan said. "Our work is never done.”

He supervises up to 16 cleanups a year, mostly in the spring and fall, and sometimes they attract as many as 60 volunteers. Regulars know Chan not only for his friendly leadership style but also for his fliers detailing the decomposition rate of marine debris which he hands out at every cleanup, along with fairs and festivals around the island.

Some of the numbers which Chan and NRPA have carefully researched: 80-200 years for an aluminum can to decompose, 400 years for a plastic six-pack ring, 450 years for a disposable diaper or plastic bottle, and up to one million years for a glass bottle.

“These are serious numbers, and people should understand the consequences for the environment when they just throw something on the beach or in a park,” Chan said. “I try to tell as many people as possible.”

The cleanups aren’t just centered in one place or even one neighborhood of the island. One weekend Chan might cover a whole section of the Bluebelt – the streams, ponds and wetlands that comprise a network of natural drainage corridors across a third of the island. Another, he’ll be in Conference House Park. But not surprisingly, the avid fisherman’s favorite cleanup events occur along the island’s miles of shoreline – whether municipal swimming beaches, craggy non-swimming areas, or tidal wetlands on Raritan Bay. He recently organized a cleanup near the “South Pole” marker at Ward’s Point in Tottenville, the southernmost point of New York State.

And the impact can be seen island-wide. Staten Island’s swimming beaches have gotten a lot cleaner in recent years, thanks to Chan’s cleanups and more effective efforts by the Parks Department. NY4P’s 2007 Report Card on Beaches gave D’s to Midland and South Beaches, and a failing grade to Wolfe’s Pond Beach. But by the 2011 report, we documented marked improvement at Midland and South Beaches, though Wolfe’s Pond is still challenged, scoring in the D range.

Chan credits the Parks Department for the improvements in Staten Island’s swimming beaches and though he finds reports of several hypodermic needles on beaches this summer disturbing, said that problem has gotten much better and is impossible to avoid altogether. Still, Chan would like to see the Parks Department focus more attention on non-swimming beaches and more effectively transport its beach rake around the island. But he understands that limited resources and budget constraints hamper the Department, concluding that overall conditions have drastically improved since he began leading the cleanups.

Like many parks and open space volunteers around the city, Chan’s passion for what he does has deep roots. He was always interested in maritime volunteerism as a Boy Scout in Rockville Center, Long Island, and recalls his membership in a junior sailors’ club almost as a rite of passage.

“I always loved being near the water, and now what I care most about is keeping those areas around the island clean.”

His hatred of littering is nothing new, though he reluctantly admits he might have been guilty of it himself once or twice in his youth.

“But I know one thing: I haven’t littered since 1967," he said. "We were sitting on the curb in Rockville Center, and my friends kept flicking cigarette butts. It was disgusting, and I yelled at them and promised to myself that from that moment on I’d never, ever, ever litter again, and I haven’t.”

As City Plants More Trees, Volunteer Stewards Fill Critical Role

Friday, August 10, 2012

Evelyn Chen’s boyfriend may have initially questioned her sanity when she trudged out of their Park Row co-op at 11 pm with 20 gallons of water for the street trees behind their building, but over time she convinced him otherwise.

Ten months into Chen’s self-appointed stewardship of five trees along St. James Place in Chinatown, the couple has seen the positive impact the trees have on their block: more shade, a calmer feel, and even a friendlier atmosphere among neighbors.

“I might look crazy out there with my red wagon,” Chen said, “but when people walk or bike by and yell ‘thank you,’ it’s pretty rewarding.”

The trees behind Chen’s building – she estimates there are between 12 and 14 of them – were planted about two years ago. Though they were watered occasionally by a local business group last summer, they were untended in the fall.

That led Chen to attend a tree stewardship seminar hosted by GreenThumb, a Parks Department program that provides programming and material support for more than 500 community gardens across the city. Though Chen grew up a tree lover in a leafy Connecticut town, she didn’t fully grasp the importance of urban tree care until the seminar.

“It made me think about the stresses the trees are under, the inhospitable street environment, and there was no turning back,” she said.

Each tree requires 20 gallons of water at once, and it took Chen several tries to develop an efficient routine. Because of her work schedule – and because water evaporates more during the heat of the day – she decided nights were best for the work. Her watering trips occur at least biweekly, depending on rainfall, and her tree-care regimen also extends to frequent weeding, mulching and flower planting.

Chen is one of thousands of unheralded local tree stewards throughout the city who take time out of their evenings and weekends to weed, water and mulch the tree pits on their blocks. The street tree stewardship movement is more important than ever in New York City:  budget cuts have slashed public funding for tree care at the same time that the MillionTreesNYC initiative hit its halfway mark – that’s 500,000 new saplings citywide – earlier this summer. NY4P advocacy helped increase 2013 funding for tree pruning by $2 million, but the Parks Department is still severely hamstrung in its tree care efforts.

“The City has less funding for maintenance, but there are lots of parts of the public realm that the average citizen can help maintain,” said Deborah Marton, Senior Vice President of Programs at the New York Restoration Project, which partners with the City on the MillionTrees initiative. “It’s tough when you’re working full time to add another task, but if everyone watered trees outside their home, the city would benefit in a huge way.”

Those benefits are far more than purely aesthetic. Recent studies have evidenced that the presence of urban street trees leads to decreased asthma and diabetes rates, increased physical activity, less overall anxiety and depression, higher real estate values, less energy use and lower crime rates.

Kaid Benfield, Director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth Program at the National Resources Defense Council, recently examined the value of street trees in an Atlantic Cities blog post. He highlighted the California Center for Sustainable Energy's San Diego County Trees Initiative, which built an interactive map showing specific street tree locations and the total monetary benefits provided by each tree, broken down into categories like carbon sequestration, water retention, energy saved and air pollutants reduced. A similar project is underway in Washington, D.C., where the nonprofit Casey Trees has created an interactive tree map.

Further, Benfield referenced a 2008 paper by Walkable and Livable Communities Institute Executive Director Dan Burden, which argued that “for a planting cost of $250-600 (includes first three years of maintenance) a single tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of a tree.”

Stewards like Chen, though, quickly realize the simpler benefits, like the improved camaraderie on her block. She says what she’s doing on her block can easily be replicated citywide.

“There are so many neighborhoods around the city where one person taking care of a tree could have a great impact,” she said.

Marton is hopeful that the network of tree volunteers will continue to grow, especially as MillionTrees and other environmental programs expand their community outreach and educate more New Yorkers about the benefits and rewards of stewardship. And she agrees with Chen that though adopting a tree might seem too time-consuming or mundane, the case for doing so is compelling.

"If people think about the investment versus the returns, I think they're much more likely to get involved,” Marton said.

NY4P Works With City Council to Secure Open Space Improvements in Modified NYU Plan

Wednesday, July 25, 2012
The New York City Council voted 41-1 in favor of New York University’s 2031 campus expansion plan on Tuesday, clearing the way for construction to begin in 2014.

To gain passage, NYU agreed to scale back its construction on two superblocks south of Washington Square Park by a further 17 percent – including significant trimming of proposed building heights and footprints – after making additional concessions earlier in the land use approval process.

Since that process began, NY4P has supported NYU’s plan – with modifications – based on our guiding principles that public open spaces should serve the greatest number of constituencies, and be preserved and well maintained in perpetuity.

In our testimony before a June 29 City Council hearing on the plan, we called on NYU to make several key modifications, including strengthening the open space maintenance and operations agreement, establishing a fund for long-term maintenance, and giving the Parks Department the ability to enforce the agreement.

Over the past few weeks, we worked closely with local Council Member Margaret Chin, her staff, and the Council’s Land Use staff to secure these and other modifications.

Specifically, Council Member Chin negotiated a commitment from the City and NYU to enter into an agreement for the care of all public land within the two superblocks. NYU will establish an endowment that will provide $150,000 annually for upkeep of the City-owned open spaces, and NYU will maintain both these and the privately-owned public open spaces at the same standard of care. The agreement also requires NYU to secure a letter of credit upon which the Parks Department can draw if NYU fails to meet required maintenance standards.

Throughout the process, NY4P also pushed for the establishment of a long-term oversight body, including representatives from the community, to oversee the design and care of all public spaces within the superblocks. The resulting Open Space Oversight Organization will consist of five members, representing the Council, Community Board 2, the Manhattan Borough President, the Parks Department and NYU.

In addition, NYU agreed to reduce above-grade density by 44 percent on the north superblock – including a 64 percent reduction in the proposed “boomerang building” – which will allow for larger, more visible access points to interior public spaces.

Language was also added that provides greater protection for LaGuardia Community Garden, a beloved plot at the corner of LaGuardia Place and Bleecker Street, during construction on the southern block.  Finally, the school agreed to several immediate open space improvements, including wayfinding and signage for the Sasaki Garden, a new seating area on Bleecker Street and playground for Mercer Street, plus improvements to the LMNOP playground.

In the end, our advocacy has produced the blueprint for comprehensive upkeep of new public open spaces, longer preservation of the Mercer Playground, transfer of several Department of Transportation-owned strips of land to the Parks Department, and the opportunity for community input in the open space design and ongoing maintenance process.

While there’s still work to be done, we’re confident that the public open spaces created by the plan will be more accessible and welcoming, serve a broader spectrum of New Yorkers, and be better maintained than the current spaces within the superblocks south of Washington Square Park.