Honoring Doug Blonsky at the Party 4 Parks

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

This year we are delighted to honor Doug Blonsky, President & CEO of the Central Park Conservancy, at our 2017 Party 4 Parks. Doug has been with the Conservancy for over thirty years, playing a key role in its restoration from a place of neglect to the world-renowned public park masterpiece it is today. 

We’re especially excited to celebrate the Central Park Conservancy Institute for Urban Parks, which Doug established in 2013 to ensure the sustainability of Central Park and the Conservancy, as well as to provide assistance, training, and on-site support to current and aspiring park professionals. The Institute shares the knowledge and passion of the Conservancy’s team with people across from across the world, and across the five boroughs. 

The Institute’s Park to Park program provides direct assistance and education to parks all over New York City, including gardening, site assessment, visitor engagement, and turf care. The Five Borough Program performs improvements to NYC parks as a way to build skills and knowledge. By bringing their expertise directly to our city’s parks the Institute supports the employees and volunteers who are the backbone of a healthy park system. 

Doug understands that great parks make a great city, and has put this into action for the betterment of Central Park and neighborhood parks across the city that are just as beloved by the communities who use them. For this reason we are proud to honor Doug at this year’s Party 4 Parks.

NY4P in NYC (and beyond!)

Monday, October 09, 2017

We’ve had an action-packed summer and early fall! Learn more about what we’ve been up to.

In mid-July Emily Walker, Director of Outreach and Programs, was on a funding workshop at the NYS ReLeaf Conference. She talked about how NY4P resources and data can help build a case for funding and investments in neighborhood open space and greening.

Lynn Kelly at Greater & Greener

On July 31st Lynn Kelly spoke about how to build a park advocacy organization at the City Parks Alliance Greater & Greener Conference in the Twin Cities. Co-panelists included the National Parks Conservation Association, Park People, Park Pride, and Innovate Memphis.

New Yorkers show their love for open space

On August 12th we were at DOT Summer Streets sharing our Public Realm Bill of Rights and talking with New Yorkers about why open space matters to them.

On September 5th Emily Walker participated in a Candidate Forum in District 18 in the Bronx, asking candidates for City Council about their stance on open space and environmental issues. The forum was organized by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, and also featured representatives from the Waterfront Alliance and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice.

Emily Walker at the Court Square Civic Association

Emily Walker was on the Court Square Civic Association Parks and Recreation Committee Meeting panel with Commissioner Lewandowski on September 26th at MoMA PS1. She helped answer questions about how a neighborhood facing tremendous development pressure and a lack of open space can work to find opportunities to create new open space where possible, and how to seek better maintenance and conditions in the parks they already have. Sheshared our District Profiles, Bill of Rights, and advocacy guides.

Lucy Robson presents data from our Civic Action Tracker

On September 29th Lucy Robson, Director of Research and Planning, presented our Civic Action Tracker data at the APA-ASLA-AIA Public Spaces, Social Movements conference. Lucy Robson presented an update of the data NY4P has been collecting on protests in public spaces as part of the Civic Action Tracker. NY4P’s data shows that civic actions take place in all five boroughs, at an average of at least one protest every 20 hours, with the most people turning out for protests about federal legislation. Lucy and the Research & Planning team will present full-year findings in 2018.

And last but not least, on October 5th we kicked off our Open Space Dialogues series, looking at new ways to value open space. Read more about it here.

Meet a Few New Yorker 4 Parks: NYRP

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Donte Taylor and Jason Sheets

By Kim Ahrens, Communications Intern

The New York Restoration Project (NYRP) was founded by Bette Midler in 1995 with the conviction that every New Yorker deserves a well-maintained area of open space near their home. To reach this goal, NYRP has planted trees, created community gardens, restored open spaces, and purchased land to create new green spaces. NYRP focuses their work on high density and low-income areas to create a joyous space to escape to.

When NY4P met with Jason and Donte of NYRP at the Family Garden in East Harlem, it didn’t take long to realize the amount of passion they have for their work. To them it is not just a job, it is something that they truly believe in and enjoy. But, before NYRP neither of them imagined themselves making a living with a career in horticulture.

Jason Sheets has been with the organization for 17 years, and over the years, has earned the title of Deputy Director of Community Gardens. Jason started with NYRP in 2000 creating a steady maintenance level within the community gardens. He now focuses his work on the grant programs that NYRP has to build special projects outside of their owned land. He has also been a mentor for many people within the organization, such as Donte, and thoroughly enjoys his position and the work that he does. He says the people at NYRP are so close it’s like another family. Jason sometimes wonders if he should pursue something different or make a career change, but each time he finds himself coming back to the foundation because there is always something new and different going on within NYRP. “These gardens have been part of my life for 17 years and it is really a testament to the organization, the work we do, the partnerships I have with folks in this community, and the community based organizations. It’s really hard to walk away from something you have put so much time into as well as seeing the potential these spaces still have.” Whether it be a new initiative or reaching their goal of planting one million trees around NYC a whole year ahead of schedule, Jason can’t see him leaving this career behind. 

Donte Taylor discovered that after about a semester and a half of college that it wasn’t for him. He had no idea what he wanted to do in life and struggled to find the next step. That was until he unintentionally discovered his passion for horticulture after seeing a sign for graffiti removal through NYRP. He checked out the opportunity just looking to make some money and, instead, began his career with NYRP and has earned the position of Director of Garden Horticulture.

“I had no idea I would ever take a liking into horticulture or community gardens. My field interview was supposed to be graffiti removal in Highbridge Park, but there were a whole bunch of broken branches that covered the pathway that made the park inaccessible. [We] had these handsaws and removed the branches. I liked it because it was physical work and I had the chance to work up a sweat, so I was excited to join from that day.” Donte has been with NYRP for 14 years and works out in the field helping his maintenance team and executing plant designs working alongside Jason, while viewing him as his mentor, Donte is extremely grateful for the opportunities he has been given and never takes it for granted. “I had the chance throughout my childhood to live for a few years in the Bronx and Manhattan, and I remember as a young kid seeing all these lots that NYRP now owns. Now today I am able to maintain these spaces and it has been a great thing to me.”

NYRP privately owns 52 community gardens spread throughout the five boroughs. These spaces owned by NYRP are classified as privately owned public space, meaning anyone can access it just like they do a public park. A community garden is a publicly cared for garden cultivating plants and fresh fruits and vegetables. Some of the land before it was bought by NYRP contained old or unkempt community gardens, so it was a challenge to begin bringing people in to maintain them. “When I first came in [to the community gardens], it was to meet the people and not come in as the landowner trying to kick the people out and I wanted to figure out what the use of the space is and how we can build on that. Slowly, but surely we started getting these gardens reopened. We started to get school groups to come in and held public movie nights to get more people in to break down the enigma of what the space is because it really is for the public.”

Although you can plant whatever you want in these spaces, NYRP can offer advice on which plants thrive in different environments. NYRP will also provide you with seeds to plant as well. The foundation holds workshops and projects open to the community to advance their horticulture knowledge and to encourage the neighborhood to participate in their local community garden. These gardens also double as a public meeting space that can be used as a public gathering area or even a classroom.

The spaces owned by NYRP are open different hours based on their use. The agricultural sites are open less frequently to prevent people from picking other residents’ vegetables, while other spaces are open from dawn until dusk. Jason explained NYRP “mandates at least 20 open hours per park each week and those hours are posted on our bulletin board and on our website as well.”

One of the most fulfilling parts of Donte and Jason’s jobs is meeting and maintaining relationships with the gardeners who contribute to the community gardens. Donte and Jason admit that when they first started working in these communities, residents living in the surrounding area were not quickly to accept that there were new, unknown people coming in to transform their public space. However, over time they became more accepting and appreciative of the work completed and that is what has led to such strong relationship between NYRP employees and members of the community. Creating and maintaining these relationships with the public is an extremely important amenity that NYRP has, because it keeps the people coming back to use and care for the open space.

Jason and Donte are both extremely grateful for the opportunities NYRP has given them to create their career. They each credit the incredible people within the organization in helping them reach their highest potential. Behind all of NYRP's great gardens is a great crew of people caring for them.

Welcome New NY4P Staff

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Michelle Velez, Mariana Lo, Caitlin Mason, and Gabriella Cappo

NY4P has four new team members! Get to know Gabriella, Mariana, Caitlin, and Michelle in their own words.

Gabriella Cappo, Community Outreach Coordinator

I grew up in Connecticut and currently live in Brooklyn. My undergraduate degree is in International Affairs and Spanish. I got my Master’s Degree at the New School in International Affairs with a focus on Cities and Social Justice. Before coming to NY4P I was with the Parks Department helping organize volunteers in caring for street trees and natural areas.

As NY4P’s new Community Outreach Coordinator, I will be working closely with Emily Walker, the Director of Outreach and Programming. I am starting my time here by working on the Daffodil Project and the 2017 election campaign. In general, I will work to build and strengthen relationships between NY4P and the communities we serve.

I am really excited about being a part of NY4P as a whole. All of the NY4P projects, those I am involved with and those I am indirectly tied to, are fascinating and I am thrilled to be part of an organization that serves the community in so many important ways.

Fun fact about me: I have visited a park in ALMOST every continent (except for Australia and Antarctica)

My very own dream park would have LOTS of off leash dog areas, so I could go on long walks with my Pomeranian, and comfortable reading nooks.

Mariana Lo – Research and Planning Analyst

Prior to joining NY4P, I was a researcher and litigation assistant at Earthjustice. I hold a Master’s degree in environmental management from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where I also worked as a Community Forester and street tree planter. After earning my undergraduate degree in linguistics from the University of Chicago, I spent three years as a full-time AmeriCorps volunteer, serving with the Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps in Chicago and later at Bethlehem Farm in West Virginia. I grew up in California’s Silicon Valley suburbs and now live in Manhattan. 

As the Research and Planning Analyst at NY4P, I do data collection, analysis, and research on parks and open spaces in support of our advocacy work. This fall, I’ll be spending most of my time on the Civic Action Tracker and the next Open Space Index report. I hope that my work will further illustrate the importance of parks and open spaces to the civic life of the city, as well as to the physical and social health of New Yorkers. I’m excited to learn more about, and get involved in, city politics and policy.

My dream green space would be a network of rooftop gardens on every apartment building in the city, so that people who don’t have backyards could still enjoy the benefits of greenery and gardening (and maybe a nice view!).

Caitlin Mason – Development Associate

I graduated from Boston College in 2016 with a degree in English and Theatre, and became really interested in development through my recent internships at two nonprofit theatre companies.

As Development Associate, I will be assisting will all fundraising efforts, from gift processing to working on grants to helping plan and run events. I am excited to learn more about parks and open space policy, and to help get others to care and be encouraged to donate to support the work NY4P does to promote open spaces for everyone.

My dream park would have lots of walking paths, benches, pools of water, and waterfalls with artistic programming.

Michelle Velez – Development Manager

I am a development professional with experience as a fundraising consultant and a passion for green space. My last position was at CCS, a firm that provides onsite fundraising consulting services for non-profit organizations. My career in the non-profit world began in Mexico City, where I was a Princeton in Latin America Fellow at Endeavor, an international nonprofit that promotes high-impact entrepreneurship in developing economies. I am excited to reconnect with my passion for green space and sustainability that began while I was in college at Villanova University. As an undergraduate, I helped spearhead an initiative to organize a campus community garden that I am happy to share has recently broken ground thanks to continued leadership in the years since my graduation. I am also a native Long Islander who loves beaches and hikes.

As the new Development Manager, I am working closely with each NY4P team to develop strategies for our annual development plan. Currently, my Development Team, with the support of our new Development Associate, Caitlin, is preparing for our annual gala. We are responsible for all aspects of NY4P’s development activities to reach our annual budget and grow additional support over time.

I’m thrilled to join the NY4P team! I look forward to a successful 2017 Party 4 Parks annual gala in October and to continue to build relationships with the generous individuals, foundations, and corporations who make our work for parks possible.

On Sundays, you might just find me playing Quidditch (the sport from the Harry Potter series where the players fly on broomsticks) in Central Park!

In a world of dream parks, I think a park with fruit trees would be cool – local apples in the fall and beautiful blossoms in the spring!

2017 Election: Where the Candidates Stand

Monday, September 11, 2017

In September 2017 we sent our Public Realm Bill of Rights for New York City to candidates running for elected office across the city, and asked for their responses to four questions about the bill: Which article of the Public Realm Bill of Rights for NYC speaks to you the most, and why? What is your favorite park or open space in your district? How can it be improved and why? What do you consider to be the most pressing park or open space need in your community, and what is your plan to address it? 

Their answers show what open space issues the candidates see as most pressing, and how they think those issues should be addressed. We're sharing their responses here so that voters can make an informed choice when they cast their ballots in the primary election on Tuesday, September 12th, and again in the general election on Tuesday, November 7th.  

Click here to see the candidates' responses. If you're unsure of what council district you live in, you can find out here. To find your polling place, click here.

NY4P Interns at Work: Surveying in the South Bronx

Monday, September 11, 2017

 By Kim Ahrens, Communications Intern

This summer, NY4P was equipped with a diverse team of interns ranging from recent high school graduates to graduate level students.  Their task was to survey numerous different parks in the South Bronx to help NY4P and the neighborhood gain a better understanding of what exactly those parks can use to help better the community. The interns reported to NY4P’s Director of Research and Planning, Lucy Robson, who oversaw the surveying process and assigned the interns their daily tasks.

The primary purpose of surveying these park spaces is in support of the possibility that the city may be rezoning an area of the Bronx. The City is referring to this zone as the Southern Boulevard Neighborhood Planning Study Area. Although the City’s study focuses on opportunities for affordable housing, NY4P thinks it’s also an opening for park advocates to call for local park and open space improvements.  Lucy explains, “we at NY4P believe that access to a park is one of the many necessities for a livable neighborhood and appropriate action should be taken to maintain a livable neighborhood.” The Study area is bounded by Crotona Park to the west and the Bronx River to the east, with Hunts Point to the south, and the Cross-Bronx Expressway at the area’s northern edge. The interns have surveyed local parks including Stebbins Playground and Reverend J. Polite Playground.

The survey process consisted of collecting personal observations of the activity happening in the parks. Lucy described it was important that “the interns focused on who was using the spaces and what was being used as well as, and just as important, who was not using them and what was not being used.” The system of surveying that was used this summer is the System of Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC). It was developed by the RAND Corporation and has been primarily used in urban neighborhood parks. The information obtained by the interns will be used to determine what is in demand in a specific park and will also allow NY4P to work with local community groups to develop ideas and recommendations. 

The interns’ day began in the office where they checked in with their supervisor, Lucy, and received their assignments and partners for the day. They then hopped the subway uptown to the Bronx and once they arrived at their designated park, they began surveying.

Interns worked in pairs to ensure accurate observations. The first partner scanned the park and recorded the information on the SOPARC coding form, while the other partner took general pictures of the activity in the park and verified the information observed. Park goers were often curious as to the information the surveyors were recording, so it was also the job of the second partner to answer any questions so the first partner can perform a complete scan. The coding form recorded information on residents in the park.  Information personally observed and logged consisted of gender, age, race, activity, and activity level. Other questions that are answered on the form address the overall target area such as accessibility, usability, supervision, and organization. Each park was previously divided into smaller areas known as ‘target areas.’ This allowed the surveyors to view virtually every inch of the park, further ensuring accurate and precise observations. Each target area required a separate SOPARC form and each question to be answered according to that specific area.

Some information, however, was unobtainable through the SOPARC survey form, but was still valuable information to the interns. Jasmine explained that “our data doesn’t tell us information we wouldn’t know without talking to people. Talking to people tells us other kind of behaviors people see in the park that leads to our observations, such as the park being empty, or finding out that the park is never clean, so people of the community have to clean it themselves. This is information we would never be able to find out online, so that’s why it is helpful to talk to the people in the parks.”

Ab explained how “it is also fun to get anecdotal with the people you see. You can’t help but talk to them. [Jasmine and I] went to this community garden once and we met a guy who has been helping out in this one garden since he was a kid. His sister planted a tree in the 70’s or 80’s when she was five-years old, and now the tree is full grown.”

Ryan’s favorite part of the job was “being outdoors for the majority of the day, instead of inside an office.” There are two rounds of surveying each day with a lunch break in between. Times of the surveying vary between morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon. Once the proper information is recorded, the interns return to the office and put away the equipment used.

There are also designated “office days,” which is when the information collected in the field is summarized and inputted into a database. Each completed coding form is scanned and also stored in an online file. Before the official analysis of the park, the interns have noticed some trends. Jasmine noted that “the amount of activity considered vigorous is way less than sedentary. There is an extreme difference.” Awae said he “expected parents taking their kids to the park, but I didn’t expect most of the adults that I see to actually be involved with their kid in some way.”

The information collected can be used in various ways by NY4P and the community. After reviewing, analyzing, and summarizing the data collected, NY4P will eventually release a report along with recommendations to the public. The neighborhoods can then also use this information to form their own recommendations of what their neighborhood parks can use to better improve the community. An example of how this information can be used is if a park has handball courts, but the data collected by NY4P shows that those courts are rarely used, however, basketball courts are in high demand in that area, a plan can be sought out to renovate that part of the park supported by this information in an attempt to receive those desired basketball courts. 

The interns learned so much more than they thought they would and all thoroughly enjoyed their experience working with NY4P. Ab enjoyed “getting to know Bronx parks. I’ve never been to the Bronx before exploring these parks.” Andrew, a resident of the Bronx, was “excited he was able to discover and explore different parks in his home borough he has never been to before.” The interns and the rest of NY4P are excited to see the final outcome of this study and to release the information to the public and help improve parks and open spaces in NYC!

To learn more about our summer interns, see: ‘Meet the Interns

Join the Fight for Quality Open Space

Thursday, August 24, 2017

As the 2017 elections approach, New Yorkers for Parks is fighting to ensure that every New Yorker has access to quality parks, gardens, and open spaces. Here's what you can do to help:

  • Sign our Public Realm Bill of Rights to tell candidates for City Council and citywide off that all New Yorkers deserve access to well-funded, quality parks, community gardens, and open space.
  • Help get the word out! Share our petition on Facebook and Twitter and send the link to email lists of fellow parks, gardens, and open space supporters. Here are some sample posts you can use:
    • "I'm proud to be fighting with NY4P to ensure that every NYer has access to parks and open space. Join me: #parks4all"
    • "I signed NY4P's Public Realm bill of Rights to ensure that every NYer has access to open space. Join me: #parks4all"
  • Take a selfie at your favorite park, garden or open space with the hashtag #parks4all. Post it on social media and tag us at @ny4p on Twitter and Instagram, and on Facebook.

Daffodil Project Registration Now Open!

Monday, August 14, 2017

October 17, 2017 Update: Registration for the 2017 Daffodil Project is now closed. Thank you to everyone who signed up to participate this season!

Registration for the 2017 Daffodil Project is now open! Free daffodil bulbs are available to anyone planting them in an NYC public space such as a park, community garden, street plaza, or street tree pit. The Project was founded in 2001 as a living memorial to the victims of 9/11, and has since planted over 6.5 million bulbs across the city! Registration ends Friday, September 1st at 3:00 pm. Sign up for free bulbs and be a part of one of the largest volunteer efforts in NYC history.

Help Find Unused Parks Buildings

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Help 596 Acres, a local non-profit championing resident stewardship of land, is finding places for New Yorkers to create community resources, and they need your help! Their work so far has revealed that dozens of buildings in NYC parks that were closed in 1970s still haven't been reopened. They are asking volunteers to help by documenting the unused buildings in their neighborhoods. You can help 596 Acres reveal our shared assets to make the city you want to live in. Check out 596 Acres' website to learn more about the project and how to get involved.

Meet the Summer 2017 Interns

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

By Kim Ahrens, NY4P Communications Intern

This summer our five Planning and Field Survey Interns will be spending much of their time with NY4P outside of the office and in NYC parks. They will be surveying usage and activity in several neighborhood parks in the Bronx then recording and summarizing the information collected. This information will be used to determine what those parks need to help better serve the community.

NY4P's Summer 2017 Interns surveying Horseshoe Park

Jasmine Jones-Bynes is a Piscataway, NJ native entering her senior year at Rutgers University pursuing a degree in Urban Planning. She chose to intern in NYC with NY4P because Jasmine believes she “can make a difference in improving the equity for the city's low-income and minority residents.” Jasmine is an advocate for parks as she believes that every New Yorker should have a right to a local park. She is eager to see how the data she collects can be used to improve those parks. Her favorite activity to do in her local park is to swing on the swing set and Jasmine’s dream park would be an underwater park.

Jasmine Jones-Bynes

Hong (Ryan) Zhu is from Queens, NY and recently graduated from Energy Tech High School. Ryan is currently pursuing an associate’s degree in civil engineering from LaGuardia Community College through his high school’s six-year program. Hoping to gain surveying experience for his future goal of surveying infrastructure, Ryan joined the NY4P team. When hanging out in his local park, Ryan loves to play basketball or volleyball. Ryan’s dream park “would be a park near the water with a life-sized replica of the World War II warship, the IJN Ise in its 1944 configuration.”

Ryan Zhu

Ab Juaner is NY4P’s graduate intern studying urban planning at NYU Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service. Ab was born and raised in the Philippines and moved to Los Angeles in 2007. She chose to move across the country to NYC because she felt this city a great laboratory for urban planning. Ab’s obsession with the show, ‘Parks and Recreation’ contributed to her interest with the public policy work and projects of NY4P. Having the opportunity to combine community organizing, civic engagement, advocacy, and planning enticed Ab to become a part of NY4P. Ab loves having picnics in parks and in her free time enjoys playing competitive table tennis. In Ab’s dream park would an “aquarium and botanical garden with free science, art, cultural programs for all ages.”

Ab Juaner

Andrew Singh is currently majoring in Economics with a concentration in Finance and minoring in Public Policy and Public Affairs at the City College of New York.  Andrew is a lifetime New Yorker as he was born and raised in the Bronx. After interning with Echoing Green as a Direct Impact intern, Andrew found a passion for working with non-profit organizations. Upon joining the NY4P team, Andrew was most excited to find out that he would be surveying parks in his home borough. His favorite activity to do in parks is go for jogs along the trails and take pictures of the surrounding landscape. In his dream park he would include, “a ten-mile scenic running path and a huge fitness complex.”

Andrew Singh

Awae Elnaw was born in Sudan and moved to NYC at a young age. In the fall, Awae will be entering Hunter College with an undecided major, but is interested in Business Management. Awae is also extremely passionate about parks, which drives him to volunteer some of his free time as a gardener to improve them. He is excited to learn what exactly goes into how a park functions with NY4P as far as how to volunteer, increase funds, and the philosophy behind what drives this kind of advocacy. In Awae’s dream park he would have “gardeners taking care of the plants at the park on a daily basis.”

Awae Elnaw


Kim Ahrens is our Communications Intern for the summer. She will be working alongside our Director of Communications on NY4P’s social media, blog posts, and newsletters. Kim is a rising senior at Hofstra University majoring in public relations. Residing in Seaford, NY, Kim commutes a few days a week into the office and occasionally works from home. Kim is interested in working and getting involved with the non-profit industry as she also has previous experience at The Make-A-Wish Foundation. Her favorite activity to do in a park is to play any sport such as baseball, soccer, or basketball. When asked what she would include if she could build her dream park, Kim said, “I would want a mini replica of Yankee Stadium to play on and unlimited ice cream.”

Kim Ahrens