News

Dedicate A Daffodil for Valentine's Day

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Let your love blossom by dedicating a daffodil this Valentine's Day. The Daffodil Project has planted over 6 million bulbs across New York’s parks and gardens,  and you can help it continue! Your loved one will receive a personalized daffodil certificate celebrating your commitment  to beautifying and supporting communities across the city in their honor. It's a gift that keeps on growing! Dedicate a daffodil today.

*To receive the daffodil certificate in time for Valentine's Day 2017, order by Tuesday, February 7.

Remembering Robert Douglass

Monday, January 09, 2017

We were deeply saddened by the December passing of Robert R. Douglass, the longtime chair of the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association and the founding chair of the Alliance for Downtown New York. Mr. Douglass was a key player in the revitalization of Downtown Manhattan, and played a pivotal role in the area’s recovery and revival after the attacks on September 11th. We were incredibly honored when his family chose our Daffodil Project as the recipient of memorial donations, and planted our bulbs in his honor. Every spring those daffodils will bloom in Bowling Green, brightening the community he was so dedicated to. We want to offer sincere thanks to his family and loved ones, whose generosity helps us bring the Daffodil Project to neighborhoods across New York City. 

Make a donation to the NY4P Daffodil Project in memory of Robert Douglass.

A Message From Lynn Kelly

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Photo courtesy of Snug Harbor

I am very excited and honored to be at the helm at New Yorkers for Parks. I’ve only been here two weeks, and we’ve hit the ground running – we’re hosting a series of webinars to provide parks-lovers with the tools they need to improve their parks, and we’ll soon announce our next round of community meetings in each borough. I’m looking forward to meeting my fellow Parkies, and learning from you about the biggest issues facing our parks. We’re also gearing up for the next City budget and the Mayoral election, crafting park priorities based on the feedback we gather from you.

When I was considering this position with NY4P, it occurred to me that some of the most memorable moments of my life took place in parks across NYC: the first goal I scored with my soccer team on Miller Field in Staten Island; my first ride on the Cyclone; my college graduation in Washington Square Park; and finally running up that long, long hill in Prospect Park.

I’m sure all of you as New Yorkers have memories of parks that are equally significant. We love parks because they give us places to grow and celebrate, but also because we need them.  Simply put, New York cannot be a great city if it does not have great parks.

We are in a critical time for open space in New York City. Development is happening at a rapid pace across the five boroughs, and tourism is at an all-time high – and that’s a good thing. Those industries keep jobs in New York and help ensure a robust economy. But for me, it underscores the need to ensure that NYC strikes the right balance between development and open space.

New Yorkers for Parks is going to continue pushing for quality parks and open space that serves the needs of all New Yorkers. We will keep working so that all New Yorkers live in healthy neighborhoods where they can thrive, so that future generations will also have fond memories and a deep connection to their parks.

I am very grateful for your support, and I look forward to working with you all,

Lynn

Webinar: How Can I Improve My Park?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The "How Can I Improve My Park?" webinar was recorded on Wednesday, December 21. You can read an overview, below. 


How Can I Improve My Park?

Did you know that everyday New Yorkers can influence the city to build new park amenities? One of the most common questions NY4P hears from residents is how they can make a difference in their neighborhood parks and playgrounds? There is money to be had from our elected officials for improvements and we want to help you navigate through the process of advocating for and hopefully acquiring this funding.  Let’s get started!

What is the first step in solving a problem I see in my neighborhood park or playground?

The very first thing to do is determine what kind of problem you see in your park. Park problems generally fall into two categories.

  1. Maintenance and Staff Issues
  2. Large-scale Infrastructure Issues

Maintenance and Staff Issues

The first category-- maintenance and staff issues--are small repairs or improvements in how your park or playground is cared for. Some examples include: repairing broken benches or equipment; mowing lawns; pruning trees; cleaning comfort stations; more frequent trash pick-up. The funding to solve these types of problems comes from the city’s expense (or operating) budget. If these are the kinds of improvements you want to see, you’ll need to work with staff at NYC Parks and Partnerships for Parks. If you observe a problem of this nature that requires immediate attention (i.e. a broken tree limb or broken play equipment), we recommend you immediately report it to 3-1-1.

 Large-scale Infrastructure Issues

The second category--large-scale infrastructure issues—require capital projects where something is built or major infrastructure improvements are made. Generally speaking, these projects must cost $35,000 or more – if the price tag is less than that, you’re probably looking at a maintenance and staff issue. Examples of capital projects include: installing new athletic fields or courts; getting new playground equipment; building a dog run; improving ADA accessibility; getting a new comfort station. The funding for these types of improvements comes from the city’s capital budget. If you would like to see a major capital project in your park or playground, you will need to work the staff at NYC Parks, Partnerships for Parks, and your local elected official to get funding.  

Today’s post is going to focus on the second category, large-scale infrastructure issues, and how to advocate for funding for a capital project. Where to begin?

The first step to seeing an improvement of any kind is to start building a coalition of neighbors and park users who also want to see change in their park. You will want to reach out to Partnerships for Parks to identify your local Outreach Coordinator. The team of Outreach Coordinators can help you identify any existing park and community groups in your neighborhood as well as provide assistance in building a group from the ground up. Since your ultimate goal in this process is to secure funding from your local officials, you want to build up a diverse network of support that shows your council member of borough president that your idea has traction amongst a number of constituents.

How do I build a coalition?

Reach out to local business, identify pre-existing civic organizations, stop by your local community center or church and try to engage park/playground users directly.  As you build a network, listen to others to get ideas about how to improve your park. Plan together what your park needs and how to get it. As you move through the process of advocating for funding, you want to keep your new partners engaged with your efforts. If you write a letter to your council member, get lots of signatures. If you attend a Community Board meeting, invite as many supporters as possible. Sign petitions, hold rallies, make posters to circulate in your neighborhood. There is real strength in numbers.

We’ve got a coalition, now how do we get support from elected officials?

When advocating for discretionary funding from elected officials—City Councilmembers and Borough Presidents—you want to remember a few things.

  1. Be specific, but flexible. You want to present concrete ideas about improvements, but be willing to compromise. It is possible others in your community have already approached your officials so you want to keep an open mind and open ears. This could be  a good way to meet new supporters who want to see changes.
  2. Use your time effectively and stay focused on your issue. Elected officials are very busy. It goes without saying that courtesy and respect go a long way to building trust and support with your representatives and their staff. Building a relationship with staff is critical. They are the eyes and ears of our elected officials and they can advocate for your projects to their bosses.
  3. Be persistent. Follow up calls and emails to check in with staff after meetings is important to keep your project on their radars.
  4. Be patient. Last, but certainly, not least, remember that this process can take years. Elected officials are responsible for solving so many concurrent issues in our communities; we have to be realistic about their abilities to meet our needs and have all of the funds necessary to complete your project.

You also will want to bring a few things to meeting with public officials:

  1. Photos of the problems in your park
  2. A list of your coalition members
  3. Letters of support from other public officials, ex: Community Board
  4. Accomplishments of your coalition, ex: held public meetings, workshops, trainings
  5. Data & Facts*

*Data & Facts

NY4P has a range of research tools that can help New Yorkers from every neighborhood build a case for improved open space. Our 2015 City Council District Profiles provide comprehensive information about open space resources, including a district map of all public open spaces and other quality of life measures, such as health and socioeconomic statistics. Our Report Card series provides maintenance data for various kinds of open spaces in NYC, from large parks (20-500 acres), neighborhood parks (1-20 acres), and beaches. Our Open Space Index series provides neighborhood-level data of open space provision and demographic data at a deeper level than our City Council District Profiles – if you reside in one of the neighborhoods we have surveyed, this report can be a great jumping off point for discussing your neighborhood’s needs. All of our research tools are completed with an aim to help you build the case for the park improvements you want to see!

Now, how do I get a meeting with public officials? And who exactly do I want to meet with?

To successfully complete your capital project, you need both support and funding.

Support: The following officials can’t give you money, but you need their support to get your project built

  • NYC Parks
  • Community Board

Funding: The following officials can fund your project because they have access to discretionary funding to give out each year to projects and organizations in their community.

  • City Council
  • Borough President

NYC Parks

As previously mentioned, a good first point of contact is the Outreach Coordinator at Partnerships for Parks.  They can help initiate contact with key Parks Department staff, such as your Park Manager and Borough Commissioner. Your Borough Commissioner and their staff can help you understand the feasibility of your proposed improvement, and can help give you a sense of the cost of the improvement – without a sense of cost, it will be difficult to get the funding you need from your elected officials. You want to call/email your Borough Commissioner’s office to request a meeting.

Community Board

The second important support group is your local CB. Community Boards represent every New York neighborhood, and while they don’t have funding to give, they can play a powerful role in helping to convince your elected officials that your project should get funding. It is critical to work with the District Manager for your local Community Board, as well the dedicated Parks Committee of the Board. Your ultimate goal with the Community Board is to get your project listed on the Budget Priorities List for the district, an exercise that takes place every year. You want to call/email your local CB, introduce yourself, your coalitions and your issue. Request to be added to the agenda for an upcoming Parks Committee meeting. Once you’re on an agenda, prepare a brief (2-3min) presentation. After, you’ll want to ask for a follow-up meeting and seek a letter of support you can take to other elected officials.

In the late spring, summer, and early fall months, your local CB will start to generate the final version of its District Budget Priorities list – there are 40 projects in every district that get added to the final list, and your goal is to get your project listed. Bring your coalition members along to CB hearings and meetings where the District Priorities list is being discussed – the more community members who turn out in support of an issue, the more likely it is to make it on the final list. The reason this is such an important step is because the final version of the District Budget Priorities list directly influences the City Council, Borough President, and Mayor’s office as it creates a budget for the next fiscal year.

City Council

The City Council passes laws and approves the city budget. Each City Council member also has funds from the city to give to local projects. Your goal is to get a meeting with a City Council Member to request discretionary funding. Write a formal letter to introduce your issue, make the follow-up call to ask for the in-person meeting, and bring along all of the information and supporting documentation of we listed above. In addition to requesting discretionary capital funds toward your project, you also want their help getting the project on the Borough Statement of Budget Priorities.

Borough President

Follow the same steps with your Borough President as you would your City Council Member. Write an introductory letter, request a meeting, make a case for your project and ultimately ask for discretionary funding and to be added to the Borough Statement of Budget Priorities.

 

Now, let’s talk about a general timeframe. How long is this all expected to take?

Generally speaking, the first version of the city budget, which is called the Mayor’s Preliminary Budget, gets released in late January. This means you should plan on reaching out to the staff at your elected officials’ offices at the beginning of the calendar year to remind them about your project. When the first iteration of the budget is released, the City Council then has about two months to hold hearings for every agency about its budget. Specific capital projects generally aren’t discussed at these hearings, but know that your Councilmember and Borough President are working with their staff during this time to come up with the list of capital projects they would like to fund. After the Council holds hearings, the city releases a second round of the budget in April, known as the Executive Budget. This version contains Council priorities in addition to Mayoral ones. From there, the Mayor’s office and the City Council work together to negotiate the final Adopted Budget, which must be agreed upon by the end of June every year. Usually, this version of the budget is finalized in early June, so keep an eye out for news reports about it. This is your cue to reach out to your elected official’s staff to see if your project received funding. Hopefully, the answer is yes!

Three Possible Outcomes

  1. Your project didn’t get funded this time… Don’t give up! Remember, NYC is a huge place, and there are many needs that have to be accommodated by our officials. Just because you didn’t get funding in the first year, doesn’t mean you won’t be successful. Laying the groundwork by meeting with staff, getting them up to speed on your park’s needs, and engaging your neighbors for a common cause is critical work, even if you don’t see results right away. This just means you need to keep chipping away for the next budget cycle to keep building support for your project.
  2. Your project was partially funded… Capital projects can often come with a hefty price tag. It’s to be expected that a major capital project will take a few years to build up all of the funding needed to move forward. Keep the process going! The worst thing you could do is get complacent, and assume the rest of the funding will come through in the next budget year. Keep meeting with staff, keep engaging your neighbors, and keep advocating for your project.
  3. Congratulations! Your project was fully funded! The Parks Department will now begin the design process. Stay engaged with your Partnerships for Parks Outreach Coordinator, Borough Commissioner, and community coalition. The Parks Department will hold a community visioning session to get feedback on the design and this is your chance to further shape the final outcome of the park improvement.

Timeline

Year One: Build your coalition! Meeting neighbors, reach out to local businesses and institutions, and reach out to your Partnerships for Parks Outreach Coordinator.

Year Two: You and your coalition should start attending community events and meeting with public officials to introduce your project – start meeting with the Community Board, your Councilmember and their staff, the Parks Department, and your Borough President.

Years Three and Four (and maybe Five!): This is when you start to keep building the case for your project to receive funding. Remember, it often takes at least two years for all of the funding to get allocated!

Years Five, Six, and Seven: Assuming your project gets the funding it needs, you should expect that capital construction process to take at least three years before it’s finished. This might seem like a long time, but this is fairly average for a new park project. Stay engaged, and stay patient! Making change isn’t an overnight process.

Key Contacts

An immediate step you can take is to gather the contact information of key players in the journey to capital funding. We recommend you keep a running list of local Community Boards, Councilmembers, Borough Presidents, and Partnerships for Parks Outreach Coordinators. Having their phone numbers listed in one, easily accessible place for you and your coalition members will make the process a little smoother.

Additional Resources

  1. Participatory Budgeting: Participatory Budgeting is a process in which NY City Councilmembers allocate $1 million of their discretionary capital money to projects that are created by, and voted on by residents of the district. The idea behind this effort is to engage folks who are often excluded from the traditional voting process, such as undocumented residents, the formerly incarcerated, youth, and people of color. PB can be a great way to get funding for less expensive capital improvements in your park or playground, and might be a good option for navigating the capital process more quickly. Check it out here.
  2. People Make Parks: People Make Parks is a set of tools and resources to help communities participate in the design of their parks, developed by the Hester Street Collaborative and Partnerships for Parks. Get the online toolkit here.
  3. Capital Tracker: Track park improvement projects as they go through the capital projects here.

 

If you have any questions about how to improve your park or playground, please contact New Yorkers for Parks. Our Outreach & Programming team is here to help!

Emily Walker- Director of Outreach and Programs

212-838-9410 ext. 314 Ewalker@ny4p.org

Laura Montross- Outreach Coordinator

212-838-9410 ext. 303 Lmontross@ny4p.org

If you've found this information useful, please support our work.


2016 Daffodil Project Recap

Monday, December 12, 2016

 

By Tasmia Anika, Communications Intern

2016 Daffodil Project by the Numbers:

  • 500,000 bulbs distributed citywide
  • 40,000 to Partnerships for Parks and NYC Parks
  • 23,000 volunteers
  • Over 15,000 youth volunteers
  • 176 schools participated
  • 6 NY4P-led school plantings, with 200 youth planting over 3,300 bulbs
  • 30+ NYCHA gardeners planted 20,400 bulbs

The Daffodil Project completed another successful year as 500,000 bulbs were planted by New Yorkers citywide in 2016.The essence of this volunteer effort is as robust as ever as we continue to commemorate the lives lost on 9/11 and the revitalization of our beautiful city. Our most enthusiastic volunteers are often the smallest - for years New York City schoolchildren across the five boroughs have participated in the Daffodil Project, acting as caretakers of their schools and playgrounds. In an age of technological innovation and increased screen time, a lack of exposure to green spaces hinders young people from experiencing one of life’s greatest joys: planting. New Yorkers for Parks changes that by inspiring youth to make their communities better and refresh their perspective toward parks.

This year nearly 200 schools across the city partook in this volunteer effort, receiving free bulbs from New Yorkers for Parks. The Daffodil Project uniquely introduces youth, particularly from low income communities, to neighborhood stewardship by encouraging them to enhance their schoolyards, parks and playgrounds with flowers. NY4P provides the daffodil bulbs, tools and supplies for students to engage and learn. For the majority of the students, this is their first opportunity to participate in beautifying nature and experiment with gardening.

The volunteer project encourages students to become more proactive and take pride in their surrounding communities. Whether it be picking up trash or planting daffodils, the young volunteers are given an opportunity to practice civic engagement and teamwork. NY4P hopes to engage students at a deeper level by pairing lessons in environmental education with recommended action steps. This goal is to strengthen the students’ understanding of nature's value, and spark the initiative to care for local green spaces .

In addition to school children, the groups who collaborate to make this project possible range from corporate partners to parks and gardening groups. In some ways the Daffodil Project is a reflection of what makes New York City special: diverse groups of people coming together, to make something beautiful grow.

If you appreciate what the Daffodil Project does for NYC, please support our support our work.

Announcing the 2016 Report Card on Parks

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

We are excited to announce the release of New Yorkers for Parks’ 2016 Report Card on Parks: Spotlight on the Community Parks Initiative. The new Report Card provides community groups, park users and other stakeholders with an independent, comparative assessment of how neighborhood parks located within areas of the city targeted by NYC Parks’ Community Parks Initiative are performing. CPI addresses park equity by outlining 55 densely populated high-needs areas, and identifying 60 parks in those areas for reconstruction.

The Report Card analyzed parks that are larger in size than the 60 parks that CPI will reconstruct. These parks really strengthen a community, providing spaces for active play, sports, and family gatherings, as well as places to be quiet, contemplative, and connected to the natural world all at once. The Report Card found that many of these parks also in need of real renewal and reconstruction. It’s not a surprise that many parks in these growing, high-needs areas aren’t serving their communities well because they’re under-maintained, with aging infrastructure. Parks that had been constructed or renovated recently scored higher than their older counterparts.

When parks like the Lower East Side’s Sara D. Roosevelt Park receive low scores, it’s clear that there’s a mismatch between this park’s popularity, and the attention it’s getting for daily maintenance and long-term reconstruction. Our neighborhood parks citywide, and especially in the CPI priority zones, should be thriving.

New Yorkers for Parks produces its Report Cards on Parks series on an ongoing basis to ensure that there is transparency, accountability, public awareness, and efficient deployment of resources throughout the park system.

City Acquires Land Needed to Complete Bushwick Inlet Park

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

We want to congratulate Mayor de Blasio, Friends of Bushwick Inlet ParkOpen Space Alliance of North Brooklyn, Council Member Steven Levin, Assembly Member Joe Lentol, and Adam Perlmutter, Chairman of the Board of OSA, on the city’s purchase of the last parcel of land needed to complete Bushwick Inlet Park. This is a huge victory for these advocates who have worked tirelessly to make it happen, and for the surrounding communities who can now finally look forward to getting the park they need. It’s fabulous to see the Mayor show that when New York City government makes a promise, they keep it.

New Yorkers for Parks was very pleased to be involved throughout the process of fighting for the completion of the park. As the citywide champion of parks and open space, this work is an essential part of who we are and what we do. We wrote letters to elected officials calling for the completion of the park, we added our name to letters sent by the Open Space Alliance, and attended rallies and other events. We are very pleased that the voices of all the dedicated advocates involved were heard by the city, to the benefit of North Brooklyn’s communities. 

Tell City Hall to Support Partnerships for Parks

Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Add your name by Thursday, November 17th, and show your support for Partnerships for Parks!

Over the past two years New Yorkers for Parks has held borough and citywide meetings with parks advocates and stewards from across the five boroughs. Almost every group spoke very highly of the support they’ve received from their Partnerships Outreach Coordinator. But we also heard again and again that the Outreach Coordinators are stretched too thin, and unable to provide the level of support the groups are looking for. That's why we're asking City Hall to add new Partnerships staff, enough to cover all of our parks and communities. 

The map below shows how many community board districts each Partnerships for Parks Outreach Coordinator oversees - each color corresponds to an OC's district in every borough. This shows just how much of the city each OC has to cover, and why we believe New York City's parks and communities need more.

On Thursday, November 17th we're presenting testimony to the New York City Council making the case for more Partnerships staff. 


Going on the Record - How to Make Your Voice Heard to City Gov't

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Giving testimony at a City Council hearing is a great way to make your voice heard to local government. Although the process may seem difficult, once you know the basic rules and procedures it’s actually a simple and effective way to help influence local policy. In this webinar we explain everything you need to know from how to check in, how to shape your messaging, to how long your testimony should be. 

Watch Going on the Record: Making Your Voice Heard to City Government now, or reach the transcript, below. 

Transcript:

There are a lot of ways to reach out to your City Council member these days. You could call their office or send an email to their staff. You could write a letter or sign a petition. If you’re short on time, you can even tweet! One of the most effective ways to have your voice heard, however, is to speak to your City Council member in person.

But how?

Participate in a City Council Committee Hearing! According to the City Council website, “It is there that proposed legislation is initially debated and members of other government branches and the public are given a chance to comment.” That’s where you come in.  City Council Committees typically host public hearings once a month.

Here at New Yorkers for Parks we regularly draft oral and written testimony to share at City Council Parks Committee Hearings.  We view these hearings as opportunities to build a case for increased funding for parks, advocate for programming and call for more park staff.

But why?

The public input process allows citizens to directly inform our elected officials. The truth is that feedback from constituents can shape the decisions made by our City Council. Furthermore, participating in the public process helps to ensure transparency- the more our officials hear from voters in their districts, the more likely they are to act.

Where do I start?

1) Find out who represents you at : http://council.nyc.gov/html/members/members.shtml

The City Council website provides the address of your member’s legislative office, district office, email address and relevant phone numbers

2) Sign up for the NYC Council E-Newsletter to find out about upcoming hearings: http://council.nyc.gov/html/action/enews.shtml

3) Regularly check the NYC Legistar portal for calendar of hearings by committee: http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx

Oversight vs. Legislative Hearings

There are two types of hearings:

Oversight hearings allow the Council to convene agency officials to be questioned on a given topic. These hearings give the Council an opportunity to dig deeper into the roles and responsibilities of various city agencies, programs and projects and can be a platform for longer-term strategy around funding or future legislation.

Legislative hearings provide the Council with the chance to introduce new legislation and discuss the impact of proposed bills. Agencies, experts, advocates and members of the public are encouraged to attend these hearings to weigh in on the impact any given legislation will have.

How do I get to a hearing?

Once you find out which hearing you want to attend from Legistar, make sure to look up directions to the meeting. Most hearings are held at either City Hall or 250 Broadway, a city building across from City Hall Park. Arrive early and prepare to go through airport style security. Be sure to tell the security officials your purpose and destination. Once you enter into the room, you will need to find the Sergeant-at-Arms who is the city employee who will check you in. Depending on the hearing, you may be asked if you are in favor or against the given topic. The Sergeant-at-Arms will call you up to speak when it is your turn to provide public input.

What happens during a hearing?

First, the City Council Committee members will ask questions of program officials and agency staff. These officials will present their prepared testimony and participate in a Q & A with the councilmembers. Next begins the public comment period. This is the opportunity for organizations, like NY4P, and individuals, like you, to speak. The Sergeant-at-Arms will call on you.

How should I prepare my testimony?

A few pieces of advice. Keep it tight! Generally public comments are restricted to 2 minutes. Be sure to state your case early on so you don’t run out of time- we recommend you practice reading your statement in advance with a timer. It’s important to tell the Council which neighborhood you are from, how many residents you represent, and what kind of programming your community organization offers. Incorporate your community into your testimony by telling the elected officials that their decision is going to have an impact on more than just one resident.  Finally, bring 20 printed copies of your testimony to the hearing. These will be distributed to City Council members and assure that your testimony is officially submitted on the record.

What should I expect out of the hearing?

City Council members have very busy schedules and may not be able to stay for the duration of the hearing. This does not mean that they won’t hear your testimony, but it is a good reason to remember to print and bring along copies. Remember, hearings are not a trial, but rather an opportunity to better understand a topic by listening to what expert organizations and community members have to say. Your opinion will help shape the decision-making process that takes place after the hearings.

Next steps?

NY4P provides lots of resources to park advocates and community groups in order to empower our advocate network. One of our greatest resources is our Advocacy Guide, created by NY4P with Partnerships for Parks and the Center for Urban Pedagogy. This guide is available in English and Spanish and maps out how to get funding for the parks and public spaces in your neighborhoods. It is available as a PDF download on our website and we are also happy to mail physical copies to you and your community members. NY4P will continue to host informational webinars to provide our constituents with the tools they need to advocate for their public spaces. Finally, we host borough meetings each winter to gather park users together in one space to think deeply about how we can shape the next fiscal year’s budget and upcoming mayoral and City Council elections.

Step One

Click here to sign up for our newsletter to receive information about upcoming borough meetings, webinars, council hearings and other NY4P events. 

Meet A New Yorker for Parks: Ana Traverso-Krejcarek

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

“When you're in these parks, you don’t even need to measure the air to know it’s polluted,” Ana Traverso-Krejcarek says while walking through the three small parks straddling the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in South Williamsburg. “This neighborhood has one of the highest rates of asthma in the city. And these are some of the only open spaces that this community has. So even though people want to get outside, and engage in healthy activity, it comes at a cost.”

As the Project Manager for the Green Light District, Ana spends a lot of time in these spaces, working with the community members who use and depend on these parks. The Green Light District is a ten year initiative of El Puente, a thirty year old social justice organization with deep roots in the local community. The initiative seeks to sustain, grow, and green Williamsburg’s South Side, and addressing its lack of quality open space is one of its main areas of action.

Environmental justice has been a core issue for El Puente from the beginning. In the 1990s the “Toxic Avengers,” a group of young environmental activists from El Puente, were instrumental in uniting with the local Hasidic community to stop the city from building a massive garbage incinerator in Williamsburg. Most of the trees in the south side were planted by El Puente years ago. The environmental activism lives on today with the national Latino Climate Action Network, and the locally-focused Green Light District.

To address park inequity, and to empower young people to understand and advocate for their open spaces, NY4P is working with Ana to educate El Puente’s Summer Youth Employment Program participants to gather and analyze data on their park spaces. They’re observing park conditions, and developing an understanding of why such conditions exist.

“The NY4P methods help people understand their open space better. They see what makes it healthy, and unhealthy. They see it with a more critical eye, and they can appreciate it better,” Ana explains. “It’s easy to take things for granted, but the more informed you are the more you can contribute to fighting for positive changes.”

“One of the most eye-opening things participants learned about was the 311 app. It’s a great tool to use for creating active citizenship,” Ana says, referring to NYC’s mobile app and phone service that connects New Yorkers with city government. The participants notified the city about trash and other maintenance issues that needed to be addressed, many of them using 311 for the first time.

“We also reached out to the parks manager to let them know what we’re doing. Now they know that the community is paying attention, but also that we are willing to help. We’re trying to get government to work with citizens, and the other way around.”

The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway cuts directly through the neighborhood, and both it and the Williamsburg Bridge funnel heavy traffic through the neighborhood every day. Most of the few green spaces in the neighborhood are right next to the expressway, exposing users to highly-polluted air.

In addition to studying open space, the young people at El Puente are also collecting air quality data, and will combine them to make a data-based argument for improved green space. “When our students tested the air quality, they found the particulate matter was five times higher than the average for this area of Brooklyn,” Ana notes.

“We need better open spaces to clean the air. Without clean air, we’re condemning families to live with huge costs,” Ana explains. Particularly for low- and middle-income families, the effects of asthma can go far beyond decreased health: there’s financial strain caused by health bills and lost wages, educational setbacks due to missed school, and the psychological burden of living with a chronic, and preventable, illness. The local Latino population is also suffering from higher than average rates of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. All of these issues make the need for quality parkland and open space especially pressing. “It’s a big matter of equity.”

As an urban planner with experience working with arts and culture organizations, working at El Puente with the Green Light District is a perfect fit for Ana. She believes in the work they do, and understands the power of data to affect change. “People deserve to have good parks, to have healthy places to take their children. And we need scientific data to support our case.”

One of the biggest changes El Puente is advocating for is the BQ Green, an ambitious project that would create new parkland by building over two blocks of the sunken Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The proposed project includes a baseball field, playgrounds, a lawn area for soccer and other activities, a pool, and a community center.

With an estimated cost of $100 million, the folks at El Puente and in the community know that making the BQ Green a reality won’t be easy. But they also know that quality open space isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity that all communities deserve. They’re working with Council Member Antonio Reynoso, the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn, the climate action group Mothers Out Front, and local community members to push for the park’s creation. In February 2017 they’re launching a campaign, and will step up the push to make the new open space a reality.