Who Represents Me: Demystifying the City Council

Monday, May 08, 2017

It’s an election year in NYC, and there are number of city council seats that will be filled by all new representatives next January. How can you figure out what council district you live in, and who might be running for office? Join NY4P at noon on Thursday, May 25 for our lunch-hour webinar as we walk you through all of the steps to understand how to find out who represents you, and how to reach them.

RSVP today! 

Daffodil Project on NY1

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

On April 13th NY4P's Emily Walker, Director of Outreach and Programs, joined Marlene Pantin of the Red Hook Conservancy on NY1 to talk about the Daffodil Project and its power as a tool for community engagement and beautification. Watch it on NY1.  

Public Realm Bill of Rights for New York City

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

On April 17th, at the NY4P x NYC citywide advocacy meeting, New Yorkers for Parks unveiled our Public Realm Bill of Rights for New York City. The bill lays out the principles the City should follow in creating and maintaining quality open space for all. 

If you missed the meeting you can still get an in-depth look at the Public Realm Bill of Rights in our short webinar

The vast majority of the Public Realm Bill of Rights is based on the input we've gathered from parks and open space advocates across the city over the past year and a half of outreach through our How's Your Park? and NY4P: Boro x Boro meeting series.  

City Parks Budget Update

Monday, April 10, 2017

On April 3rd the City Council released their response to Mayor de Blasio’s FY18 preliminary budget, and it includes some great wins for parks. Under the strong leadership of Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the City Council has demonstrated their commitment to open space.

The City Council budget response includes:

$6 million for 80 additional Parks Enforcement Patrol officers

$9.55m to continue funding 150 critical gardeners and maintenance workers left out of the Mayor’s budget for the third year in row

$1.7m to permanently expand the City’s beach & pool season by a week past Labor Day;

$30m to support additional Parks Without Borders Parks projects;

$3m for 50 new Urban Park Rangers, more than doubling the current 30;

$1m for 10 more Partnership for Parks outreach coordinators; and

$2.6m to expand funding for street tree pruning, allowing the City to return to the 7-year pruning cycle needed to keep trees healthy and streets safe

Mayor de Blasio is now reviewing the response and will soon release his Executive Budget, when the City Council will have another round of hearings. We’ll keep you posted!

While we’ve seen a great commitment to green space from the City Council, an issue of major concern is the potential cut to federal Community Development Block Grants. NYC’s GreenThumb community garden program gets 43 percent of its funding from the program, and the White House has proposed to cut those funds completely. GreenThumb would have to lay off a significant portion of its staff, and have much less money for supplies and tools. This could have a hugely negative impact on the over 500 community gardens that depend on GreenThumb. We’re still waiting to see what the final federal budget will be, and how it will affect New York’s gardens.

You can view our March 21 testimony to the City Council on the parks budget here, and read Council Member Mark Levine's opening statement here

Want to learn more about how the city budget is decided? We cover the entire process, including opportunities for the public to get involved, in "How to Influence the City Budget." 

Meet a New Yorker For Parks: Nilka Martell

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nilka Martell wants people to know that they have power to improve their neighborhoods and their city, and she’s using parks and open spaces to show them how.

“As an individual you have power,” Nilka says. “But so many people don’t realize that. They don’t even know that community boards exist, or they don’t realize what elected officials can do. There’s not a lot of education on the power of being an individual.”

Along with her community volunteer group, Loving the Bronx, Nilka is changing that.

“We empower people with information,” she explains. “We say to them, ‘If there’s something you want changed, here are the steps you can take.’ But we don’t expect them to just go along with what we do. We don’t spoon feed them. Even if they don’t keep working with us, they still have that experience and education, and they can accomplish great things elsewhere.”

It’s impossible to learn about everything Nilka does and not be impressed. Her work has been so impactful, NY4P is honoring her at the 2017 Daffodil Breakfast. She’s a Co-Chair of the Bronx Alliance for Parks and Green Spaces, in addition to leading Loving the Bronx. Nilka’s first group was G.I.V.E., Getting Involved, Virginia Avenue Efforts. But what started as a hyper-local effort to improve her street has turned into a borough-wide project.

One of the key drivers of Nilka’s success comes from her ability to see opportunities where others see roadblocks. In December of 2010 Nilka was laid off from her job. As she was going through the arduous process of looking for another job, Nilka decided that she wanted to learn more about the Bronx, where she had lived her entire life. When she found out that the borough is 25 percent parkland, she saw an opportunity to make a difference in her community.

She took her kids to volunteer stewardship events with NYC Parks, and they loved doing it. They reached out to the Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, the Bronx River Alliance, and other groups, looking for more ways to get involved. Before too long they started doing their own work in their own neighborhood.

“I knew nothing about the Parks Department. I knew nothing about community boards or funding opportunities,” Nilka recalls. “I was just a person who lived on a block that I wanted to improve.”

She’s found that one of the best ways to get something done is to just start doing it. “We didn’t wait for funding, or sponsorship, or anything. We just did it,” she says of her first days with G.I.V.E. “At first we just used the gloves we had laying around the house; another volunteer had some industrial trash bags; a neighbor had a few rakes; another gave us some Mexican sunflower seeds that she just happened to have. The first time we planted bulbs from the Daffodil Project we had no idea what we were doing. But in the spring we had beautiful flowers! It would all just come together like that.”

Once she saw how much of a positive impact she and the other volunteers could have beyond their street, she created Loving the Bronx so she could extend their work to push for healthy green spaces throughout the borough.

When asked why she chooses to focus so much of her time and energy on parks and green space, instead of the many other issues affecting the Bronx and the city, she points out that a healthy environment benefits everyone in the neighborhood.

“I thought about how diverse we are, and how 25 percent of the borough is open space. And regardless of who we are or where we’re from, we all breathe the same air. Who doesn’t want a nice park, or healthy trees, or wildlife? It’s something that we can all agree on.”

Nilka and the Loving the Bronx volunteers make a point of reaching out to and working with young people. They believe that if you get people involved when they’re young, that will create a connection that will last their whole life.

“These kids get hands-on lessons in how to organize and mobilize, which they don’t learn in school,” Nilka explains. “This is how movements are made.”

Their work is paying off. Involvement in successful local efforts encouraged people and gave them the confidence to take their work a step further. They now have folks involved in developing long-term care plans for local waterways, looking at how zoning affects their communities, and fighting for better air quality. They got people involved in the campaign to replace the Sheridan Expressway. They’re making tangible improvements.

“We use what’s going on right now to get people involved," Nilka says. "We ask them, If EPA funding is cut, what does that mean for our local waterways?

“If you educate folks and get them engaged, you’re empowering them. And then you can really start something.” 

Our Testimony on the Upcoming City Budget

Friday, March 31, 2017

City budget negotiations are currently underway, and in our testimony to the City Council we tackled some of the most pressing issues facing our open space: federal budget cuts which will have a hugely negative impact on community gardens in some of our city’s neediest areas; the need for better maintenance which will also create good-paying jobs; support for the volunteer community groups who dedicate so much time and energy to improving our city, and more.

Read our testimony here, and check out our resources that can help you understand the city budget process and get started submitting testimony of your own. 

Fearless Women for the Fearless Girl

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Update: On March 27th Mayor de Blasio announced that the "Fearless Girl" will remain in place until early 2018. This is entirely due to the many people from New York and beyond who wrote letters, signed petitions, and encouraged their elected officials to ask for the statue to remain. 

On March 15th thirteen prominent women leaders in New York City urbanism and public space sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio asking him to let the "Fearless Girl" statue continue to call Bowling Green home for longer than the month currently authorized. The signers are aware that the City is exploring the possibility of keeping her for longer, after hearing from many New Yorkers who want to see her stay, and they applaud the Mayor’s receptivity. 

Reach the full letter, below.

March 15, 2017

Hon. Bill de Blasio
City of New York
City Hall, 1st Floor
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor de Blasio,

It is hard to find a statue of a woman in New York City. Just ask Troop 3484 of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York who, after learning that there were no statues of real women in Central Park decided to do something about the underrepresentation.  They pledged to donate a portion of their Girl Scout cookie proceeds this year to the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund, an initiative to place statues of the two famous women’s rights activists in Central Park.

Last week, however, that search got a little bit easier.  Greeting all of us in Lower Manhattan was a petite bronze statue of a young girl, adorned in high-top sneakers and a ponytail, planted squarely across from the iconic Charging Bull sculpture in Bowling Green Park. She stands fearless and confident, hopeful and empowered. “This is a piece of work,” said the artist Kristen Visbal, “all women of any age, shape, color, or creed can relate to.”

By now, you’ve heard of her, The Fearless Girl. 

Fearless Girl has been photographed, tweeted, and shared thousands of times in the last week.  Resident New Yorkers and tourists alike have flocked to Bowling Green to see the symbolic statue in person.  In fact, some of us, leaders and directors of various nonprofits and businesses in New York, made last minute changes to our schedules to meet up and take a picture with her.

Fearless Girl represents not only the importance of sculpture in the urban environment but the power of our public spaces, where all kinds of people gather over shared interests and common experiences.  Fearless Girl has resonated with thousands of women, just like us.  As women in leadership roles in New York City, we are all too familiar with underrepresentation and the challenges that women continue to face in society.  Know that each one of us has been, and continues to be that girl – emboldened, resilient, courageous and willing to lead in the face of adversity. 

We commend your Administration for supporting women in leadership roles in government and in the workplace.  Your support bolsters what we do and we thank you for your leadership.  Allowing Fearless Girl, this important symbol of equality and strength, to appear on International Women’s Day was both moving and inspiring to all of us and it is equally thrilling to see how she has been embraced by people of all races, ages and gender. 

We fully respect the City’s permitting and review process but still believe that this timeless, empowering statue belongs in our public realm for longer than its permitted week or requested month.  We request that that the City will consider granting a longer ‘temporary’ status to Fearless Girl, as we find her no less symbolic than the Bull.  We want generations of New Yorkers and visitors to feel we what we feel when we look at her  – proud to have made a difference, proud to be a New Yorker. 

Mr. Mayor, we ask you today to please make Fearless Girl a longer-standing fixture of this forward-thinking, amazing city we call home.


Lynn B. Kelly
Executive Director
New Yorkers for Parks

Betty Chen
BYC Projects and Former NYC Planning Commissioner

Susan Chin
Executive Director
Design Trust for Public Space

Susan M. Donoghue
Prospect Park Alliance

Amy L. Freitag
Executive Director
J.M. Kaplan Fund

Elizabeth Goldstein
The Municipal Art Society of New York

Kamillah M. Hanks
President & CEO
Historic Tappen Park Community Partnership

Vivian Liao Korich

Holly Leicht
Former Executive Director
New Yorkers for Parks

Regina Myer
Downtown Brooklyn Partnership

Angela Sung Pinsky
Executive Director
Association for a Better New York

Kathy Shea
Executive Director
American Society of Landscape Architects, New York

Claire Weisz
W X Y architecture + urban design 

cc:  Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, DCLA

      Commissioner Mitchell Silver, DPR

      Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, DOT

      Mr. Justin Garrett Moore, PDC     


Friday, March 17, 2017

2017 is an election year here in NYC, which means it’s more important than ever that we elevate the open space conversation citywide. Join us at NY4P x NYC on Monday, April 17th, as we present our draft election year platform for parks. This is your opportunity to help NY4P shape its election-year agenda! Many of you participated in our recent NY4P: Boro x Boro meeting series - we will be presenting our findings and will bring our advocacy recommendations from those meetings to you. Over 120 park advocates shared their open space challenges with us, and from that feedback, NY4P has created a set of policy recommendations for New Yorkers to take action around in the coming year to address those issues. We'll also present our ongoing work on the city budget campaign for NYC Parks, and share ways you can help push for a better budget for parks with us this spring. 

Join us from 6:00 - 6:30 for check-in and networking. Program will run from 6:30 - 8:30. Light refreshments will be served. Se habla Español.

Location: LMHQ, 150 Broadway, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10038. 
LMHQ is conveniently located near the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, R, W, J and Z trains.

RSVP today! 

How To Influence the City Budget

Thursday, March 16, 2017

We’re right in the middle of “budget season,” the time of year when the Mayor and City Council negotiate what will be funded in the upcoming city budget. The budget affects every New Yorker, but how many of us really know how it works, much less how we can have a say in it?

On March 21 the City Council Parks Committee is holding a hearing on the city budget, where the public can present testimony. Testimony is just a formal written or spoken statement that is on the record. Presenting in-person or written testimony at a City Council hearing is one of the most powerful ways of making your voice heard to city government. 

In this article we explain how the city budget process works, and in our accompanying webinar we cover everything you need to know about how to present testimony. Opportunities for you to get involved are in bold. 

The city budget runs on a fiscal year (FY) cycle, beginning July 1 and ending June 30. So this year you’ll be testifying on the FY 2018 budget, which begins July 1, 2017.  

Because other City Council hearings are usually focused on a specific, predetermined topic, budget hearings are your best opportunity to address both general and specific park issues that are important to you. 

Examples of what you can ask for include more funding for cleaning and maintenance of parks, for Partnerships for Parks staff, or better maintenance of street trees. You can ask for more money to be set aside for new playgrounds, or even for an entirely new park. This is just a small sample of the types of things you can address in your testimony.

Below are some of the budget items NY4P is going to be pushing for, and we need your help. If these issues are important to you, too, consider including them in your testimony.

  • We’re calling on the Mayor to add and make permanent, or “baseline,” 150 Maintenance and Operations staff to the budget, for a total cost of $6.7 million. These City Park Workers and Gardeners have been funded by the City Council for the past two years, but the City Council cannot make them permanent. We believe the Mayor should baseline these critical positions.
  • We’re asking the Mayor and City Council to add about $1 million to the budget to allow for 10 new Partnerships for Parks Outreach Coordinators, and 5 new Volunteer Program Assistants to be hired. This would double to the outreach staff at Partnerships, and would allow them to support even more park stewardship groups than ever.
  • We’d like to see $3 million go toward hiring 50 new Urban Park Rangers. Park Rangers act as ambassadors to our urban ecology and open spaces, and can provide many environmental educational opportunities to the children of NYC through their free programming. We believe an investment in this program is more important than ever.
  • We support critical infrastructure projects like daylighting Tibbets Brook in the Bronx, and visionary parks projects such as BQ Green and the Queensway.

There are three parts to the city budget: the Expense Budget, the Capital Budget, and Revenue. When giving testimony on Parks Department funding, you’ll only need to address Expense and/or Capital, depending on what you want to see funded.

The Expense Budget covers the cost of operating and maintaining our parks. This includes staff such as Gardeners and City Parks Workers, street tree maintenance, programming such as educational activities in parks, and funding for basic repairs.

The Capital Budget covers big-ticket infrastructure items, like a new bathroom or “comfort station,” new playground equipment, major repairs, or an entirely new park.

You don’t necessarily need to know if what you want to see funded is Expense or Capital – the City Council will know where to allocate it. But if you do want to know, feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help you figure it out!

The whole process begins in January when the Mayor releases the Preliminary Budget. In March and April the City Council holds public hearings on the Preliminary Budget. Each hearing is held by a specific City Council committee, or sometimes multiple committees. You’ll testify at a Parks Committee hearing. To find out when an upcoming hearing is happening, you can search by committee in NYC Legistar, which is the legislative calendar and information center for the NY City Council. Also keep an eye out for emails from NY4P alerting you to upcoming hearings.

The Council then responds to the Mayor’s Preliminary Budget, based in part on what they learn at the public hearings. This is why it’s so important to submit testimony – our elected officials won’t know what New Yorkers want if we don’t tell them!

In April the Mayor issues his Executive Budget. In May the City Council holds another round of hearings, this time on the Executive Budget. The Executive Budget hearings are a chance for the Council to continue their budget analysis and advocacy efforts; however this is not a stage in the budget process when the public can testify. There are ways the public can keep up the pressure during this period of time, usually through letter-writing, petitioning our elected officials about the causes we care about, and holding budget rallies.

Finally in June, once the hearings are over, we get the “handshake” between the Mayor and the Speaker of the City Council, which means that the budget is adopted for the next fiscal year.

Want to know even more? The City Council website has more in-depth information, including current and previous city budgets.

Now that you know all about how the city budget works, watch our webinar on how to give testimony. Then come to the hearing on March 21st to make your voice heard and improve your parks!

Still have more questions? Contact Emily Walker or Laura Montross from our Outreach Team, and we’ll be happy to help!

Meet a Few New Yorkers for Parks: Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

For the past two years Steve Chesler and Katherine Thompson have been at the center of a David versus Goliath-worthy story about a group of committed community members banding together to put pressure on the New York City Government and a wealthy landowner. Their work has been so original, forward thinking, and dedicated, that New Yorkers for Parks is recognizing them at this year’s Daffodil Breakfast with a special “Parks Pioneer Award.”

While the saga and success of Bushwick Inlet Park has been well documented, what’s less known is the story of the people behind the movement, led by Steve and Katherine and the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park. What we don’t know enough about is the day-to-day hard work that went into making it happen, and what lessons Steve and Katherine can offer to other New Yorkers facing similar battles for open space.

While there were many important pieces of the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park’s activism, four key ingredients stand out:

  •        Building a broad coalition;
  •        Engaging your community in a fun and sustained way;
  •        Working with elected officials;
  •        Most importantly, don’t take no for an answer. 

“We engaged local community groups from day one – that was hugely important. You need to have a broad coalition.” Steve explains. “We started working with existing open space advocates like El Puente and the Open Space Alliance right away, and had initial meetings with Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning, and Council Member Stephen Levin.”

Then they went beyond the obvious. They reached out to local schools, parent-teacher associations, churches, athletic leagues, and others, and found that they all wanted to see the park completed, too. They canvassed at farmer’s markets to educate and get to know folks who may not be connected through other organizations.

The message they used to get people excited wasn’t complicated. “We said that our park was in danger,” says Steve. “It was a tangible fight – there was something very specific we were fighting for. But it’s also part of bigger issues around equity and fairness. It’s the notion that parks and waterfront access shouldn’t only be for the wealthy.”

Katherine emphasizes the importance of creating actions that are kid and family-friendly. “People can bring their children, and it’s not only easier for them to show up and stay involved, but then you get grandma and grandpa coming out, too. We would offer dinner and childcare at some of our events, and a lot of them had art and button-making workshops or other hands-on activities for the kids.”

They also offered more specifically political events like advocacy training and letter-writing parties. Because it became an ongoing program, the community not only knew to expect them, but could depend on them. The outreach and activism of the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park became something to look forward to.

What’s notable about the efforts of the Friends is that their inclusive method of activism is exactly what enabled them to succeed. Because they reached out to everyone, they had a large group of people with diverse skill sets to contribute to the effort. It wasn’t just open space advocates, or people with experience working with government; they also had filmmakers, performers, artists, graphic designers and others who used their talents to help spread the word and sustain the momentum.

“I literally called it our tool box,” Katherine recalls. “When we had another hurdle to clear, or an event coming up, I’d ask, ‘What’s in our toolbox?’ And I’d think of everyone we had involved, all the various skills they had, and ways they could contribute.”

Burgeoning groups need to have real, committed engagement, Steve notes, even if it’s just a few savvy people at first. From there you can branch out. “There are probably journalists and artists who are interested in telling your story, even if they’re not from your community. Because these kinds of issues and fights are happening across the city, and many city initiatives are really only in the best interests of the developers – these problems aren’t restricted to any one neighborhood. If you give someone the opportunity to document your fight, you can both get something out of it.”

You can also give your elected officials the opportunity get something positive out of your fight, as well. While it can take some pushing at first, Steve and Katherine’s experience is that elected officials really do want to act on the will of the people. “Politicians aren’t bigger than a group of citizens. It doesn’t even take that many people to influence them, as long as you speak up and show up.”

Council member Stephen Levin sponsored a rally for the park on the steps of City Hall, which ended up drawing over 300 attendees, more than the site could accommodate. The Countdown Clock and the camp out were both proposed by Borough President Eric Adams. “I shared a tent with Congresswoman Maloney,” Katherine remembers, laughing. “It was a little surreal.” The Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park also got strong and sustained support from State Senator Squadron and Assemblymember Joe Lentol.

Ultimately, the most important ingredient was persistence. In addition to the events the Friends held in their community, they also attended community board meetings across the city to speak about their experience and offer advice. Because community board meetings are reported back to the city, this meant Bushwick Inlet Park couldn’t be ignored or forgotten.

They testified at Department of City Planning and City Council hearings as often as they could. “We hijacked hearings,” Steve says matter-of-factly. “Identify a good speaker in your group, and go to as many hearings as you can.” Look for city hearings that are related to your issues in any way – they could be about housing, transportation, or other topics that don’t immediately stand out as relevant to your issue. Find the connection, and go.

Steve, Katherine and other members would go to local elected officials’ town hall meetings, and have at least two or three people in the audience prepared to ask questions about the park. When they saw their elected officials or city officials at public events, they would ask them about the park, without fail. They were on a first name basis with the Planning Commissioner, the Parks Commissioner, representatives from the Mayor’s Office, and others.

All of this combined led to their truly remarkable success. The Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park held the city accountable, and protected one of the last pieces of publically accessible waterfront open space in Northern Brooklyn. That’s one of the reasons New Yorkers for Parks is honoring them at this year’s Daffodil Breakfast with the “Parks Pioneer Award.” They truly are pioneers in our city's ongoing push to save and create quality open space.