Andrea Parker: Gowanus Canal Conservancy

Monday, July 10, 2017

By Kim Ahrens, NY4P Communications Intern

Andrea Parker, Executive Director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy

“It is so small, so central, and has so many eyes on it.” That is how Andrea Parker, Executive Director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy (GCC), describes the Gowanus Canal, and the motivation the local residents have to preserve and improve the canal and surrounding land.

While much of GCC’s efforts are focused on improving the water quality of the canal, they’re also pursuing a bold plan to create a network of vibrant parks and open spaces, and are using the canal to engage young people as the next generation of environmental stewards. Where others may see insurmountable problems, GCC sees opportunities.

The Gowanus Canal is one of the most polluted waterways in America and in 2010 was declared a Superfund site by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). One of the perks of being a Superfund site is they have now begun a long $500 million clean up project that will be funded by Potentially Responsible Parties, such as National Grid and the City of New York. 

These days the biggest contributor to pollution in the canal is sewage overflow. New York City has a combined sewage system, meaning that rainwater goes into the same sewer system as does wastewater from our businesses and homes. But the city’s old system can’t always handle all the water it receives, and during periods of heavy rain untreated stormwater and wastewater goes out through combined sewer overflows (CSOs) into waterways across the city.

Gowanus Canal

The Gowanus Canal has 12 CSOs along its banks, pouring over 370 million gallons of sewage overflow into the canal every year. To reduce pollution, the conservancy works with New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to build and maintain bioswales, planted areas in the sidewalk that collect stormwater to reduce the amount of going into the sewer system. 

The Conservancy is the only non-profit in NYC to have a maintenance contract with DEP. Bioswales are the first above-ground infrastructure DEP has been responsible for, and the community engagement needs are larger and more nuanced than with the below-ground infrastructure they traditionally work with. It’s been a learning experience for both DEP and the community, but as Andrea explains, “they are getting better at outreach and understanding the community’s desires and needs.”

In addition to the bioswales, DEP will install two large underground sewage detention tanks. Coordination between the EPA and the DEP on the Superfund cleanup has been difficult at times, but the agencies are improving their efforts. “It has been extremely challenging and the community has been pushing back to get more coordination. But, again, they understand there is an issue and have got better.”

They are also working with local residents, businesses and schools to plant rain gardens and conserve water. It doesn’t take much for local residents to understand that something must be done about the polluted waterway, and they’re eager to get involved. As Andrea explained, “they notice it physically just by living here, along with some help from our key messaging.”

Andrea herself discovered the immensely polluted canal, and all the challenges and opportunities it presents, after taking part in one of GCC's volunteer workdays. As a landscape architect, Andrea immediately realized that this was exactly the type of work she wanted to do to make a difference. Andrea started with the GCC as a Volunteer Coordinator and eventually joined the board. Today, she is one of six full-time employees. 

GCC’s work goes beyond just cleanup of the canal, and they’re not afraid to think big. The Gowanus Lowlands Blueprint is the conservancy's combined effort with community members, partner organizations, elected officials, and agency representatives to connect emerging open spaces in the neighborhood into the city’s next great park.  

STEM Gowanus is an educational curriculum developed by GCC and taught to 7th and 8th grade students in neighborhood schools. The curriculum covers the local effects of climate change, and seeks to inspire students to create their own ways of addressing rising water levels and overflow from the canal. In 2016, 45 students from four schools presented their vision at EXPO Gowanus. These experiences often lead students to start talking about the issue at home. Andrea explained that after students start the conversation with their family, they notice a rise in water conservation within their home.

GCC certainly has an impressive reach, working with government agencies, local businesses, community members, and young people. GCC recently celebrated their tenth birthday and has come a long way since hiring their first full-time employee in 2011. Andrea credits the conservancy’s success thus far to having “a great team and great people who are engaged, and an excited board and volunteers. We have an interesting story and have young professionals who are fed up with the city and are just trying to do something a different way.” 

Although the canal and the conservancy have a long journey ahead, Andrea is happy with the progress already made and knows that there are many more great things in store for the Gowanus Canal and the surrounding neighborhoods.    

NY4P in NYC, Spring and Summer 2017

Sunday, July 09, 2017

It’s been a busy few months for NY4P! Check out some of the highlights from our late spring and early summer.


On May 4 NY4P’s Executive Director Lynn Kelly spoke on a panel at the New York League of Conservation Voters’ Environmental Candidate School. The Candidate School educates candidates for elected office on important environmental issues facing New York City. The panel topic was “Healthy New York,” and also featured Cheryl Huber from GrowNYC, Justin Wood from NYLPI, and Eric Goldstein from NRDC.

Lynn Kelly participated in Professional Women in Construction’s first annual Parks Panel on Mary 23.  “Perspectives from the Public Realm” was moderated by Jason Roberts of AECOM Tishman, and also featured Noreen Doyle of the Hudson River Park Trust, Pat Kirshner of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Michael Samuelian of the Trust for Governors Island. Lynn brought an advocacy perspective to the panel, and talked about what the city can do to help smaller and underfunded parks.

NY4P’s Director of Outreach and Programs Emily Walker, and Laura Montross, Outreach Coordinator, tabled at Car-Free NYC: Earth Day on April 22. The event was hosted by the Department of Transportation and Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

On June 1, the first day of hurricane season, Lucy Robson, Director of Research and Planning, spoke at the Waterfront Alliance’s “Rally for Our Waterfronts” on the steps of City Hall. We came out to support the Alliance’s recently released Harbor Scorecard, and to reiterate the rights of all New Yorkers to have access to healthy open spaces as laid out in our Public Realm Bill of Rights. The rally was hosted by Council Member Donovan Richards.

On June 14 NY4P staff took a tour of Freshkills Park and Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, both on Staten Island. Laura Truettner, Manager for Park Development, gave us a tour of Freshkills Park and showed us the innovative ways they’re transforming what used to be the largest landfill in the world into what will eventually be the largest park in New York City. At Snug Harbor we explored the Heritage Farm, the various botanical gardens, and learned how the cultural center nurtures and promotes arts and programming inspired by the borough’s nature and history.

Emily Walker and Laura Montross, of NY4P’s Outreach and Programs team, tabled at the Hunt’s Point Fish Parade, hosted by The Point, on June 17. They handed out our latest publication, Clean & Green: Who Takes Care of Our Parks? along with our other tools and resources.

Lucy Robson, Director of Research and Planning, presented a preview of findings from our forthcoming Brownsville Open Space Index to Brooklyn Community Board 16 on June 27. Over the past year NY4P helped shepherd the creation of the Friends of Brownsville Parks.

Introducing Clean & Green!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Our latest publication is here! Clean & Green answers the question, Who takes care of our parks? This visual explainer will deepen your knowledge of the parks system in NYC, and make your advocacy work easier and more effective.

Clean & Green is based on NYC Parks Annual Report on Park Maintenance. Many thanks to Councilmembers Brad Lander and Mark Levine for funding this report, and helping make our park system more accessible and easier to understand. 

Participatory Budgeting 2017 Winning Projects

Monday, June 12, 2017

By Kim Ahrens, NY4P Communications Intern

The effect of 2017 Participatory Budgeting funds on your parks and open spaces.

This past April, New Yorkers made their voices heard in the capital process, and there were many wins for parks, playgrounds, and open spaces throughout the five boroughs. Each year, community members can propose projects for park improvement with the use of Participatory Budgeting (or PB) funds. In the 2016-2017 PB cycle, 31 of our 51 City Council Members participated in the process, allocating at least $1 million of their discretionary capital dollars to be decided on by residents of their districts. When the final results were in, 24% of all PB funds went towards parks and open space construction and improvement projects. Over $9 million will now be spent on improving public open spaces, such as a playground and courtyard upgrade at P.S. 125 in District 7 and a new play yard for Ditmas Park in District 40. To see the full list of this year’s winning projects, visit the Council’s PB website.

What is Participatory Budgeting and how does it work?

Participatory Budgeting is a democratic process of how to spend a portion of a public budget. The system originated in Brazil and has spread throughout major cities around the world, including New York. It allows community members to propose specific projects and ideas that they would like to be funded. Council Members in each district have the opportunity to participate in PB by allocating at least $1 million of their budget towards allowing their community members to propose their ideas.

Proposed ideas are encouraged beginning in the fall and is followed by a long process of informative public meetings. People are able to vote on the projects they want funded in their district in late March/early April. This year, each voter was allowed five votes and the top five projects voted for received the needed funds from their Council Member until the funds were exhausted.

How can I get involved?

The first step in proposing a project for your community is researching if your council member participates in PB. If they do not, you can encourage them by asking them to commit to the PB process this summer. If you reside in one of the 31 districts that already participate in PB, then your first step is to decide what may benefit your community. Anyone over the age of 14 can propose a project to be covered by PB funds. Identification is not required in order to propose a project. District residents are encourages to attend the public meetings held in the late summer and early fall to become informed and educated on the projects proposed within your districts. Voting is also open to anyone within the district who is 14 years of age or older, and identification is also not required.

Other ways to get involved include organizing meetings to promote and encourage your proposed plan to gain support from other community members. Informing other community members about the benefits of PB is beneficial as many members are unaware of the power they have in PB. Another opportunity is becoming a budget delegate, which involves volunteering to further research proposed projects before finalizing the ballot. Find out more about becoming a budget delegate and their roles in PB later this summer.

What’s next?

Keep an eye out in your local parks and open spaces as to what can use improvement to benefit your community. Make your ideas a reality by proposing your project in the next PB cycle and gain support from your fellow community members! For more information on ideas for park improvement you can propose to your council member for the next PB vote, check out our “How Can I Improve My Park?” guide and webinar.

Who Represents Me: Demystifying the City Council

Monday, June 12, 2017

The webinar, “Who Represents Me? Demystifying the City Council” is now available to watch online! You can read about what we covered, below.

Who Represents Me?

2017 is an election year in New York City! Here at New Yorkers for Parks we want to prepare our constituents for the upcoming races and make sure we have an informed electorate ready to prioritize parks and open space. As an independent advocacy organization, we inform, lobby and influence key decision-makers when it comes to our city’s open space. Some of the most important decision-makers when it comes to parks are the City Council members. In this post, we will discuss how to find out who represents you in the city, how to contact them, and how to get involved in the elections.

Our Elected and Appointed Officials

The following officials represent you in New York City:

Mayor- Bill de Blasio. The mayor is the head of the executive branch and administers all city services and oversees the $85 billion city budget. The mayor is limited to two consecutive four year terms. Having been elected in 2013, Bill de Blasio is up for re-election this fall. The mayor represents all five boroughs.

Borough President- On the other hand, each borough has a singular representative known as the Borough President. Borough presidents advise the Mayor, advocate for key issues in their borough, appoint community boards, comment on the municipal budget, and while they are elected, they generally serve ceremonial positions. Each borough president does have a discretionary budget to fund projects within their borough and influence the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP. Therefore, if you are advocating for a particular park project in your community, it is beneficial to have the support of your Borough President.

Public Advocate- Letitia James. The public advocate is first in line to succeed the mayor and serves as a direct liaison between New Yorkers and the city government, acting as the “watchdog” for the electorate. As with the Mayor, the Public Advocate represents all five boroughs and is elected every four years, and may serve two consecutive terms.

Comptroller- Scott Stringer. The comptroller is the chief fiscal officer and chief auditing officer of New York City.The Comptroller can serve three consecutive four year terms, and monitors the performance and finances of the city agencies, contracts, and city debt.

Community Board- On a more local level, we have our community boards. Community boards are appointed advisory groups, with 59 total boards spread across the five boroughs. Community boards are made up of up to 50 volunteer members who are appointed by the borough president, half of whom are nominated by the City Council members who represent the district. While the community board members are not elected directly by New Yorkers, they do advise on land use and zoning, comment on the city budget process and engage constituents on development of or opposition to specific projects. They serve no official authority to make or enforce laws, however.

City Council- The City Council is the lawmaking body of New York City, with 51 members representing the 51 City Council Districts across the five boroughs. The City Council serves as a check to the Mayor, monitoring city agencies, making land use decisions, approving the city budget proposed by the mayor, and proposing and passing laws. City Council members are limited to two consecutive four year terms. It’s worth noting that after a four-year respite City Council members can serve a third term if they are elected.

City Council

The head of the City Council, known as the Speaker, is currently Melissa Mark-Viverito. The Speaker of the City Council sets the agenda and all proposed legislation ultimately passes through her office.  The City Council is made up of 35 different committees. Each City Council Member is obligated to sit on at least three committees. The Parks and Recreation Committee, for example, is chaired by City Council Member Mark Levine, from District 7, but he also is part of the committees on education, finance, governmental operations, housing and buildings, and rules, privileges and elections. Our City Council members are very busy! This year, they are even busier than usual because it is an election year.

City Council Districts

Every decade, following the census, the districts are redrawn to conform to demographic changes and to ascertain that the map is in compliance with the “one-person, one-vote” constitutional requirement. There are a few different ways to find out your City Council District.

  • Who Represents Me? is a great place to start! This easy to use website allows you to enter your address and will provide the name and contact information of your city, state, and federal elected officials. This is a wonderful, one-stop shop resource.
  • New York City Council. is the official website of the New York City Council. On the homepage, you can enter your address or search on a map for your district. The search engine will provide the district number, member name, borough, party and list of represented neighborhoods.

Contact City Council

On the City Council website of each member you will find the contact information for their District Office and their Legislative Office. The District Office is typically located within the representative’s district and you should contact this office with issues particular to your community as the staff on site can provide constituent services in the neighborhood. The Legislative Office for all 51 members is located at 250 Broadway in Manhattan. The Legislative Office houses staff focused on broader policy work. Most City Council members also have personal, separate websites or blogs that can provide up-to-date information concerning news in your district. Some members offer newsletters and many are active on social media.

Contact Your City Council Member

In an election year, it is a great opportunity to get to know your City Council member, and the other candidates running for the seats, as they are looking for their constituents’ support. If you would like to engage with incumbent or new candidates, you can write letters to their office, make phone calls, and even invite them to community events you are hosting. It is not guaranteed, of course, that each member will have time on their schedule to meet every constituent who reaches out, but New Yorkers for Parks has a few tips to increase your chances of getting some facetime with your City Council Member.

  • Contact and build a relationship with key staff. You should get to know the Chief of Staff, Scheduler and Office Manager of your Council Member. You can call the District or Legislative office to identify these key staff members, or find this information on the Council Member’s website. These key staff members have access to the official’s calendar, speaking events, and can help arrange a meeting with your community group and the representative.
  • Join Participatory Budgeting (PB). PB is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. City Council members choose to join Participatory Budgeting in New York, giving at least $1 million from their discretionary budget for the community decision-making process. Currently, 31 of the 51 City Council members are part of the program. This being an election year, it is a great time to talk to your council member or candidates about why you either support and appreciate their participating in PB, or for the 20 districts that don’t participate, why you think they should! Participatory Budgeting allows New Yorkers to decide where to spend our capital dollars on “brick and mortar” projects, so if you have some projects in mind, use your leverage in this election cycle to advocate for PB.
  • Attend and testify at City Council Hearings. City Council hearings are a great opportunity to submit and read public testimony to your elected officials concerning various park-related topics. NY4P’s webinar “Going on the Record” gives you the inside scoop about how to successfully testify at a City Council hearing, including everything from how to check in at the building to how to make a compelling case. Check it out here!

Community Board versus City Council Districts

We are represented by elected City Council Members and appointed Community Board members. However, the areas that these two bodies represent are not identical. In other words, your City Council District is different from your Community Board district. We admit that these distinctions can be confusing. At NY4P, we typically research and advocate on behalf of New Yorkers according to their City Council Districts. For example, our City Council District Profiles look at open space allocation and demographics of the 51 City Council Districts. We choose to look at City Council Districts for a very specific reason- your City Council Members are the officials with money you might need to accomplish a park project. Each Council Member has a discretionary funding budget and legislates on issues concerning land use and rezoning in your community. In our growing, developing city, your park and open space priorities are intrinsically tied to the funds and priorities of your City Council Member. Just another reason to get out and vote this fall!

2017 Election

This year, the mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough presidents and city council members are all up for election. The City Council primaries will be held September 12, 2017 and the general election November 7, 2017.

Track the Candidates

There are over 200 candidates officially running for public office this fall. There are many different ways to keep track of the candidates and identify their positions.

  • New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB). The CFB is a great, official place to start. The CFB website provides information about the elections, voting, voter services, and candidate services. You can find the “Candidate List” under the “Campaign Finance Reports” tab in the “Follow the Money” section on their homepage to see the updated list of people running for office. If candidates have officially joined the Campaign Finance Program by filling out a Candidate Certification and agreeing to participate in the city’s matching funds process, they are listed as “Participants” on the Candidate List.
  • Local newspapers. City Limits, City and State, DNA Info, and Gotham Gazette a few examples of news outlets across the city that are keeping a close on the races.

Open versus Incumbent Seat

One of the trickier facets of a City Council election is determining if your district seat is open, and therefore will definitely be filled by a new candidate, or is held by an incumbent, who is seeking re-election against new candidates. Your district seat is open if the current council member has reached the limit of their terms. Remember, in the New York City Council, the council member can serve two consecutive four year terms. It’s important to note that some councilmembers were eligible to serve for three terms under a rule change that took place in 2008, but those rules are no longer in place, and we are back to a two-term system. In 2017, of the 51 districts, 7 of them are going to open seats. These 7 members are term limited and a brand new batch of candidates are running for the seat. The remaining 44 members, if they want to keep their seat, are running for re-election as an incumbent, against a batch of new candidates. Why is this important? Although this is not always the case, usually the most contested elections are for the 7 open seats. The candidates are new, seeking support, and want to hear from constituents. This is where you come in! We want to stress, though, that every single incumbent member needs to be re-elected to hold their seat. In fact, there are already some hotly contested seats and lots of exciting news stories to follow. If you care about parks and open space, all 51 elections are important!

Your To-Do List

  • Register to vote
  • Track candidates on the Campaign Finance Board website
  • Read the NYC Voter Guide, published by NYC Votes each fall
  • Find your polling site and know what to expect on voting day
  • Get involved! Volunteer at poll sites, register as a poll worker, or volunteer for a candidate
  • Support the New Yorkers for Parks Public Realm Bill of Rights and demand that our elected officials prioritize parks and open space!

Lynn Kelly's Statement on the Paris Climate Agreement

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Today, the first day of hurricane season here in New York, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. Let’s not forget what climate change did to our city nearly five years ago: Superstorm Sandy ravaged communities, destroyed homes, and took lives. 

Our parks and opens spaces are quite literally the first line of defense against extreme weather events. Resilient beaches and waterfronts protect us from flooding and storm surges; parks and green spaces provide clean air and relief from sweltering heat; and healthy street tree systems temper the urban heat island effect, absorb storm water run-off, and clear the air of carbon.

But all of this will be lost if we don’t take decisive action to curb the effects of climate change.

New Yorkers are as resilient as the city we call home and we will not back down. Today New Yorkers for Parks is reaffirming our commitment to creating a healthy and sustainable city through the principles laid out in our Public Realm Bill of Rights for New York City, and we’re asking you to join us.

The Bill of Rights includes the right to a healthy environment and a resilient city, where all New Yorkers can lead safe and healthy lives. When we start with a shared understanding of what our public realm rights should be, we can commit to the actions - small and large - that we'll take together. If you agree, add your name and show that you support a public realm that protects and sustains all New Yorkers.

The day after Superstorm Sandy, my heart was broken. At Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden in Staten Island, where I was President at the time, the damage to the park and many nearby neighborhoods was indescribable. But over the following days and months, as I saw New Yorkers come together to help each other and repair their city, I was filled with immense hope and pride that I continue to feel to this day.

Thank you for your support, and for everything you do for us and future generations of New Yorkers. Add your name to the Public Realm Bill of Rights today, and join us in committing to a safe and healthy city!

Lynn B. Kelly
Executive Director, New Yorkers for Parks

Last Chance to Testify on the City Parks Budget

Monday, May 22, 2017

This Thursday, May 25 is the last chance for the public to give testimony to the City Council on the upcoming fiscal year city budget. The Committee on Finance hearing will begin at 10 am, with the public comment period slated to begin at 1 pm. 

Want to brush up on how to give testimony? Our webinar (and transcript) tells you everything you need to know, from how to check-in, how long it should last, to how to shape your messaging.

Want to learn more about how you can influence the city budget? Find out how it all works, including opportunities to make your voice heard, here

Don't have time to give testimony? Add your name to our letter to the Mayor and City Council and let them know you support a strong budget for NYC's parks.

Take Action: Tell City Hall to Fund Parks

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The petition is closed. Thank you to everyone who participated!

The Mayor and City Council are in the final stages of negotiating the city budget, and we need to make sure that New York's parks and open spaces aren't left out. Park use is at an all-time high, and New Yorkers depend on our public spaces more than ever before.

Join us in calling on Mayor de Blasio and the City Council to fund critical maintenance staff; protect the GreenThumb community gardening program from major staff and budget loses due to federal budget cuts; add new Partnerships for Parks staff to support community parks groups; hire new Urban Park Rangers; keep our street trees healthy and safe; and support visionary parks projects. Write to your Council Member and the Mayor today!

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.