New Yorkers for Parks Releases the East Harlem Open Space Index

Thursday, October 25, 2012

East Harlem residents, community groups and elected officials hoping to deliver park and open space improvements to their community now have the data to propel their advocacy.  

New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P), the citywide independent organization championing quality parks and open spaces for all New Yorkers in all neighborhoods, today released the East Harlem Open Space Index, a report designed to help neighborhood residents prioritize open space needs and advocate for strategic investments. The report was made possible in part through funding from the Aetna Foundation. Additional funding was provided by New York City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose district includes East Harlem.

The Open Space Index (OSI) is a set of 15 New York City-specific open space and sustainability benchmarks that were developed by NY4P in 2010. The East Harlem OSI report is based on hundreds of hours of on-the-ground surveying and data analysis, including a field survey of more than 250 blocks of East Harlem. Surveyors assessed 15 categories of open space resources, including the amount of active and passive open space, walking distances to parks, permeable ground surfacing, and number of features such as recreational facilities and fields.

Click here to learn more about the OSI project and here to read the full East Harlem report.

In addition to open space analysis, the East Harlem OSI offers preliminary recommendations to guide the future of the area’s open spaces:

-Maximize public use of existing open space:  develop an open space strategy for the more than 100 acres of inaccessible New York City Housing Authority lawns, ensure that community gardens are truly public, and continue successful PlaNYC open space initiatives like the Department of Transportation’s Public Plaza Program and the Schoolyards-to-Playgrounds Program.

-Connect people to parks:  make passageways to parks safer, promote streets as connectors among parks, and expand access from East Harlem to Randall’s Island and the East River Esplanade.

“East Harlem is rich with open space potential, and there are ample opportunities to do more with existing resources,” said Holly Leicht, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks. “This report is just a starting point. We’ve provided data on how the area stacks up against citywide standards, but how this data gets used as an advocacy tool is up to those who know East Harlem best: those who live, work and play in the neighborhood.”

This is the first in a series of joint research reports conducted by NY4P and Mount Sinai School of Medicine Children’s Environmental Health Center. In a forthcoming report, the researchers from Mount Sinai will analyze the relationship between access to open space and children’s health in East Harlem. And later, NY4P will release strategies for incorporating Mount Sinai’s findings into park and open space planning, encouraging the design and maintenance of spaces that promote active recreation.

“Parks and open space play an important role in promoting the health of New Yorkers,” said Maida P. Galvez, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Preventative Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Mount Sinai is thrilled to partner with NY4P in work that can inform community level interventions targeting the current obesity epidemic.”

NY4P has also published OSI reports for the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Jackson Heights, Queens. The latter became the springboard that civic groups and elected officials used to garner political support for several recent open space improvements, including a new park and public plaza.

“Parks and open space are absolutely vital to East Harlem in order to reduce obesity and weight-related illnesses, as well as for preventing youth violence and improving quality of life in our community,” said Council Member Mark-Viverito. “New Yorkers for Parks' East Harlem Open Space Index will serve as a valuable tool in a neighborhood that has some of the highest asthma and childhood obesity rates in the city. We will use this study to improve open space, increase access to parks, and strengthen recreation programming for our residents.”

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