Left to right: Joe McKellar, Adrian Benepe, Holly Leicht, Tupper Thomas, Sen. Dan Squadron
How can the de Blasio administration create a more equitable parks system?
That was the topic of a New Yorkers for Parks forum at the “Talking Transition” tent in SoHo last Thursday. NY4P Executive Director Holly Leicht hosted the 90-minute event, conversing - and at times debating - with a range of park experts. Leicht first spoke with former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe about the department’s need for a discretionary capital budget, as well as the idea of expanding its current training program for temporary maintenance workers into a more robust permanent jobs initiative that would benefit both the workers and NYC’s park system. She next interviewed Joe McKellar, Executive Director of Faith in New York, about why his organization joined with other Queens groups to form the Fairness Coalition of Queens to oppose a Major League Soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Finally, Leicht engaged with Tupper Thomas, founder of Prospect Park Alliance and former co-chair of City Parks Alliance, and State Senator Daniel Squadron about their views on public-private partnerships – commonly called “conservancies” – for parks. Thomas and Leicht challenged Squadron on the bill he introduced last session that would require non-profits with annual operating budgets of $5 million or more to commit 20 percent of their budgets to a citywide fund for underserved parks.
The full 90-minute discussion is available on video here (just scroll down a bit to find our event).
“Talking Transition” was a two-week initiative sponsored by a coalition of NYC foundations, aimed at engaging the public in the Mayoral transition. It was structured as an open conversation about the future of New York City, with the goal of transforming the transition process between Election Day and the Inauguration into an opportunity for New Yorkers to make their voices heard.
For more information on New Yorkers for Parks' priorities for the de Blasio Administration, please see our Parks Platform 2013, a set of ten policy proposals developed after hearing from hundreds of New Yorkers at a town hall meeting and outreach meetings in each borough.
Adrian Benepe is senior vice president and director of city park development at The Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation organization. Earlier, Adrian served as New York City Park Commissioner for 11 years under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, during which he oversaw a major expansion of the city’s park system, including restoring historic parks such as Central Park and Battery Park, adding 730 acres of new parkland including Hudson River Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the High Line, and laying the groundwork for an additional 2,000 acres of parkland within the city. Prior to becoming Commissioner, Benepe held numerous positions in the Parks Department, including director of art and antiquities, director of natural resources and horticulture, operations coordinator, and director of public information. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Middlebury College, Benepe holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, where he was awarded a Pulitzer Fellowship.
Joseph McKellar is the Executive Director of Faith in New York (formerly Queens Congregations United for Action), a growing interfaith, multicultural federation of 53 congregations representing 60,000 families in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan that advocates for excellent public schools, violence-free neighborhoods, access to good jobs, adequate and affordable health care, decent housing for all, and where people of all backgrounds can fully participate in economic and civic life. Faith in New York is a member of the Fairness Coalition of Queens, an umbrella organization of Queens nonprofits and advocates opposed to the overdevelopment of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Earlier, McKellar was a community organizer in San Diego. Joseph graduated from the University of San Diego.
Tupper Thomas retired in February 2011 after 30 years as President of the Prospect Park Alliance and Administrator of Prospect Park, the 580-acre flagship park of Brooklyn. In 1980 Tupper was hired as the Park’s first Administrator. She was responsible for the ongoing operation of the Park, its multimillion-dollar restoration, special events, public information, fundraising and services for Park visitors. The Prospect Park Alliance was formed in 1987 to revive, enrich, restore and preserve Prospect Park in partnership with the City of New York, with Tupper as its founding President. Tupper is the founder, former Co-Chair and current board member of City Parks Alliance, a national organization that advocates for parks. She has received numerous awards and has been a guest speaker for parks groups throughout the United States and abroad. She has a master’s degree in Urban Planning from Pratt Institute.
Daniel Squadron is serving his third term representing New York's 26th Senate District, which includes Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. First elected in November 2008 at the age of 28, his work has centered on issues such as affordable housing; job growth; open space protection; improved transit; and pedestrian safety. Prior to joining the State Senate, Senator Squadron served as a top aide to U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. Senator Squadron graduated from Yale University and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.
About host Holly Leicht:
Holly Leicht is the Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks, the city’s independent research-based advocacy organization championing quality parks and open spaces for all New Yorkers in all neighborhoods. Before joining NY4P in 2011, she served as Deputy Commissioner for Development at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), where she oversaw Mayor Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan to build and preserve 165,000 units of housing. At HPD, Holly spearheaded an innovative juried competition in partnership with the American Institute of Architects which resulted in Via Verde, a signature affordable housing project that has won awards for its design and sustainability, and was actively involved in finding a balance between affordable housing and community gardens on City-owned land, including creating three new urban farms. Prior to HPD, she was Director of Planning for offsite projects at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and spent five years at the Municipal Art Society, first as in-house counsel and then as Director of Design, Planning and Advocacy. She led MAS’ efforts to preserve threatened community gardens and co-directed Imagine New York, engaging thousands of people in thinking about and discussing the future of the World Trade Center site and New York's neighborhoods after September 11th. She graduated magna cum laude from Yale College and cum laude from Northwestern University School of Law.
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