Jennifer Ratner founded the Friends of the East River Esplanade almost ten years ago to “create a waterfront that everyone in the surrounding communities can be proud of.” An essential resource that the group uses in their advocacy work is New Yorkers for Parks’ Manhattan’s East Side Open Space Index. “I carry the Index everywhere I go,” Ms. Ratner explains. “Having the New Yorkers for Parks name on the research we use lends credibility to our advocacy. Because we’ve come to the same conclusions about the need for open space in our community, it has a big impact.” They’ve presented the Index to numerous politicians and community leaders, including at their first meeting with NYS Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriguez. That conversation helped prompt him to create A Tale of Two Rivers, which called for increased funding for the Esplanade.
Ms. Ratner has lived near the Esplanade for 50 years, and is a die-hard lover of New York City. While she was long aware that the Esplanade needed a lot of work, her activism really began about ten years ago while biking along the waterfront with her seven-year-old son. Seeing such a beautiful place with crumbling paths and inadequate infrastructure prompted her to go to a local East River task force meeting. While there she suggested that the Esplanade needed a conservancy. One thing led to another, and the Friends of the East River Esplanade was born.
The Index shows that the demographic that could benefit from an improved waterfront extends far beyond the current users. The Friends want to change that, and envision the Esplanade providing much-needed open space to all different types of users, “not only from different socioeconomic backgrounds but for people with different interests - for the fishermen, bikers, runners, etc. We want to make it more welcoming.” Ms. Ratner believes that, “if you build it, they will come; or in this case, if you improve it, they will come.”
They’ve had numerous successes so far. Through their persistent advocacy they had dangerous sinkholes along the Esplanade fixed by the City. They used grant money to fund the first-ever public art display on the Esplanade, earning them coverage in the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets. A big part of their vision is to have quality programming on the waterfront, because they find that people like knowing that things are happening in their neighborhood and community. To that end they’ve hosted events like plantings, Latin music concerts, and Afro-Caribbean dance performances. They realized that the Esplanade doesn’t have food vendors – so they even brought in local ice cream maker Ice & Vice.
“We want to be even better than the West Side,” Ms. Ratner says with a laugh, but she isn’t joking. She knows that the East Side has huge potential, and the Friends of the East River Esplanade are committed to meeting it. “The Manhattan’s East Side Open Space Index came out at the same time that we decided to really ramp up our efforts, and it felt serendipitous. It’s extremely helpful to have something tangible that puts numbers and data on what we’re saying.”
We’re very happy to announce our new Director of Communications, Megan Douglas. Megan has extensive experience working in both environmental policy and communications on the federal, state, and local level. She is excited to help New Yorkers for Parks promote and advance our mission of ensuring quality parks and open space for all New Yorkers. She is particularly looking forward to working with local advocacy and community groups to highlight the vital and innovative work happening in our city.
Prior to NY4P Megan worked with Recycle-A-Bicycle, a Brooklyn-based grassroots nonprofit; the Association for Energy Affordability, a Bronx-based nonprofit weatherization agency; and ICF International, a Washington, DC-based consulting firm with a focus on environmental issues. We’re delighted to welcome a communications professional who has experience with community-based organizations, governmental agencies, and corporations, who can adeptly work with all of our partners to continue to advocate on behalf of park users across the city.
NEW YORK, NY - On Tuesday October 6th, NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver announced the continuation of the Community Parks Initiative, with a second phase of investment in underserved New York City parks. New Yorkers for Parks issued the following statement in response:
"New York City continues to make great strides towards an equitable park system with yesterday’s announcement. The Community Parks Initiative (CPI), which targets capital investment, programs, community outreach, and maintenance funds towards the neediest neighborhoods in the city, will expand to a second phase with this commitment from the de Blasio administration through NYC Parks, NYC Department of Environmental Protection, the City Council, and the City Parks Foundation. New Yorkers for Parks is thrilled to see that the City continues the commitment made in OneNYC to expand this program by continuing the funding for capital improvements and in-house repairs to more small parks in underserved CPI neighborhoods. The inclusion of DEP capital funds to this program will also make more of our neighborhoods sustainable and less prone to flooding.
Yet throughout the city, and even in the neighborhoods that are targeted for investment, there are hundreds of small and neighborhood-sized parks that do not have access to this robust funding for capital improvements. Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Silver must bring the funding and the community engagement process of CPI to all parks across our city that still have dire need of overall rejuvenation. The backlog for capital improvements is long and has to be aggressively addressed.
Most importantly, the Administration has not lived up to its most important commitment to CPI: maintenance funding for CPI zones. In FY 2015, the Mayor added $5 million on funding for park operations and the Council added $3 million. For FY 2016, the Council had to fund the entire $8 million.
This way of funding is not a long term commitment. The full $8 million should have been permanently added to the NYC Parks budget as part of the Mayor’s allocation, instead of depending on temporary, one-year Council money to fill the gap. It would create permanent budget lines for staff, not vulnerable annual positions. The capital work being done under CPI will take at least 3 years to accomplish from planning to completion, but the results of increased maintenance staffing could be seen immediately. 25 new targeted improvement sites will soon be named: that work will be done by existing NYC Parks staff, which is already stretched thin across the city’s more than 1,800 parks. We are glad that the Council supported additional staff for the year, but those positions must be made permanent. If we want to see “caring” for our parks as a reality, there needs to be enough staff to let the public know that NYC Parks cares!
We look forward to making this vision a reality with the partnership of NYC Parks, the dedicated support of the Council and the thousands of park users and advocates that work for this city’s open spaces."
As the City Council continues to play a critical role in funding New York City’s parks, understanding how parks and open space rank in each of the 51 City Council Districts provides key to local advocacy efforts.
The 2015 City Council District Profiles, released on Thursday by New Yorkers for Parks provide a comprehensive assessment of open space resources throughout the five boroughs, and may be used to educate citizens, elected officials, non-profits and others on park issues and to inform park advocacy in every district.
Each Council District Profile tells a local story about neighborhood resources, but as a collection, they tell us a lot about each borough and the city as a whole. Some interesting findings include:
• 61% of New Yorkers have access to a local park: NY4P measured the proportion of city residents who live within a five-minute walk of a city park entrance.
• Access to parks is highest in Manhattan: 69% of Manhattan residents live within a five-minute walk of a city park entrance. However, Manhattan has proportionately low park & playground acres per residents, with only 1.7 acres of city parks & playground per 1,000 residents.
• Staten Island has the highest amount of city parks & playground acres per resident: There are 11.8 acres of city parks & playgrounds per 1,000 residents in Staten Island. Yet, only 33% of the borough’s residents live within a five minute walk of a city park entrance.
• Brooklyn, compared to other boroughs, is park-poor: Brooklyn has 1.4 acres of city parks & playgrounds per 1,000 residents, well below the city’s average of 2.9 acres. Only 6% of the borough’s area is comprised of city parks & playground properties. Three out of the five lowest-ranked districts for park & playground area are in Brooklyn: District 45 (Jumaane Williams), 1%; District 44 (David Greenfield), 2%; District 34 (Antonio Reynoso), 2%.
• City parks & playgrounds cover 9% of the city’s area: The Bronx has the greatest proportion of city parks & playgrounds by area, at 16%.
Each profile provides rankings for park acreage in each district, maintenance inspection information, population and parks access, and capital spending on parks in each district. New Yorkers can find out how their district ranks on number of parks amenities and measures of civic engagement. Up-to-date maps pinpoint the locations of parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, recreation centers and community gardens. In addition to the data, contact information for political representatives is included to support local advocacy efforts.
The Council District Profiles indicate how well each district performs against other districts and citywide averages in measuring important local indicators such as how many residents live within a 5 minute walk of a park entrance, or the amount of district land that is made up of parks and playgrounds. The profiles take a deeper dive by highlighting the percentage of the local population that is under 18, and the amount of parkland acreage per 1,000 children. The senior population is given the same attention, with population measures and the amount of parkland per 1,000 residents over age 65. For the 2015 district profiles, socioeconomic data is included to measure the open space inventory for the most under-resourced communities by including statistics that reflect the percentage of a district population in poverty, as well as the percentage of children receiving public assistance.
One of NYC’s most interesting (and competitive) annual contests is one that many New Yorkers likely don’t even know is taking place. Since 1963, residents of NYC public housing have been eligible to compete in the annual New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Garden Competition. Every August, NYCHA’s Garden and Greening program convenes horticultural professionals to serve as judges, as their resident gardeners compete to win the top spot in three garden categories – prizes can be won for the best Flower Garden, Theme Garden, and Vegetable Garden. NY4P staff have had the privilege to participate as judges for the last few seasons, and this summer’s batch of gardens were as impressive as ever. NYCHA’s Garden and Greening program uses the contest to highlight the hard work, dedication, and care that NYCHA residents put into their beloved spaces. The competition is just one facet of what NYCHA’s Garden and Greening program does – they serve as an environmental education program that provides technical assistance and informational workshops for residents wanting to gain more horticultural knowledge.
NY4P’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Dora Armenta, served as a first time judge this summer. “I was blown away by the devotion and love NYCHA residents pour into their gardens. They truly transform the grounds to a space of beauty and community pride.” As we walked through each development, it became evident that these spaces serve to provide a source of community pride and a place for homegrown stewardship. One garden at the Wise Towers development on the Upper West Side was scattered with handmade signs featuring uplifting quotes for passersby to read. At Union Avenue Consolidation in the Claremont section of the Bronx, we spoke to a vegetable gardener who shares her crops with her neighbors – she even shared some of her fresh peaches with us while we were there. At Breukelen Houses in Canarsie, Brooklyn, long-time gardener and 2013 Brooklyn Daffodil Award Honoree, Ms. Anne Marie Rameau, once again wowed the judges with her impressively designed and beautifully blooming flower garden.
For NY4P Director of Outreach and Programs, Emily Walker, one of the most incredible aspects of the judging experience is getting to speak with the gardeners themselves. “At Parkside Houses in the Bronx, we spoke with a woman whose love of gardening was borne out of mourning. She told us about how after her son passed away, she realized she needed an outlet for her grief. His love of flowers inspired her to start beautifying a patch of land in front of her building in his memory. The results are incredibly colorful, beautiful, and welcoming, and clearly provide such a therapeutic outlet. It’s amazing that these residents have this kind of opportunity.” Having the chance to view so many colorful, bountiful, and fascinating gardens throughout the city, one thing rang true – these are spaces that truly cultivate and grow community.
Breukelen Sight Garden
Peace Love and Breath Garden
“It’s so nice to have an excuse to get out of the office and make a difference.” is, without fail, one of the most common refrains we hear at our corporate volunteer events. This spring brought two new corporate partnerships to NY4P, with new opportunities to make an impact in some of the Bronx’s highest-need and most heavily-used parks.
In April, we were joined by a group of Green Team volunteers from TIAA-CREF in St. Mary’s Park. We re-painted over a dozen park benches and removed massive amounts of leaves that had piled up around the fencing of the heavily-used baseball fields in the southern end of the park. The thirty volunteers who joined us that day were surprised to learn that the tasks we completed in a few hours’ time would have taken weeks for one person from NYC Parks to complete. Some of the volunteers even expressed that they had never realized they could participate in stewarding their parks, and that they were interested in getting involved in clean-up efforts in their own communities. One of the most meaningful outcomes for NY4P staff and volunteers is that shared sense of stewardship for parks across the city.
In June, we partnered with Epsilon on a volunteer clean-up of Indian Lake in Crotona Park. Joined by 15 volunteers, we tackled the debris and litter that had collected along the banks and in the reeds that line the lake. Maintenance of water bodies in parks provides a unique challenge for NYC Parks. We collected over twenty trash bags full of debris, which allowed the parks maintenance staff to attend to maintenance needs elsewhere in this large neighborhood park as they prepared for the busy first weekend of summer. When large debris floated out of reach, an Epsilon staff member suggested we try using the pole of our extendable pruning saw to trap it. The extendable pole worked perfectly, and she exclaimed, “Never give me a challenge, because I will always find a way to solve it!” That sense of teamwork, dedication, giving, and yes, even problem solving, embodies what makes a park volunteer day so special.
TIAA-CREF at St. Mary's Park in the Bronx
How does NY4P create conscientious, well-researched reports? Our survey interns are the key: they collect thousands of data points about conditions in New York City’s parks. Those results are analyzed by trained statisticians and contextualized by our Planning staff. That’s how we learn what NYC Parks does well and what the agency might need additional capital or operation funding for in order to make improvements. We build the base for our advocacy and budget work from data.
This summer, our six interns are collecting data for a new Report Card on Parks. They will focus on neighborhood parks within the DeBlasio administration’s Community Parks Initiative zones, allowing NY4P to measure what more needs to be done to continue and expand the CPI program in these important neighborhoods where parks have been poorly funded. Almost 40 parks of 2 to 20 acres will be surveyed before Labor Day.
Surveyors work in teams to grade park features and document the conditions that they see. This summer, we’ve been able to add more survey interns due to a new partnership with Futures & Options, a workforce development program serving New York City youth. Our Futures & Options interns will help us to collect data – and they’ll help us to reach more park users and engage them with our research.
L – R: David Olea, Demani Williams, Maggie Randall, Chhime Sherpa, Victorio Matias, Marcel Negret
We spoke up for parks, and we plan to continue.
The budget that Mayor Bill de Blasio submitted in the spring would have dented NYC Parks' ability to keep open spaces clean and attractive. Seeking to save operating costs, the mayor proposed cutting essential money from the Parks budget, including $8.7 million for 150 park gardeners and maintenance workers- money the City Council added last year.
Then NY4P and our allies swung into action.
Working with Councilmember Mark Levine and dozens of grassroots activists, we staged a rally on the City Hall steps demanding more funding for the parks and gardens that elevate our lives. Journalists from the New York Times, among others, began to hear our call. If the mayor wants a city that delivers great benefits to everyone, how can he sign a budget that makes it harder for NYC Parks to do its job?
We still have to pose that question to the mayor, despite the welcome news we got today. In adopting a final budget, the City Council restored the $8.7 million for maintenance staff. It also gained $1.65 million for the Parks Equity Initiative, which will support work in parks under the Community Parks Initiative. This will make it possible for more parks in more neighborhoods to stay safe, clean and useful. This is a real win for advocates and for neighborhood residents who love their local open space.
It's also a challenge to us to keep organizing. The budget misses a lot of needs, like funds for capital and for midsize parks, for GreenThumb and community gardens and a permanent increase in maintenance funds. We'll be fighting for these issues in coming months, well ahead of next year's budget. That's because parks' benefits, and their needs, never end.
For now, though, we thank our partners and supporters for bringing back much-needed dollars to a park system we all cherish in so many ways.
Click here to find your councilmember and thank him or her for speaking up for parks- and give the word that we need more for all our parks in budgets to come.
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