By Christopher Kipiniak
July 5, 2022
More people are returning to in-person work throughout the city as the population adjusts to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Summer weather and the City’s open spaces make it possible to socially-distance responsibly, while getting some fresh air, as you take down your mask to eat lunch. The City has made it a goal to ensure all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of quality open space, so most likely there is an option that is convenient for you.
The most straightforward type of open space are public parks. These are maintained by the City’s Parks Department and range from areas spanning multiple blocks to pocket parks sitting in the wedge where three streets meet. The Parks Department site includes a, “Find a Park,” page that is searchable by zip code, so you can find the closest park, as well as by facilities, borough, or Park Name. The page also includes a section on state and federal parks located in the city.
During the Financial Crisis of the 1970s, the Parks Department started the GreenThumb program to turn vacant lots into community gardens with the help of community volunteers. These gardens are worked and maintained by members but are also open to visitors. The GreenThumb program’s page has an interactive, “Find a Garden,” map, which includes hours and information on how to become a member of your local garden.
New York City’s Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) program offers incentives, such as special waivers or bonus floor area, to private landowners and developers, in exchange for their creating and maintaining spaces on their property which are open to the public. There are almost 600 such sites around the city, with the vast majority in Manhattan. The program is run by the Department of City Planning. The Department’s website has a particularly thorough interactive map, the Capital Planning Explorer, which can be configured to show the locations of different kinds of parks and plazas around the city, including POPS, parks, gardens, conservation areas, and cemeteries.
The Department of Transportation runs the NYC Plaza Program where the Department works in conjunction with community partners to turn underused streets into individually tailored, permanent, open spaces. DOT funds the design and construction of these plazas while the community partners, who apply to be part of the program, are responsible for the Plaza’s ongoing maintenance. The DOT’s site links to a downloadable list of all the plazas in the city.
The DOT also runs the Open Streets Program which, unlike the Plaza Program, is not permanent. Open Streets involves temporary closures of streets to some or all vehicular traffic for dining or other community activities. The DOT site has a list of the Open Streets sites, including information about hours, type of closure, and where the protected space begins and ends.
During last year’s mayoral campaign, Mayor Eric Adams committed to allocating one percent of the city’s operating budget to the Parks Department. The City Council voted to adopt a Fiscal Year 2023 budget earlier this month. While its allocation to Parks did not meet the one percent threshold, it was an increase over both the FY 2022 budget and the Mayor’s preliminary budget, released in April. Many Council Members see that as a win.
“Working with Speaker Adams and my colleagues on the Council’s Budget Negotiation Team, the Council secured increased funding for the Department of Parks to maintain our world-class parks system,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca.
“The budget is taking a holistic approach to healing New York City. We’re holding agencies accountable and we’re delivering for communities seen and unseen,” said Council Member Marjorie Velázquez. “With huge funding increases to the Department of Sanitation and Parks Department, our neighborhoods will be able to breathe a little easier.”
New Yorkers for Parks is a non-profit organization that studies and advocates for open space in New York. Adam Ganser, the Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks, was also supportive of the new budget. “As the largest parks budget in NYC’s history, Mayor Adams has taken an important step towards his commitment to increase NYC Parks funding to one percent of annual City spending. We will continue to work with the administration to ensure the Mayor’s commitment to that goal is achieved.”