Meet the new Parks Alliance director who is getting creative about solving Williamsburg and Greenpoint's low people-to-parks ratio.
July 2, 2019
By Anna Quinn
WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN — North Brooklyn Parks Alliance's new executive director is the first to admit that running an organization that oversees a hundred more open spaces than your typical New York City parks conservancy isn't without its challenges.
But, maybe now more than ever, the organization's vast coverage area is actually a unique tool for working within its rapidly-changing neighborhoods, said Katie Denny Horowitz, who officially took over the position in May.
As the only NYC parks conservancy that oversees an area instead of one park, the NBPA can make sure open space isn't just expanding in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, but is being equally distributed as well, she said. Both neighborhoods have one of the lowest people-to-parks ratio in the city given their huge development booms in recent years.
"A lot of parkland has been created recently in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, but it's primarily on the waterfront and most of it is connected to the developments that are happening here," Horowitz said. "How can we ensure that there is an equal amount of investment deeper into the neighborhood away from the water? That's another reason why a district-wide approach is unique to the area — so that someone is ensuring equitable distribution of investment."
The people-to-parks ratio, measured by New Yorkers for Parks, where Horowitz once worked, factors in how many square feet of park land there is per each resident living in a City Council District. Greenpoint and Williamsburg's District 33 has only 1 park or playground per 1,000 residents, compared to the city-wide average of 2.9 parks or playgrounds per 1,000 residents.
This is largely because Williamsburg and Greenpoint have seen such an influx of new residents given an ongoing development boom, Horowitz said, which brings down the ratio even as more parkland is built.
Given the increasing density, addressing that low ratio has become about finding more creative ways than ever to bring in more parkland, she said.
One of the projects she is most excited to take on leading the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance, formerly the Open Space Alliance, is a new seven-acre park planned for under the Kosciuszko Bridge.
"You wouldn't think that a space under a bridge with the overpass and the highway above you would actually be used as a park or an open space," Horowitz said. "But, in today's urban environment and in today's New York, when there's so much development happening, you have to rethink what open space even means. You have to take it where you can get it."
The Alliance unveiled their plans for the new park, which they are calling Under the K, just last week. It will be designed by Public Work, a Toronto-based landscape architecture firm that built The Bentway, a similar public space created below Toronto's Gardiner Expressway.
The park will connect three distinct spaces, including a linear promenade called "The Arm," a space for community activities dubbed "K-flex 1" and a larger programming spot called "K-flex 2."
Filling the Parks
Perhaps even more important than building new parks, though, is ensuring that people know that they are there and come to use them, Horowitz said.
The North Brooklyn Parks Alliance largely focuses on filling the neighborhoods' green spaces with programming and ensuring that they are well-maintained.
This part of the job fits uniquely with Horowitz' background. Before being named NBPA executive director, she worked for Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, as the director of development at New Yorkers for Parks and as the director for special projects at the city's Department of Cultural Affairs.
Horowitz said she learned that bringing quality programming and events to the parks can help New Yorkers experience both their open spaces and their neighborhoods in a new way. In North Brooklyn, the neighborhoods are teeming with talent, but the parks often don't have as much going on as some other areas of the borough, she said.
"A lot of it is about echoing the creative community that is Brooklyn especially Williamsburg and Greenpoint," she said. "It's kind of the cultural epicenter of the world in some ways right now and so that sort of world-class potential isn't currently reflected in our parks."
So far, Horowitz has jumped into overseeing the Alliance's new jazz shows. This is the first year the organization partnered with the Jazz Foundation of America to bring free jazz to the neighborhood parks.
Maintaining the Parks
Events NBPA sets up for the parks can also be about maintaining the land.
The organization helps set up volunteer days for everything from plantings, to painting project, to park clean-ups.
"It not only improves the parks because you have people doing clean-up, but it creates a sense of ownership of the space which is essential for the stewardship," she said.
Another project important to both the alliance's goals of equity and of maintaining existing parkland has been an ongoing analysis of the air quality in South Williamsburg's parks.
"If you look at a map, a lot of parks (in South Williamsburg) are on the border of the BQE or are nestled into a turn-off of the BQE — they're in heavily trafficked areas," Horowitz said.
The project will analyze the air quality in these parks to start collecting data on where there might be problems, she said.
Each of these initiatives, though, first require that the Parks Alliance ensure it has the capacity to take them on.
Horowitz said her first goal as new director will be to make sure the organization has both the staff and funding to reach its goals. NBPA has a fundraiser coming up on July 31.
The Alliance is at an exciting time to do so, she said, given both her new position and some other new leadership in the nonprofit. NBPA also recently elected a new board chair, Dr. Erich Anderer, who is the chief of neurosurgery at NYU Langone-Hospital Brooklyn and will bring a unique public health perspective, Horowitz said.
Horowitzsaid she is honored to take on the new role to help her community.
As for whether she has a favorite park? The longtime Greenpoint resident echoed the words of her boss at the Department of Cultural Affairs.
"I have no favorites," she said. "They're all my children."