As a life-long New Yorker, I’ve always known how important parks and open spaces are to New York. But over my first year at NY4P, as I walked through parks across all the boroughs, and heard New Yorkers tell me why these spaces are essential to their well-being, I’ve come to understand that this city, as wonderful as it is, would not be a great city without great parks.
This past year I visited Prospect Park countless times whether on a walk or strapping on my skates for Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Disco at Lakeside Center. I went jogging on the Coney Island Boardwalk, walked the High Line on the coldest day of 2017, planted daffodils in Staten Island, took in a soccer game at the Red Hook ball fields, spent a lazy summer Saturday on the beach in Rockaway and explored Mill Pond Park – and this was all just for fun!
I also spoke with New Yorkers who told me about their local open spaces, sometimes with great pride, sometimes frustration, and often a mixture of both. I learned how these spaces mean so many different things to different people, and yet the need for them remains constant across the city.
Even though most New Yorkers would agree that we all need access to quality parks open space, we can’t count on it without organizations like NY4P. Even as some neighborhoods are already suffering a severe lack of open space, others are straining under the weight of increased development.
We are seeing open space competing with other important civic needs such as affordable housing and schools, as if New Yorkers don’t need them all. As I said in the New York Times last week, “To continue to minimize one over the other creates this impression to New Yorkers that parks and open space are an amenity as opposed to critical city infrastructure, just like a school and just like affordable housing.” To force New Yorkers to pick and choose creates a false choice, and a narrative that only enables inequity in our city.
That’s what all my work this past year and the efforts of my team have come down to – standing up for parks and open space as critical city infrastructure. And it’s this principle that is leading our work at NY4P.
We’re not backing away from the big, complicated, and sometimes thorny issues facing our city: securing open space as a part of neighborhood rezonings, the ongoing battle for an adequate parks budget, and parks equity.
To strengthen our push for an equitable parks system in NYC, we’re making ourselves more accessible by continuing to increase our outreach and engagement with communities across the city, and translating more of our materials into Spanish and Simplified Chinese.
We’re also taking a deeper look at the many different purposes our open spaces serve. This past year we’ve seen at least 640 rallies, demonstrations, protests and other civic actions take place in our city’s public places, attended by almost 650,000 people. Whenever I see these numbers, I’m reminded again that parks aren’t a luxury – they’re the architecture that supports civic engagement and assembly.
My first year at NY4P has made me love New York even more – something I didn’t know was possible! – and I have an even deeper understanding of how parks are the true soul of a city.