Posts tagged with "NYC Department of Parks & Recreation":

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NYC Parks Commissioner talks policy, parks, and breaking down barriers

Over the next three months, The Architect’s Newspaper will feature a series interviews with Susannah Drake, founding principal of DLANDstudio, and leading public space advocates about the meaning, design, and development of public space. Up first, New York City Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mitchell Silver will discuss New York's Parks Without Borders initiative to make parks and open space more accessible. Borders are a hot topic in our current politically volcanic world. Some are geographic, most are political, and many have to do with resources and strategic control. Robert Frost’s poem titled Good Fences Make Good Neighbors is often misinterpreted as suggesting that defined boundaries between people or societies are positive. In practice, defined borders can lead to violence, social isolation, inefficiency, and habitat loss.  The classic phrase, “living on the other side of the tracks,” was taken to the extreme in the United States after World War II as new highway systems, elevated transportation structures, slum clearance, and dehumanized public housing towers transformed cities across the United States. Today, cities including Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis are working to break down physical and perceived boundaries to make a healthier living environment for all. In New York City, the efforts of three groups, one public and two nonprofit, demonstrate how smart urban planning and design can make the city healthier, safer, and more democratic by improving underutilized public lands. Mitchell Silver, commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, is the visionary behind the city’s Parks Without Borders program. As a native New Yorker who spent his formative years in the city before traveling the country and the world as a planner and thought leader, his vision as head of the public parks agency has been to expand the availability of park space by breaking down physical barriers, jurisdictional boundaries, and site lines into city parks. AN: What is the origin of the Parks without Borders program? MS: The origins came from two sources. Growing up in New York, I was always bothered by the big berm that separated Flatbush Avenue from Prospect Park. The road seemed like a raceway defined with so many fences and barriers. Through professional and personal experience, I encountered different forms of public space around the world and saw far fewer barriers. Public space was seamlessly connected to the city. Of course, fences are needed for sports and steep slopes but in many cases, they are unnecessary. When I became commissioner of the Parks Department, I remembered something that Frederick Law Olmsted said about parks: “The sidewalk adjacent to the park should be considered the outer park.” What I recognized was that the sidewalks around parks, such as Fort Greene Park and Prospect Park, were under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department but felt separate. The land from the park to the curb should feel like part of the park. The public realm should be seamless. The public doesn’t know or care who owns the land. The New York City Police Department needed to own the idea of crime prevention through community design. I submitted the idea to the Mayor as part of OneNYC and through a partnership between City Planning, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Protection, and our agency, and a $50 million pilot was launched. There were two components: $40 million was dedicated to eight showcase projects, determined through the extensive public process that received over 6,000 nominations. In addition, $10 million was dedicated to parks and playgrounds across the city already under development to enhance the park design.   The key principles are to make a seamless public realm by rethinking the edges, entrances, and adjacent spaces of parks across the city. Open space should be open. Growing dense urban centers need vital public space for all races, genders, and ages across the board. What barriers have you met in implementing the project? Resistance encountered? As with all projects of this nature, we met with all of the community boards via borough board meetings and held public meetings in each of the five boroughs to explain the program and ask the public to nominate a park for the program. We communicated our theory that good uses tend to push out bad uses. In other words, plan for what you want to see and not what you don’t want to see. Feedback was split along demographic lines. Older people perceived fences as safeguards and that reducing the height of fences and opening up parks invited crime and homelessness to take over. But we have had early success. At McDonald Playground in Staten Island where Parks Without Borders money was dedicated to a Community Parks Initiative project, the community was initially concerned about lowering fences. The park feels so open now that people ask if we added more land. And, while the plan for Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn is greatly supported by the community, there has been resistance related to the planned removal of some large, invasive, non-native trees, and the mounds constructed in the 1970s as part of the project. What is the schedule of implementation? Over 20 parks are in the pipeline. The showcase projects will be completed by 2020. They include Prospect Park, Seward Park, Jackie Robinson Park, Corona Park, Fort Greene Park, Faber Park, Van Cortlandt Park, and Hugh Grant Circle. How does the program align with other DPR/Administration initiatives? NYC Parks is advocating for Equity, Access, Placemaking, and Healthy Living. One of the programs, Walk to a Park, is intended to reduce the time it takes to get to a park. Reducing barriers and moving entrances helps increase access to parks. DPR planners conducted a thorough planning process examining the location and attributes of parks across the city and determined where residents might be underserved. Using GIS, they mapped a five-minute walk from parks, playgrounds, and trails across New York City and then used the analysis to prioritize capital expenditures. Does the DPR Parks without Borders program impact all communities across NYC regardless of demographics? Yes, with multigenerational, ADA access. At McDonald Playground, a woman hugged me suggesting that I changed her life because she can now sit with her daughter in a quieter area of the park and watch the kids play ball. She said I extended her life.  Beyond physical fences and walls, what other kinds of borders have you seen in your time as commissioner? Rules create barriers. We don’t want to engage in anti-planning which can exclude rather than include people. Including more people in more existing parks is one example. Anti-planning, or planning to prohibit a certain group is not fair. For example, some of our playgrounds have a sign that states: “Adults prohibited unless accompanied by a child.” That means a senior citizen is prohibited from using a public space or must walk to another park that doesn’t have that rule. To address this inequity, NYC Parks in 2017 evaluated all city playgrounds and installed new signs at locations that would allow adults in a park or playground, but only prohibited adults in fenced off areas where children’s play units were located, like swings, slides and climbing structures. This one change allows more adult New Yorkers and visitors to enjoy green space like sitting under a tree or using a comfort station.   As a planner what is your perspective on borders that might exist because of climate or geographic lines that are mapped but not always perceived by the public? Rockaways? In places where public safety is an issue such as around water, clearly there need to be rules and physical barriers to keep people safe. Environmental conditions can also require limited access. For instance, the habitat for piping plovers needs to be protected by limiting beach access. This reduced the walk score but was an important trade-off. In natural areas, controlling beach erosion is important. Sometimes these barriers are jurisdictional, particularly in coastal areas. New York City is doing a better job than in the past. What is your perspective on urban and transportation design decisions in the direct post-war period, in the '60s and today in relation to race, demographics, and urban living? White flight of the '60s, urban renewal with its characteristic superblocks, and highways dividing neighborhoods were not the highlight of good planning. Cities were perceived as unsafe and as a result, many parks were surrounded with high walls to create defensible space. Now Parks Without Borders is changing this situation by moving from defensible space to open and inclusive space. Prospect Park is a great example. Programming by the Alliance activated the park. They designed for what we want to see rather than what we don’t want to see. There are so many users in our parks that space needs to be very inclusive. Our parks are our outdoor living rooms and reflect those that use them. While DPR does not have purview over public housing, it would be great to get your perspective on the landscape of housing projects in New York City as well as their overall relationship to the city. The “tower in the park” model is somewhat right. The park part is not right. Residents assume that the landscape is off limits because it is fenced off. Design organizations are now engaging NYCHA Tenant Associations about opening-up the green space within the NYCHA housing campus. For example, some NYCHA Houses have converted open space to community gardens, so the trend of better using NYCHA green space is moving into the right direction. Digital access to information creates places where people collect in the city. Beyond these spheres are dead zones that might be considered another form of border. Are there any efforts by DPR to expand digital access? I’d love to see WiFi in parks. We currently have charging stations at some beaches and WiFi in some parks. Lack of funding for maintenance and operations is an ongoing issue for public space. How will Parks Without Borders impact maintenance needs of parks? Maintenance practice of 21st-century parks warrants reexamination. More funding and more staff are welcome but aren’t the answer. We need to be innovative with resources. The agency is now using a zone approach with analytics to optimize the work of maintenance crews. We are also employing new design approaches and adding horticultural staff. One example is having park cleaning seven days per week. This seems like an addition, but the change is cutting down Monday absences because those crews were not unfairly burdened with the weekend trash. This created a better team ethos. Utilization of staff is as important as getting more staff. Working smarter with specialized teams with more training that can troubleshoot issues system-wide (catch basin team, green infrastructure team) is helping. Any final words? With limited resources we are forced to think about what is important and how to be innovative, which I base of the 3 S’s of management: You must have the right organizational structure to achieve your vision and mission. You must have the right systems in place to be successful. You must have strong management and operation standards across the five boroughs to function as one agency.  
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New York City parks hobbled by age, underinvestment according to new report

Nonprofit, nonpartisan policy group Center for an Urban Future (CUF) has released a new report outlining the dire conditions that many New York City parks are grappling with, and it doesn’t look pretty. A New Leaf: Revitalizing New York City's Aging Parks Infrastructure tracks the climbing costs of required maintenance throughout the parks system, as well as the cracks (both literal and physical) that are starting to show in park assets. A New Leaf thoroughly documents the capital needs facing New York’s nearly 1,700 parks and paints a picture of the parks system through interviews with officials from the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), community board members, elected officials, park volunteers, landscape architects, and other nonprofit groups. CUF additionally visited 65 parks city-wide to get an on-the-ground snapshot of the most common problems plaguing NYC’s parks. The results paint a picture of an aging system in dire need of repair. The average age of Manhattan’s 282 parks is 86 years old, while the last major upgrade was on average conducted in 2002. The Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens don’t fare much better, each having parks averaging in their 70’s, which largely have not undergone major renovations since the mid-1990’s. Letting the city’s urban landscapes fall into disrepair isn’t just an issue for park-goers, it also hampers the parks’ ability to sequester stormwater. The more stormwater that New York’s green spaces are capable of sucking up, the less runoff that can find its ways into the surrounding waterways. Much of the infrastructure in those same waterways, including the esplanades and accompanying seawalls, piles, and retaining walls fall under DPR’s jurisdiction and are facing the same maintenance challenges. According to the CUF, “The Parks Department’s expense and state of good repair capital budgets have been chronically underfunded, weakening infrastructure and boosting long-term costs.” As the cost of repairs has risen from $405 million in 2007 to $589 million in 2017, the capital allocated to the Parks Department has ultimately remained steady at 15 percent of the required amount: $88 million in 2017. CUF has proposed a multipronged approach for tackling the maintenance and staffing deficit. The group has proposed directing more capital funding to city parks as a preventative measure to minimize future repairs, making direct investments in struggling parks, capturing more revenue from the parks themselves, and fostering more park-involvement at the community level. Compounding the problem is a recent audit from city Comptroller Scott Stringer, where 40 percent of DPR projects surveyed were found to be behind schedule, and 35 percent were over budget.

"This administration has invested in strengthening the City’s parks system from top to bottom," said a Parks Department spokesperson in a statement sent to AN. "Capital programs including the $318-million, 65-park Community Parks Initiative and the $150-million Anchor Parks project are bringing the first structural improvements in generations to sites from playgrounds to large flagship parks. Further, as the CUF report notes, Commissioner Silver’s streamlined capital process is bringing these improvements online faster.

"Looking forward, initiatives like the newly funded catch basin program and an ongoing capital needs assessment program will ensure that NYC Parks needs are accounted for and addressed in the years to come."

 
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Find every public art installation and monument in NYC with this interactive map

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has launched an interactive database of the 1000+ monuments, public artworks, and temporary installations across the city's five boroughs. The NYC Public Art Map and Guide is searchable by ZIP Code and address, and provides photos and basic information about each monument. These range from the iconic and instantly recognizable (like the Charging Bull statue on Wall Street) to the otherwise overlooked (a plaque in City Hall Park near The Architect's Newspaper's Tribeca offices commemorates an oak tree given as a gift from Canada on Arbor Day 1967). While the map is densely populated in Manhattan—Central Park especially is peppered with monuments and sculptures—residents of the outer boroughs may not know they live a few blocks away from a public art piece. A tiny patch of land at the intersection of Bedford Avenue and Dean Street in Brooklyn, for example, holds a 30-foot-tall pedestal and statue of Ulysses S. Grant. McCarren Park in Brooklyn will be the site of a public art piece not yet listed on the map. The city recently announced that the McCarren Play Center, which includes the iconic pool opened by Fiorello La Guardia and Robert Moses in 1936, will receive two new murals. Documents released by the NYC Percent for Art Program show that the original schematics called for artwork at the location, but none was ever installed. The murals will be the work of artist Mary Temple. The map may be a useful tie-in for budding gamers playing Pokémon GO, the interactive mobile game that's currently taking the world by storm. The Pokémon GO "augmented reality" app uses real-life locations as its playing fields and points of interest often correspond with monuments and public artworks. Perhaps the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation is the latest group trying to ride the Pokémon GO wave?
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Archtober Building of the Day 21> Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning by GLUCK+

Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning Crotona Park, the Bronx GLUCK+ Today’s Archtober Building of the Day tour of the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning in the Bronx offered a close-up view of GLUCK+’s construction process. The firm works in the architect-led design-build model, in which the architect also serves as the project’s general contractor. Our group of inquisitive participants asked GLUCK+ Principal Marc Gee about how this process works, from the company’s insurance requirements to day-to-day life in the office. According to Gee, the system works because “architects are able to think on their feet in terms of design, not just the project’s bottom line.” The bottom line, of course, is also very important. This project was a public-private partnership between New York Junior Tennis & Learning (NYJTL), an after-school and summer program that offers free tennis lessons, mentoring, and leadership workshops to local youth, and the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation. Because it was an open-book contract, GLUCK+ worked closely with the client to adjust the plan as the budget allowed, such as substituting bluestone for the less expensive brick that had originally been planned for the building’s core. In the end, the project came in $2,000 below the guaranteed maximum price. There were a few hiccups along the way. The design of a poured-concrete stairway was not completed until after the building’s windows had been put into place, and then there was only an inch-and-a-half of clearance to get it inside. Now that it has been installed, though, you’d never know what a headache the staircase caused. Brand-new colorful tennis balls fill in for plantings or a fountain that we might expect to see at the bottom of the stairs. For every GLUCK+ project, someone from the firm is on-site throughout the construction process, on hand to deal with any problems that might arise. After all, “there’s no one who can look at a set of drawings better than the person who drew them,” Gee said. Archtober-ites will head to the Lower East Side bright and early tomorrow to tour PBDW Architects’ renovation of the  Educational Alliance by PBDW Architects. Julia Cohen is the Archtober Coordinator at the Center for Architecture.
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Michael Van Valkenburgh Releases Details of Main Street Section of Brooklyn Bridge Park

[beforeafter]bbp_mainSt_02 bbp_mainSt_03[/beforeafter] Much has been brewing at Brooklyn Bridge Park (BBP) over the last six months starting with the opening of Pier 5 to the completion of Squibb Park Pedestrian Bridge. And now, according to DUMBO NYC, the Park, along with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, recently unveiled plans at a community meeting to overhaul the Main Street section of its 1.3-mile waterfront stretch at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. [beforeafter] bbp_mainSt_04 bbp_mainSt_05[/beforeafter] The proposal sketches out space for a variety of activities and amenities such as an outdoor nature exhibit facility, a new Department of Environmental Protection building with restrooms and center for children's educational programming, a revamped landscaping program, a bouldering wall, a dog run, and an area reserved for active recreation.

Parks Department Coopting NYC Skaters?

On Tuesday, the Parks Department cut the ribbon on the River Avenue pocket parks in the Bronx. It is the latest piece of the sprawling, long-overdue parks system promised by the Bloomberg administration in exchange for the parks sacrificed and taxes forgone in the name of the House That Steinbrenner Built (God rest his soul). But that is not what is truly interesting about the River Avenue park. What is is that it contains a skatepark. The fourth one to open this summer, in fact, preceded by new ramps and half-pipes at Hudson River Park (above), Flushing Meadows, and Robert Venable Park in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood. A very popular park opened last year as the first piece of the McCarren Park pool’s redevelopment. (This reporter saw young scalawags jumping the fence to get in even before it was finished, so eager were they to ollie about.) The Parks Department now has 11 skateparks under management, with more on the way. Meghan Lalor, a Parks spokeswoman, said evolving tastes were to thank for the explosion in skateparks. “While there is no formal initiative to build more skate parks per se, we’re always attentive to ways to provide what New Yorkers want and need as their interests in sports and recreation evolve, and we’re delighted to offer them the opportunity to perfect their skills on inline skates, skateboards, and bikes in safe, designated areas,” Lalor wrote in an email. And yet it still seems like a startling idea, city-sanctioned skating. After all, this is the administration that would not even tolerate ancient (and famous!) graffiti along the High Line, even as all this new gnarly pavement seems akin to putting up canvases around the city for the express purpose of tagging. Perhaps skating has gone so mainstream that it is no longer subversive, and thus nothing to worry about. Or perhaps the Parks Department is herding all the skaters together to keep them off the streets and out of the parts of the parks where they are not welcome. Now wouldn’t that be truly subversive?