PlaNYC: Parks and Public Space

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New York City is an incredible juxtaposition of modern cityscape and a vast network of parks. The next section of PlaNYC (don’t worry if you missed the intro or Housing sections!) outlines New York’s commitment to the improvement of the park system and public, green infrastructure. New York already has more than 52,000 acres of parkland between city, federal, and privately owned land. Still, though, over 2 million New Yorkers live over a ten-minute walk to a park. While this number is decreasing—since 2007, more than a quarter of a million more New Yorkers have a park within about half a mile—the city wants to ensure every resident can have easy access to a park.

Parks are areas of community growth and development, where people can meet casually or formally. They are a setting for fun and recreation, for exercise and sports, and they also are ecologically very important. Plants clean our air and provide fresh oxygen; d and grass absorb storm water and runoff. The city will focus on allocating new parks in districts where the need is greatest, improving park quality in existing locations, dedicating itself to improve local communities and the city scape through greenery, making nature a priority, and securing a long future for our beloved parks.

Initiative 1: Create tools to identify parks and public space priority areas
Funding is very finite, and we need to ensure that our money is being spent the best way possible. This initiative creates a “scorecard” that will weight various factors of the neighborhood like demographic data, existing infrastructure, physical condition, and community need and support.

Initiative 2: Open underutilized spaces as playgrounds or part-time public spaces

There are many open, unoccupied spaces that could be opened to the public. For example, there are almost 300 schoolyards in areas that do not have great park access. The Schoolyards and Playgrounds Program was launched to renovate these spaces and open them to the community. There are so far 180 sites that have been opened, and by 2013 it will be well over 230. There are also programs that cater to the needs of the time of year, such as the Summer Streets program, where streets are closed off to vehicle traffic and the road becomes a space for bikes, roller blades, walkers and foot traffic. Similarly, the Play Streets program allows non-profits and schools to close down streets to give kids and students a place to play.

Initiative 3: Facilitate urban agriculture and community gardening
Community gardens are a fantastic way to introduce nature into the city, and are great for community building. Gardens are also a great way to give healthy food to neighborhoods that do not have access to fresh options. More than 1,000 community gardens exist in the city, and New York is committed to allowing these programs to grow even further. JustFood is a partner non-profit organization that helps establish new farmers markets in such neighborhoods. The City has also partnered with GrowNYC, which supports gardens in schools. More than 70 schools have registered with Grow to Learn NYC, the Citywide School Gardens program to teach children about healthy choices.

Initiative 4: Continue to expand usable hours at existing sites
In NYC, there is a growing demand for sports space. In response, the city has accelerated the construction of 26 paved fields to synthetic turf fields. These fields require much less upkeep and remain open longer. This initiative also commits to lighting more fields, making them usable, and safer, after sunset.

Initiative 5: Create and upgrade flagship parks
Central park is arguably one of the most well known parks in the entire world. If more parks could become “destination-level” parks, the surrounding communities would greatly benefit. For example, the city is building an Olympic-size pool and year-round recreational center in McCarren Park in Brooklyn. They are also committed to enhancing waterfront parks. The Comprehensive Waterfront Plan will help New Yorkers “reconnect with a waterfront.” In many waterfront parks throughout the city, construction on bike and running paths has begun, as well as public ferry access and infrastructure. Moreover, $260 million has been committed toward improving Governors Island, as it has become a popular destination for New Yorkers.

Initiative 6: Convert former landfills into public space and parkland
Flushing Meadows Corona Park used to be one of the larges dumping grounds in the country; it has since been cleaned and is now a very busy city park. Some of the best opportunities for large parks are in landfills. Eventually the City hopes to turn the landfills into parks, after decontaminating and remediating them to ensure public safety. This is a long process, but the landfills have been closed off and plans are in motion for the Brookfield Avenue Landfill in Staten Island, Ferry Point in the Bronx, and Edgemere Landfill in Queens.

Initiative 7: Increase opportunities for water-based recreation
New York City is an island, but rarely is it thought as one. The City’s great geographical location offers many possibilities for water-based activities, such as kayaking, canoeing, and rowboating. The New York City Water Rail, run together with the New York City Water Trail Association establishes safe launch sites for aquatic activities in New York. As water quality has improved, demand has increased and more needs to be addressed. New Yorkers need to be able to easily reach the water, as well as use it. More docks and onshore facilities must be constructed. There also must be collaboration with those that use the water commercially.

Initiative 8: Activate the streetscape
Each community has a different feel and personality that is directly connected to the quality of life in New York. Attractive neighborhoods increase pedestrian traffic and retail sales, improve comfort, and encourage local modes of transportation. In order to maintain this prosperity, and bring it to areas that do not have it, the construction of plazas, such as that in Times Square, will give foot traffic the right of way and create multi-use public spaces. Plazas extend our communities and bring them even closer to home. The NYC Plaza Program works with community groups and non-profits to exchange ideas and create the best public space for each neighborhood. The CityBench program has also been initiated, which puts more benches along allowing sidewalks, turning the street into a social environment.

Initiative 9: Improve collaboration between City, state, and federal partners
Over 40% of New York’s parks are not City-owned—they are owned by the state or federal government. And, unfortunately, each entity has different rules and regulations. For example, New York State parks do not allow dogs, and have shorter hours. This creates a problem with neighboring parks if one does not allow biking, and the other does. New York is committed to working with the state and federal governments to negotiate these differences to create a uniform park network.

Initiative 10: Create a network of green corridors
‘Greenways’ will be multi-use pathways for non-motorized transportation. They will be along waterfront spaces, parklands, river corridors, rail and highway rights-of-way, and even streets. For example, the Brooklyn waterfront Greenway will be a 14-mile long bike and pedestrian trail when completed. Greenways like these will connect communities and neighborhoods and enhance the by-foot experience

Initiative 11: Plant one million trees
MillionTreesNYC is a part of the New York Restoration Project started in 2007. So far, over 430,000 trees have been planted, and by the end of 2013, there will be almost 650,000 new trees in New York.

Initiative 12: Conserve natural areas
Forever Wild sites are areas that have been specifically preserved from development, such as the Central Park Ramble, or the Queens Alley Pond Park Preserve. Together, there is more than 8,700 acres of forests, wetlands, and meadows. This is New York’s commitment to preserving wildlife and nature.

Initiative 13: Support ecological connectivity
The disconnect between New Yorkers and nature is rather extreme at times. The City hopes to close this gap by providing incentive for Green Roofs, or roof top gardens and grass areas for recreation as well as ecological reasons, and continuing Greenstreets, a program that captures unused asphalt sites and turns it into green areas.

Initiative 14: Support and encourage stewardship
The concept of stewardship consists of resource management and planning. The City will continue it’s long history of working with community groups and non-profit organizations to involve residents of the city with the ongoing developments. The Catalyst for Neighborhood Parks program, for example, combines City-funded improvements with privately funded programs. It helps connect people and ideas to promote healthy growth and collaboration.

Initiative 15: Incorporate sustainability through the design and maintenance of all public space
“We will increasingly view design and construction through the lens of ongoing maintenance by continually updating our internal practices,” the Plan promises. It will involve the community and remain flexible to the constantly changing state of the city. A digital library tracking system will also be developed to organize and catalog the sustainable aspects of certain City projects.


Overall, the City’s goals are to ensure that every New Yorker is in a ten-minute walking distance from a park, that the community remains involved and vocal in the transformation of a community, and that the city is interlaced with a green network—from better parks, to greenways, to waterways. New York is committed to preserving public space for future generations.