Ensure all New Yorkers have access to neighborhood open spaces and cultural resources
New York City’s vibrant neighborhoods are defined by shared spaces: parks, plazas, art venues, and institutions such as libraries, as well as natural landscapes.
Parks and open spaces support the health and well-being of every New Yorker. They provide opportunities for recreation and physical activity, reduce pollution, offer habitat for flora and fauna, and help mitigate the impacts of climate change. In addition, parks are important for civic engagement, interaction with neighbors, economic development, and community revitalization.
Cultural institutions enrich neighborhood life. They provide opportunities for local artists to show their work and attract creative individuals and tourists to the city. Access to culture is also critical to the well-being of residents, as it improves social connections and school achievements, lowers stress, raises community awareness, and enhances civic engagement.
We recognize the links between the city’s natural, recreational, and cultural spaces and the myriad ways we can support and enhance them. By investing in parks and recreation spaces in areas of highest need, more New Yorkers will be able to enjoy open spaces and a variety of cultural events and activities that bring communities together, contribute to better health, and foster cohesion and community development.
New York City is investing in parks and open spaces throughout the five boroughs through the Community Parks Initiative, Parks Without Borders, Anchor Parks, and neighborhood investments, such as community gardens and plazas.
Source: Parks, DOT, Trust for Public Land
Building Healthy Communities Program
A community’s infrastructure and access to opportunities for well-being are important determinants of health. Vibrant public spaces, access to healthy and affordable food, and fitness opportunities are essential for people to engage with each other, eat nutritiously, exercise, and play.
Long-standing and rising income inequality, combined with a history of racial residential segregation, has led to startling health inequities experienced most by neighborhoods that lack opportunities for well-being.
Building Healthy Communities works with local, public, and private partners to address those inequities together and improve community health by improving opportunities for physical activity, increasing access to nutritious and affordable food, and promoting community safety through vibrant public space.
Led by the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships and the Fund for Public Health in New York, Building Healthy Communities will combine the existing resources of 11 city agencies with the generosity of business and philanthropic communities. To learn more about other health initiatives, see the Healthy Lives volume.
All New Yorkers must be able to benefit from accessible open spaces. Currently, 81.7 percent of New Yorkers live within walking distance of a park (an increase of more than 180,000 residents since 2015). The City will raise this to 85 percent by 2030 by increasing access and targeting open-space acquisition and development in under-resourced and growing neighborhoods. The following initiatives detail other programmatic efforts to create a more equitable and accessible parks system.
- Implement the Community Parks Initiative
The Community Parks Initiative (CPI) is a cornerstone of the City’s efforts to ensure all New Yorkers benefit from accessible and thriving open spaces. CPI is a citywide program to improve historically under-invested parks in neighborhoods where the need is greatest, through capital investments, park programming, and operating support. The City will continue to implement the program, with 15 projects scheduled for completion in 2019.
- Activate pedestrian plazas and streets with a focus on neighborhoods with limited open space
New York City has countless open-space assets hidden in plain sight: our streets and vacant lots, and under bridges and highways. City streets comprise 27 percent of New York City’s land area, and function as public spaces essential to urban vitality and healthy lifestyles. Well-designed pedestrian plazas enhance safety, walkability, and accessibility while also providing communities with space to gather, supporting local businesses, and hosting cultural events. The City will continue to rebalance street usage for pedestrians by converting underused roadways into pedestrian plazas, especially in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods with few open-space resources.To ensure all neighborhoods have access to high quality public space, the Department of Transportation (DOT) will continue the OneNYC Plaza Equity Program, which provides funding and technical assistance to under-resourced communities to cover maintenance, trash removal, event planning, and horticultural services. This will allow the City to build and sustain high-quality streetscapes and pedestrian plazas in all neighborhoods regardless of income or local capacity, while also complementing Vision Zero street-improvement projects that include enhanced streetscapes, expanded greenery, and new street furniture.The City will also continue to develop its El-Space Program to address spaces beneath the 300 miles of elevated train lines and highways largely located in lower-income neighborhoods. Spaces underneath this infrastructure have been overlooked and underutilized, often creating an unfriendly pedestrian environment as well as a physical barrier that disrupts the neighborhood fabric. The El-Space Program will inventory these spaces, identify potential uses based on the surrounding context, and work with local groups and other agencies to reclaim locations for a variety of uses, including recreational and commercial activities, parking with high-capacity electric-vehicle charging, and storage.
- Expand recreational access to the waterfront
With its calm harbor, wide bays, and long coastlines, New York City’s waterfront is a defining feature of our city. Over the years, we have made great strides to reclaim the coastline for public use by creating waterfront parks and other public spaces. But there are still many locations along our 520 miles of coast that are hard to reach — and most New Yorkers still do not have regular interaction with the waterfront.In 2020, the City will issue our new Comprehensive Waterfront Plan as a holistic vision for the City’s waterfront and waterways for the next decade and beyond. The Plan will include strategies for expanding access to safe, improved waterfront public spaces in underserved communities, including an assessment of City-owned waterfront sites and facilities to determine which may be able to accommodate waterfront access, and opportunities for recreation and passive use. In addition, the Parks Department will explore opportunities for direct access to the water, including improving existing, and opening new access points, piloting a kayak-share program, and continuing the floating pool in the Bronx. The City will also invest in infrastructure such as bulkheads and seawalls to better protect the waterfront from the impacts of climate change.
New York City's Urban Forest
New York City’s urban forest is composed of about 7 million trees located in streets, parks, backyards, and forested areas, with tree canopy covering 22 percent of the City. Together, trees and associated stewardship activities provide crucial natural and social infrastructure, contributing to the resiliency, health, and environmental quality of our communities. New York City trees reduce air pollution, sequester carbon, divert stormwater, and reduce building energy use at a remarkable scale, providing annual benefits valued at over $100 million. The urban forest also undergirds our efforts to combat extreme heat, an emerging threat that disproportionately impacts specific neighborhoods and vulnerable populations. Tens of thousands of local residents volunteer to help care for trees, contributing to neighborhood pride and community cohesion. As part of our commitment to provide equal access to nature to support every aspect of community resiliency, we will continue to plant and replace street trees in neighborhoods with high vulnerability to heat, and mobilize New Yorkers to become stewards of our green spaces.
In 2015, the City launched Parks Without Borders, formalizing standard park design principles to make parks more inviting, accessible, and connected to the surrounding community. Parks Without Borders is currently being implemented in eight showcase projects, and will continue to be integrated into design practices for parks citywide.
- Grow our City’s Greenway Network
The City will grow our greenway network across the five boroughs to provide all New Yorkers access to sports, recreation, and relaxation. We will complete the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, building on projects already in place such as the East Midtown Greenway, Andrew Haswell Green Park, and Harlem River Park Greenway. In addition, we will explore greenway expansion in all five boroughs.
- Implement Anchor Parks initiative
Anchor Parks are large, regional parks that anchor surrounding communities by offering diverse recreational opportunities and amenities. As such, the City is investing $150 million to improve five Anchor Parks, with the goal of making old parks new again. More than 750,000 New Yorkers live within walking distance of one of the five anchor parks, which will benefit from new and renovated amenities including soccer fields, comfort stations, running tracks, and hiking trails.
Art in the Parks Program
In 1967, the City first demonstrated its commitment to public art when Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs (then united as one agency) organized the group outdoor exhibit Sculpture in Environment. The intent was to use public space as an outdoor museum, letting works of art be a part of the City’s public spaces, so that New Yorkers could experience them as they go for a walk or run an errand.
Today, NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program fosters the creation and installation of temporary art in parks throughout the five boroughs, transforming previously untapped public spaces into outdoor galleries for emerging artists. Collaboration with a diverse group of arts organizations and artists allows the program to bring both experimental and traditional art to the public in parks across the city.
New York City’s cultural institutions, from renowned museums to local music venues and street-art installations, contribute to the identity of our neighborhoods and provide places for all New Yorkers to engage with creative expression. However, many low-income neighborhoods are underserved by arts and cultural organizations. CreateNYC, a cultural plan released in 2017, is a strategy to support culture through the lens of equity, which the City will do through a number of programs.
- Increase funding and support for cultural organizations, especially those in underserved communities
One priority of the CreateNYC cultural plan is to distribute cultural funding more equitably in every corner of the city. The City increased expense funding to cultural organizations residing and/or providing programming in low-income communities, as identified by the Social Impact of the Arts report. Going forward, the City is expanding its energy subsidy program to cultural organizations operating out of City-owned property to cover 44 institutions. We are also prioritizing capital-funding requests that improve physical accessibility and support environmental sustainability of cultural facilities.
- Increase opportunities for artists, audiences, and cultural workers from historically marginalized groups
Employment in the arts in New York City is generally far lower for people from historically marginalized groups. For example, while 67 percent of New York City residents identify as people of color, only 38 percent of employees at cultural organizations are people of color, according to a cultural workforce survey conducted by Ithaka S+R in 2016. In response, the City increased funding to its re-grant program for individual artists and small organizations not eligible for direct City funding, and established CUNY Cultural Corps, a professional development program that places diverse CUNY students in paid internships at participating cultural organizations. Additionally, we launched a series of new initiatives: CreateNYC: Leadership Accelerator to provide support for mid-level professionals from diverse backgrounds; CreateNYC Disability Forward Fund to support new and ongoing efforts to engage people with disabilities as artists, cultural workers, and audience members; and the Mayor’s Grant for Cultural Impact, an initiative that supports partnerships between the City’s municipal agencies and cultural organizations that collaborate to use arts and culture to reach underserved and vulnerable New Yorkers. Finally, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment has launched the Women’s Fund grant program to support film and theater projects by, for, and about women.
- Support more opportunities for art in public spaces and celebrate the cultural heritage of all New Yorkers
The City is committed to creating more opportunities for art in public spaces, especially in underserved communities. DCLA will continue to support the Public Artists in Residence (PAIR) program, which embeds artists in the City’s municipal agencies to both address pressing civic and social issues through creative practice, and commission permanent works of art located on City-owned properties as part of the Percent for Art program. This includes creating new permanent artwork and monuments that reflect the city’s diversity and honor historically underrepresented people and communities. As part of She Built NYC, a campaign launched to honor women who have shaped New York City, newly announced work includes statues of five groundbreaking women: Shirley Chisolm, Billie Holiday, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías, and Katherine Walker. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is also focused on recognizing the buildings and places that reflect the city’s diversity, as well as protecting historic resources in communities that have been less represented by landmark designations. Through documentation, designation and digital tools the agency seeks to help preserve a diverse range of communities, and tell the story of all New Yorkers.
- Retain and promote small businesses and cultural venues by creating a nightlife cultural legacy program
New York City is justifiably famous for its vibrant nightlife. Venues such as CBGBs, Paradise Garage, and Stonewall Inn played pivotal roles in culture change and social justice movements. Yet today, rising rents and higher operating costs pose significant challenges for creative communities, individuals, and venues. Recognizing the importance of these venues, the Office of Nightlife will, by 2021, create a program to help recognize and preserve nightlife venues with cultural significance.
SHE BUILD NYC
Statues of Rep. Shirley Chisholm, Billie Holiday, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías, and Katherine Walker will be installed throughout the city’s five boroughs. They are the result of She Built NYC, a campaign launched to both honor women who have shaped New York City and address the absence of female statues in our public spaces.
Parks and plazas are not the only places in New York City where people interact. The City’s storied community gardens, not only greened abandoned spaces but also sparked a social movement. The hundreds of public library branches spread across the City not only loan books and provide information, but also offer opportunities for community engagement and educational, workforce, and cultural programs. Furthermore, as the City locates multiple services in a single space in order to make them easier to access, these spaces can play a similar role. The City is committed to creating and upgrading all types of shared spaces in order to promote social cohesion, particularly in communities that have historically experienced racial discrimination and disinvestment, or that suffer disproportionate health burdens.
- Build community through stewardship and volunteerism
Nature is a vital asset for promoting social cohesion, therefore access to nature and stewardship programming to preserve nature are essential. The City’s GreenThumb program, created in 1978, epitomizes community development through stewardship by providing assistance and coordination to the grassroots community gardening movement. The program now supports 550 groups and is managed by 20,000 volunteers that reflect the diversity of our city, providing not only green space and food, but also learning opportunities and arts and cultural programming. Looking ahead, the City will expand the number of community gardening projects, and the Art in the Gardens program will activate these spaces by bringing in local artists. Farms at NYCHA is an initiative supporting urban farms built and maintained by young people living in public housing, providing healthy food, youth leadership, and employment opportunities. Over the next five years, the City will expand the number of farms and programming they offer. Supporting these initiatives, the PUREsoil NYC program makes clean soil available to community gardens and other community organizations, and for creating neighborhood stockpiles of soil.
- Create new places for people to connect and access services
Co-locating government and place-based organizations is a holistic approach to service delivery that can improve the quality of services, create important synergies between organizations, and provide a physical space for neighbors to connect. For instance, Neighborhood Health Action Centers are revitalizing underutilized City-owned buildings in Tremont, Brownsville, and East Harlem, by co-locating health services, community health centers, public-hospital clinical services, place-based organizations and service providers. The four borough-based detention facilities the City will build to replace the jails on Rikers Island will be designed to serve as community assets, with publicly accessible spaces and useful amenities, such as programming, public services, and street-level retail (for additional detail, see Reimagining Rikers Island sidebar on page 27). Another model is the City’s Community School program. Launched in 2014, community schools serve as a neighborhood center by providing services such as health care, mentoring, expanded learning programs, and adult education. Since the launch of the program, the City has created 258 community schools, more than doubling the Administration’s commitment to create 100. Community Schools are part of a strategy to support children and families through integrated services and community partnerships.
- Invest in libraries to meet the expanding needs of the communities they serve
New York City’s independent public library system, Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Public Library operate 216 local library branches throughout the City and four research library centers in Manhattan that ensure that all New Yorkers have fair and unfettered access to information, resources, and programs. They not only circulate millions of books, serving scholars and recreational readers alike, but they are also evolving to meet the changing needs of neighborhoods and residents. Services include after-school and pre-K programming; immigrant, health, and small business services; free internet; and the ability to use Wi-Fi hotspots. The library systems are modernizing their spaces to meet the 21st century needs of their users, and, in these efforts, they will add approximately 133,000 square feet to their physical footprint. With capital funding from the 2015 Ten-Year Capital Plan, the Brooklyn Public Library has embarked on five full branch renovations that will further increase the footprint of their public library space. The New York Public Library is utilizing the Ten-Year funding to fully renovate five historic Carnegie branches in high-need neighborhoods, including Hunts Point and Melrose in the Bronx, Fort Washington and 125th Street in Manhattan, and Port Richmond on Staten Island. The Queens Public Library will open the new Hunters Point Community Library in summer 2019, while construction is underway on the library in Far Rockaway, doubling the size of its original 1968 building.The libraries are also continuing to innovate through services such as video visitation, allowing incarcerated people to communicate with their loved ones at the library through video conferencing, expanded literacy programs in homeless shelters and jails, and the launch of Culture Pass, an initiative that provides library cardholders with free access to myriad cultural institutions across the five boroughs. The Brooklyn Public Library has launched 35 new staff-driven initiatives, including the first musical instrument lending library in the metro area; the Brooklyn Cookmobile, which teaches teens essential skills in cooking and food literacy; Fashion Academy, which is a 12-week fashion and business series; and a youth Lego Robotics League. The New York Public Library launched a Community Conversations program on relevant topics selected by the community, including civics 101, mental health, the opioid epidemic, accessibility and inclusion, and more. Also in direct response to patron need, the New York Public Library has doubled English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) seats and witnessed a more than 500 percent increase in ESOL enrollment since FY 2012. The Queens Public Library’s Tech Lab serves as a hub for innovation and technology, offering hands-on classes and drop-in access to Adobe Creative Suite, 3D printing, sewing machines, and more.
Brownsville Healthy Living and Food Systems
The Brownsville Neighborhood Plan is the result of a community-driven process to identify neighborhood goals, form strategies to address local needs, and find resources to fill gaps in service. During the community engagement and planning process, neighborhood residents stressed the need to create opportunities to achieve healthy lifestyles, including healthy food options, opportunities to be physically active, and spaces for social gathering. To meet those needs, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development partnered with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to issue a unique request for proposals for affordable housing with commercial and community space.
One of the winning proposals was Livonia 4, a multi-site development that will bring 420 affordable homes in Brownsville serving a range of incomes and populations, including extremely low-income households, formerly homeless households, and low-income seniors in Brownsville. The project will also include a new supermarket, café, and community kitchen, and a 10,000-square foot rooftop garden that will generate local fresh produce for both building residents and the community.
The Brownsville Plan will result in the creation of 2,500 affordable homes, and coordinate over $150 million in City investments, including renovation of Brownsville’s parks, improvements to the open spaces on NYCHA developments, a new community center for teens at Brownsville Houses, and a new Neighborhood Health Action Center.