Reinventing Parks (1988–Present)
Historic House Trust of New York City, a not-for-profit organization, is created to preserve and promote the 16 historic house museums located in New York City parks. Working with Parks, the Trust provides new levels of attention, support and specialized care to benefit these museums. In 1996 and 1997, the Trust acquired three additional houses.
Commissioner Stern creates the City Parks Foundation (CPF), a non-profit organization that raises private funds to support programs and renovations in the city's 1,500 parks and playgrounds. CPF now focuses on four major program areas: Recreation, Park and Playground Improvements, Environmental Education and Preservation, and Arts and Culture. In partnership with Parks, CPF sponsors Central Park's SummerStage concert series, the Learn-To-Swim programs that serve thousands of children at Parks pools and recreation centers, the installation of state-of-the-art play equipment, and Mobile Recreation Vans that transport equipment to playgrounds during the summer.
Mayor David N. Dinkins appoints Betsy Gotbaum to the post of Parks Commissioner.
In August, Paul Simon performs a free concert on Central Park's Great Lawn. The City Parks Foundation and the Central Park Conservancy receive a donation from Time Warner Inc., Mr. Simon's record company.
The Korean War Memorial is dedicated in Battery Park.
The Gay Liberation Memorial is dedicated in Christopher Park and the American Merchant Mariners Memorial is dedicated in Battery Park.
Parks and CPF launch the Urban Forest and Education Program (UFEP) with a $6.4 million grant from the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund. UFEP works to protect and enhance the more than 5,000 aces of woodland in New York City parks through forest management and environmental education.
The African-American Burial Ground, encompassing parts of City Hall Park and Foley Square, is designated an official City landmark.
In January, Henry J. Stern is re-appointed Parks Commissioner by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the newly-elected Mayor. Stern previously served as Parks Commissioner under Mayor Edward I. Koch from 1983 to 1989.
With the cooperation of the Office of Labor Relations and District Council 37, Parks creates the job title of "Playground Associate." The new title is designed to maximize productivity and increase community involvement of Parks workers by combining new recreation and community outreach responsibilities with basic operations and cleanup duties. Within a matter of months, 16% of playgrounds citywide receive Playground Associates.
As a result of Mayor Giuliani's commitment to reinvigorating the City's welfare-to-work programs, Commissioner Stern begins an impressive expansion of the Parks' Work Experience Program (WEP). Starting the year with approximately 600 workers, Parks increased its total number of WEP participants to 850 by January of 1995. By the end of 1995, the headcount rose to 3,600 participants, quadrupling in size by 1996, and eventually reaching a total of more than 5,000 WEP workers. The Parks Career Training Initiative (PACT) begins that April as a voluntary program to offer WEP participants greater work experience and job search/training resources in exchange for a doubled work commitment. By 2000, PACT places more than 1,500 participants in full-time, private sector jobs.
Commissioner Stern reintroduces Greenstreets, a joint project with the Department of Transportation, started in 1986. The program converts paved street properties, like triangles and malls, into green spaces. By 2001, 2001 Greenstreets will have been created.
The New York Tree Trust is established in conjunction with the City Parks Foundation. The Trust oversees the maintenance, care and planting of trees, as well as research into methods of increasing the life span of urban street trees.
Commissioner Stern creates the One Stop Tree Shop to enable New Yorkers to order street trees simply by making a phone call and mailing in a check (a tax-deductible donation). A tree is usually planted within six months—during the next planting season.
Parks launches the Street Tree Census to catalog all street trees in New York City. Conducted with the assistance of more than 700 volunteers, 33,278 city blocks are covered--a distance of 12,000 miles. Upon its completion in 1996, the final count totals 498,470 street trees.
Partnerships for Parks (PFP) is formed by Parks and CPF to increase community support for parks. Partnerships creates and strengthens groups that care for local parks, links them so that they can learn from each other and be stronger collectively, and promotes the parks generally so that people will be more likely to get involved in them. Citywide, tens of thousands of people are active in over 250 "Friends of the Park" groups, as well as over 1,000 other civic groups that contribute to their parks in some way throughout the year.
The Walt Disney Company premieres its animated film "Pocahontas" on Central Park's Great Lawn. Four 80-foot screens are placed on the lawn's western edge to ensure that even the smallest moviegoer can see and hear all of the action. Pope John Paul II also visits Central Park's Great Lawn to celebrate Mass from a replica basilica. A large crowd attends the ceremony, which in addition to the ritual Mass and papal homily also features performances by Roberta Flack, Natalie Cole, Jon Secada, Peabo Bryson, Kathy Triccoli, Placido Domingo and a number of children's and military choirs.
Mayor Giuliani and Commissioner Stern dedicate the Eleanor Roosevelt Monument in Riverside Park.
Parks completes 126 capital projects, more than double the completion rate from previous years. By Fiscal Year 2000, that number exceeds 250 projects and $200 million in funding.
Parks privatizes its Bronx Garage, cutting the vehicle out-of-service rate by half. The competition eventually spurs Parks' in-house garages to dramatically improve their performance as well.
Commissioner Stern pledges to eliminate the city's backlog of 9,000 dead tree removals. The project is completed in August, 1997. Today, dead trees are always removed within 30 days.
The Prospect Park Alliance launches a five-year, $9 million capital campaign to stablize the park's 250 acres of woodlands.
In August, country music giant Garth Brooks performs a free concert in Central Park's North Meadow. Garth is joined on stage by big names in the world of music including Billy Joel and Don McLean. For one night at least, New York City was filled with urban cowboys.
Parks & Recreation hosts 1,600 athletes as part of the U.S. Youth Games.
In September, the Tisch Children's Zoo reopens after a $6 Million renovation.
In October, Parks and the Central Park Conservancy completes a two-year, $18.2 million project to fully restore the 55-acre Great Lawn of Central Park--one of the most ambitious reconstruction projects in the history of the park. In addition to resodding the Lawn with 500,000 square feet of Kentucky bluegrass, the renovation includes the installation of a new drainage infrastructure, state-of-the-art ballfields, volleyball and basketball courts, new pathways, and native plants, trees and shrubs, as well as the revitalization of Turtle Pond.
Barbara Thomas is the first-ever recipient of the Citizen Tree Award. Thomas, a Parks volunteer, is honored for her pioneering work in planting street trees in the cast-iron district of SoHo and TriBeCa.
132 greenstreets are planted - 56 in the Bronx, 77 in Brooklyn, 39 in Manhattan, 76 in Queens, and 52 in Staten Island, bringing the citywide total to 300.
The Urban Park Rangers contribute to New York City's ecology with Project X - the reintroduction of native animals and plants into their former habitats. The Rangers reintroduce 8 animal and 10 plant species, including 100 Bobtail Quails released in Pelham Bay Park, 75 New England Asters planted in Marine Park, 73 Luna Moths released in Central Park, 175 Wood Frogs released in Cunningham Park, and ten Prickly Pear Cacti planted on Moses Mountain in the Greenbelt.
Seventeen new parcels of parkland are acquired and two park additions, totaling 237.10 new acres. Notable acquisitions include Brooklyn's Paerdegat Basin Park (160.74 acres), Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens (1.553 acres), and Staten Island Industrial Park Wetlands Addition (70.29). Parks' Natural Resource Group completes the restoration of nearly 200 acres of natural areas.
Bette Midler receives the first-ever Lifetime Friend of Parks Award at Commissioner Stern's annual State of the Parks address. Since she founded the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) in 1994, over 3,000 tons of debris and 2,000 tires have been removed from project sites, 200 acres of Fort Tryon, Gorman, and Fort Washington parks have been cleaned, 40 acres of natural aquifer land in Long Island's Pine Barrens have been cleaned and restored.
Fiscal Year 1998 ends with $36.6 million earned towards the City's General Fund, exceeding the year's plan by $5.5 million, or a full 18%. This figure marks a level of income that is 53% higher than the $23.8 million collected five years ago - a clear indication that the number of New Yorkers using their parks has been steadily increasing. Parks designs and bids $165 million in projects, more than triple the $51 million of FY 1994. Approximately 15 more projects are registered in 1998 than in 1997, and work is done on nine playing fields, and eleven recreation centers.
Notable Capital Projects include:
Blue Heron Environmental Center and Surrounding Landscape - The new environmental center will serve as an important resource for patrons as they explore the Blue Heron Park's rich 190 acres.
Reconstruction of Prospect Park Ravine Phase I and II - A marvel in Brooklyn's last forest involving the excavation and reconstruction of two waterfalls, four beaches, and the Gorge, as well as the planting of 161,250 herbaceous plants, 13,000 trees, and 7,000 shrubs. Winner of an Art Commission award, a Landmarks Conservancy award and an ASLA award.
Reconstruction of SW Corner of Van Cortlandt Park - This project provided a major entrance to New York City's third largest park, including a large playground and basketball court, and a bronze sculpture of a coyote, modeled after the one found in Van Cortlandt several years ago - the first spotted in New York City since in 1940's.
Reconstruction of Long Island MEWS Park - Long Island MEWS Park's playground and sitting area have a butterfly motif, and real butterflies will be attracted to the plantings in the park which were specifically chosen for the purpose. This project won an Art Commission Design Award in 1997.
Reconstruction of Bellevue South Park - Once divided up into small spaces, this park has been opened up and brought to life as a wooded garden, with sculptures of woodland creatures and bronze elves populating the enlarged green spaces, "understory" trees, ground cover, and lilies and spring flowers.
Restoration of The Bronx River begins, creating momentum among government, private agencies, and the Bronx communities that border the River. On Friday, November 19 Parks hoisted 20 rust-ridden and abandoned vehicles from the depths of the Bronx River at Starlight Park, announcing the start of the $60 million Bronx River Action Plan and initiating the Adopt-The-River program. This public/private partnership develops sponsorships to support Parks' restoration and management activities along the river corridor.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama offers a free public talk open to all at the East Meadow in Central Park on Sunday, August 15, 1999.
Musician Sheryl Crow and Friends perform for 25,000 fans at the East Meadow in Central Park on Tuesday, September 14. The show featured Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Sarah McLaughlin, Stevie Nicks, and others who gave New York City a concert joins the pantheon of historic concerts in Central Park.
After a major reconstruction, City Hall Park re-opens to the public as one of the gems of the Emerald Empire - a 19th Century Park for the 21st Century. The park now features an exact replica of the 1820's perimeter fence, the restored Jacob Wrey Mould Fountain, a new walkway, regraded lawns, and new gardens resulting in more green space and fewer paved areas.
The Parks Library, located in room 240 of the historic Arsenal in Central Park, opens to the public. This unique facility is invaluable for research, with books and other materials related to open space, urban studies, wildlife, landscaping, recreation, and New York City history, politics, and architecture. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch in Brooklyn, designed by John Duncan, architect of Grant's Tomb, is restored to its beautiful appearance and protected from future damage.