“After 9/11, people needed parks. They needed a place to gather, and they wanted to help the city. The Daffodil Project gave them a way to do that.”
Eileen Remor, Director of Arsenal Operations for NYC Parks, has been involved with the Daffodil Project since its inception in fall of 2001, when NYC Parks came together with New Yorkers for Parks to heal a grieving city. Eileen and other Parks staff, including then-Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, had the idea to do a big bulb planting to honor the victims of 9/11. They soon found out that NY4P board member Lynden Miller was thinking the same thing – she was planning a large-scale daffodil bulb planting.
“I have a theory,” Eileen says, “that a good sign of a great idea is when multiple people have it at the same time.”
When NYC Parks and NY4P officially announced the Project and opened it up to volunteers they were overwhelmed with responses. That fall they planted over 1.5 million daffodil bulbs with the help of 10,000 volunteers.
Eileen began working in the parks world in 1999, at Partnerships for Parks, a joint program of NYC Parks and the City Parks Foundation. As an Outreach Coordinator she worked directly with local community members and organizations, helping them to improve and steward their open spaces. She saw firsthand how empowering it is for individuals to engage with their parks in a physical, tangible way.
“After 9/11, people needed parks. They needed a place to gather. And they wanted to help the city. The Daffodil Project gave them a way to do that.”
When asked what the most exciting moments of the Project have been, Eileen talks about the ways she’s seen it help individuals in deeply personal ways.
Eileen coordinated a planting event with an NYC firehouse that was hosting Slovakian Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. PM Dzurinda was in town to run the NYC Marathon, but also made time to visit the firehouse of a Slovakian-American firefighter who died on 9/11. “At the event there was one man in particular who was very passionate about the planting, taking a lot of joy in it,” Eileen recalls. It wasn’t until years later that she learned that the man’s brother, a firefighter, was also killed in the attacks.
“When I’m riding the bus in the spring and I hear people around me exclaiming, ‘Look at how beautiful those flowers are!’ it makes me feel really good,” Eileen says. “Even if they don’t know who’s planting them, people benefit from having that beauty in their lives.”
With over 17 years working for NYC Parks, and a front-row seat for much of the Daffodil Project, Eileen has a clear vision of how the Project can benefit the city. She emphasizes how it helps children by teaching them about 9/11 and how New Yorkers came together in the aftermath. “With the Project kids see firsthand how powerful it is, and how parks can help people heal. If they experience tragedy or loss in their own lives, they know that they have ways of healing.”
“I grew up in New Jersey, near the Jersey Shore. I have lived in New York since January, 1988. Prior to 9/11, I had fantasies about moving to Hawaii or San Francisco,” Eileen explained. “But as a result of the attacks on 9/11, I was determined to remain in my beloved city and help make it come back stronger and better than ever.”
“New Yorkers never forget our own.”
Mayor de Blasio made a very generous offer of $100 million to Norm Brodsky to purchase the last piece of property necessary to complete Bushwick Inlet Park. Yet with only 19 days until the offer expires, Mr. Brodsky still has not accepted it.
The city promised the park to the community as part of the 2005 rezoning which brought about a huge increase in the population of Williamsburg. 11 years later, the city is making good on its promise. With this deal Mr. Brodsky stands to make a significant return on his original investment, and the community will get the open space they need.
This parkland is not a luxury. Using our Open Space Index methodology, New Yorkers for Parks found that the total open space in Community District 1 is sufficient for around 85,000 people - just under half the current population. Even a fully built-out Bushwick Inlet Park, as proposed, provides only 60% of the amount of open space that Community District 1 residents need. With many hundreds more residential units soon to come, the completion of this park becomes even more imperative.
If Bushwick Inlet Park is not fully built, it will set a terrible precedent for the city. Communities across New York are facing significant increases in population that will put greater strain on existing open spaces. Without the creation of new, quality parkland, these communities will suffer.
We applaud the city for making good on its promise, and we encourage Mr. Brodsky to accept the offer. If we truly care about New York communities and neighborhoods, we must make sure they have the open space they need to thrive.
Being in a room with the staff at the District 4 office at Mill Pond Park in the Bronx, one can’t help but smile. Their energy and optimism is infectious. Ask them about their job, and instantly they’ll tell you about why they love their work, how they know it’s important to the community, and how their mutual respect for each other keeps them coming back year after year.
Clinton Johnson is a parks supervisor Level 2, and has been at the department since 1984; Kendra Thompson is a Parks Supervisor Level 1, with the department since 1998; and John Ogendengbe is a City Parks Worker, with the department since 2007. They all began as temporary seasonal employees and worked their way up through the ranks. They understand how entry-level employees, upper-level management, and everyone in-between work best together. Despite their different titles and levels of responsibility, a few basic but essential principles unite them: their understanding of the importance of their work, their commitment to success, and their respect for each other.
In the following transcript from our interview, you’ll learn why Clinton, Kendra, and John think parks are so important, how parks and parks employees bring communities together, and how this motivates them every day.
NY4P: “What is the role of parks in New York City?”
Clinton: “Parks play a very important role. They are expanding with the mayor’s plan to make parks more pleasing for the inner city, and to make them diverse, to give these neighborhoods open space and greenery. The city has done a great job of improving these parks, and now our biggest issue is sustainability. It can be difficult to maintain the quality of these parks. It’s a 365 days a year job. There’s never a time that they don’t need work, and it can be difficult to keep them up to the standard of quality that we all aim to achieve. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so it’s a matter of sustaining our parks to keep them running well now and in the future.
John has to clean ten to 20 sites by 11:30 every morning. That’s our goal every day, because there’s so much to do every day. We send out seven crews daily, with one CPW and one Parks Opportunity Program participant each, on a good day. The work often rolls into the next day, and we could put more permanent staff to good use. Our sites are subject to inspection every day, and our CPWs take a lot of pride in making sure they don’t fail. It’s always a race to get everything done. We have a lot of very dedicated staff that don’t always win every day, but we all know that we have to run the race no matter what.”
John: “It’s important to the health of our city to have great parks, and having great staff is key. You have to motivate the staff, and explain their role. When they know what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it, then they love it.
It really starts at the top. Mr. Johnson will come out and work with us and get his hands dirty. We really work together. Having managers that motivate and work with you makes it a great place to be. I tell the POP participants to not look at it as a temporary job – it’s a real job, and I encourage them to take advantage of the programs that the city offers. There are always opportunities to grow, and it could turn into something permanent.
This summer I’m going to a pool where I’m going to be a seasonal supervisor. So I’ll be gaining that experience, and eventually that will help me move another step up in the department. There are always opportunities to learn and achieve more if you just keep working at it.”
NY4P: “What’s your favorite part of the job?”
Kendra: “My favorite part is passing our site inspections. We don’t always get to enjoy the sites, because we’re there to inspect them and are always on the lookout for what needs to be done. But we do get to see the public’s response, and we know they appreciate what we do. They are delighted that their parks are looking up, and we get people coming up to us all the time and thanking us. And we let them know that we need them to help us, too. Because these parks are here for the community, and we all need to work together. In the Rec centers we have kids and seniors that really depend on them and love having the pools to go to. During the summer we have the lunch program in some parks. In this neighborhood we have folks that are less fortunate, and a lot of kids may not get enough to eat if it wasn’t for the lunch programs.”
John: “One of my favorite parts of this job is definitely seeing the lunch program and knowing that people can eat. Another part of this job that I love is just interacting with people in the parks. I always try to smile and talk to people if they look like they need it, because you never know what someone is going through. Just talking to someone can really change their day. And it helps me, too. This way we really get to know the community.”
Clinton: “We all love the community service projects we get. People are often surprised to see volunteers doing the work. They don’t realize how much we depend on volunteers to help us and our parks.”
Kendra: “We had 150 volunteers in one playground, and the work they did was indescribable. They filled 300 trash bags in one day.”
Clinton: “We try to tell the public how important community service is to our parks. That it took 150 volunteers to do all of that work, and normally we only have one staff person. Our full-time staff is 20, with seasonal staff it’s 40. What the volunteers can do in one day could take for months for us. These volunteers and community service projects have become an important part of how we get the work done. We simply cannot do it all, because we do not have the resources.
CC Sabathia, the Yankees pitcher, recently donated $2 million to renovate a baseball field in Claremont Park here in the Bronx. The park was in pretty bad shape. There was a lot of flooding in the field, and the irrigation system needed to be fixed. It looks great now. So the help we get from the community – whether it’s donating time or money – it really makes a difference.
Our staff needs to have a lot of training to do their jobs. They have to understand horticulture, tree maintenance, field maintenance and more. If I had 50 more Johns I wouldn’t need so many volunteers!”
John: “You see, you care because you want to do it. You love it, you love doing it, and you’re always trying to improve. Even on your days off you can’t stop looking at parks and thinking about what needs to be done.”
Clinton: “I was on vacation abroad and I caught myself inspecting a park without even realizing what I was doing. It becomes a part of you.”
NY4P: "Why are you still here, working in the Parks Department?"
Clinton: “I love it. I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve learned a lot. Now I get to enjoy teaching the newer folks in the Department so that they can love it, too.”
Kendra: “We teach each other; it’s a cycle. We have great temporary and seasonal workers, and we’d love to hire them full-time. They’re qualified and they have the passion, which is what we need to thrive. When you work with people like that, you can get a lot done. There are a lot of people that would love to have jobs with the Parks Department, and who would be really great at it.”
Clinton: “There are people that care, that have the hunger, and you wish you could hire them. You want to have them long-term because you see their potential, and you see what they could do if they had the chance.”
John: “I was always spending time in parks when I was a kid. Parks are better now – today we’re taking more pride in our parks. Parks are safer, and there aren’t as many physical problems. You can sit down and have a nice meal in a park. Kids learn a lot in parks, they gain social skills, and it gives them a place to be. You meet your best friends in parks, you meet parents and families. That’s how an area becomes a community. And that’s what keeps me motivated and excited to come to work every morning.”
Kendra: “People are using parks now more than ever. People have to interact with each other when they’re in a park, they have to get to know each other. You can’t stay strangers. Parents get to know us, and kids listen to us because they know who we are, and they know we’re watching out for them. We take a lot of pride in what we do. It’s not just work; it’s community building.
There’s a real learning curve in teaching the community what we’re doing and how to respect it, especially in areas where they don’t have a lot of other areas to play. For example, kids may be so excited to have a field to play ball on that they run around on it even when it’s muddy and we have it closed off, and they end up destroying the grass without meaning to. So we have to communicate with the community and with the kids and tell them why they need to wait until the field is dry. We need the community to understand what it is that we do and how it all works. But once we have that communication, and once the community understands, then we can really work together to make these into places where everyone can play and enjoy themselves.”
NY4P: “What do people need to know about NYC parks, how we can protect and improve them going forward, and what role staff plays in this?”
Clinton: “I would say that everything we create, there should be a system in place to maintain it. We need to be focused on planning for sustainability. With the rezoning in Jerome Avenue there will probably be a lot more people living there, which means that we’re going to need more parkland. But we’ll also need more staff to maintain the parks, because even the parks we have now are going to be much more heavily used.
We have to pool our resources across districts periodically, and we have to make tough decisions and prioritize what needs to get done. We don’t have enough people here to maintain things as well as we’d like to. Because we always aim for the best, and we always see the potential.”
Kendra: “We strive to do achieve our goals every day. The supervisors will get out there, help the CPWs and get dirty if we need to. But then we can’t do our own jobs as well. Our staff really wants to work and to make a difference. We’re all really happy to be here, even on the days when the work feels overwhelming, because we all know it’s important.”
John: “People see opportunity and they work their heart out. We need to make sure we nurture those people, and continue to give them opportunities to work, and to be engaged with their jobs and their parks.”
In addition to the significant increase in visitors, you may also see new faces taking care of your park. Every spring the Parks Department brings on hundreds of seasonal staff to work through the busy summer months. In a major win for NYC parks, this year Mayor de Blasio added funding for three times more funding for seasonal staff than last year, which means that we can expect significantly increased maintenance this year and hopefully for years to come.
The Parks Department picks up around 120 tons of trash every day in the summer, and on extended holiday weekends it’s even more. Parks workers also stock and clean bathrooms, mow lawns, do basic equipment repairs, and more. In short, there’s a lot of work that goes in to taking care of our parks in the summer.
Some seasonal staff begin work in April, readying ball fields, mowing grass, and preparing for summer. A few months later more come on to work at beaches, pools, and neighborhood parks. The city council added additional funding to keep beaches open for an extra week this year, so you can expect to see parks workers and lifeguards until September 11.
Perhaps you’ve also noticed that some of the staff you usually see in your local park aren’t around this time of year. The Parks Department offers a “Step-Up” program, where select permanent employees receive a temporary promotion and raise by moving to a beach, pool, or high-use park and supervising seasonal and entry-level employees throughout the summer. The Step-Up program gives dedicated, dependable staff the opportunity to learn new skills and puts them in a good position for a permanent promotion.
Even with all these feet on the ground, the Parks Department appreciates feedback from the community. They’re very responsive to 311, so if you see anything that needs to be addressed, don’t hesitate to report it!
NYC parks and open spaces have a lot of programming going on all summer long, most of it free. You can find out more on the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation website, and the City Parks Foundation calendar.
Believe it or not, that’s just a small slice of what’s going on. Many park “friends-of” groups have a Facebook page, and it’s a great way to find out if there’s anything more happening in your local spaces.
Every report NY4P produces requires hundreds of hours of surveying, research, and data analysis. This is only possible through the contributions of the great interns we are lucky to work with every year. This summer we are joined by four student interns from New York University, Carnegie Mellon, Princeton, and the Pratt Institute, and a research and planning Fellow from the Pratt Institute. In their work for NY4P, Alisha Beatty, Lesther Martinez, Daniel Tjondro, Caroline Todd, and Charlie McCabe are using an exciting new method for understanding parks usage that will enable us to advocate even more effectively for parks.
The NY4P intern team is collecting data on open space usage in the Bronx as part of a research project with the Bronx Community Health Network. BCHN aims to reduce obesity and improve the health and wellness of residents of the Bronx through various measures, including improved access to parks and open spaces.
The project is currently focusing on six Bronx parks, using the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities, a new data collection method developed by Dr. Deborah Cohen of the RAND Corporation. They recently worked with the City Parks Alliance on a nation-wide study of 174 parks across 25 major US cities. NY4P helped them identify sites in New York City, and the study yielded fascinating results.
The team will visit each park at least seven times: one initial period of observation, and morning and afternoon visits on two weekdays and one weekend. The data they gather will ultimately paint a picture of how people in the surrounding communities are and are not using these parks and playgrounds, and will offer insights into how parks, and parks outreach and programming can be improved.
As part of our ongoing effort to create citizen data scientists, our interns are also training youth from El Puente in Williamsburg, and the Brownsville Community Justice Center, both in Brooklyn. These young people can then inform and empower their communities with research and information.
So if you see folks with NY4P badges in your parks this summer, feel free to say hi and ask them what they’re learning about your neighborhood! (Good lunch recommendations are always welcome, too.)
Learn more about our interns:
Alisha Beatty: Alisha is currently a graduate student in the Urban Planning, Environment, Infrastructure and Transportation program at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. In addition to her work with NY4P, she is also a Graduate Researcher with the NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, and the Chair of the Student Representative Committee of the American Planning Association New York Metro Chapter. Alisha graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies and Anthropology from SUNY Stony Brook.
Charlie McCabe: Charlie is currently a graduate student in the Urban Placemaking & Management program at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, working to finish his studies in December. Prior to attending Pratt and serving as a research and planning fellow for NY4P this summer, Charlie worked for several parks non-profits, most recently, the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston. He is on the board of the City Parks Alliance. Charlie is returning to Boston in August to work on his final project for his master’s and hopes to work with community groups, cities, and towns to build, expand and program parks, public spaces, and trails in Boston and beyond.
Lesther Martinez: Lesther is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Architecture from Carnegie Mellon University, expected class of 2018. During the academic year he works at Morewood MakerSpace and the Fund for Advancement of Minorities through Education, both in Pittsburgh. He is also the founder and president of the National Organization of Minority Architects within the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon.
Daniel Tjondro: Daniel is a recent graduate of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, and will begin pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Princeton University in the fall. He has worked for the New York Botanical Garden and the Queens Public Library, and held internships with The Nature Conservancy and City Growers. At Stuyvesant he was involved in many extracurricular activities including the Red Cross Club, the Science Olympiad Club and others.
Caroline Todd: Caroline is currently pursuing her Master of Science in City and Regional Planning at Pratt Institute, expected graduation in December 2016. At Pratt she is the Team Leader in the Innovation in Affordable Housing HUD Competition. She is currently a licensed real estate salesperson with Stribling & Associates, and has worked in Get Out the Vote and congressional campaigns in Memphis, TN, and as a Policy Intern with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. Caroline holds a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from Rhodes College.
We are saddened by the passing of Dr. Roscoe Brown, Jr., who served on the board of New Yorkers for Parks for many years. A tireless advocate for social justice, he was deeply committed to improving and protecting parks and open space in New York City. Dr. Brown’s work for racial equality most notably began with his time in the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, where he flew 68 combat missions. He went on to direct the Institute of Afro-American Affairs at New York University, was the president of Bronx Community College from 1977 to 1993, and then directed the Center for Education Policy at CUNY. In 2007, he and other surviving Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. In addition to sitting on the board of NY4P, he was also on the boards of City Parks Foundation, New York Botanical Garden, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Friends of Van Cortlandt Park and others. Dr. Brown is survived by his four children.
Overall, this is shaping up to be a good year for our city parks. Advocates from across the city signed NY4P’s letter to the mayor and the city council, came to the Rally 4 Parks, contacted their elected officials, and supported our work. Together we let City Hall know how important open space is to New York communities, and we have city a budget that reflects that.
Mayor de Blasio dramatically increased the seasonal budget to deal with the enormous increase in park and playground use. The City Council also made some significant increases to the Parks Department budget. We can now look forward to better park maintenance during the summer months, a longer beach season, the preservation of essential staff positions, much-needed funding for tree stump removal, and increased access and improvements to parks and playgrounds across the city.
The budget, funded by a combination of mayoral (M) and City Council (CC) money, includes:
This budget shows that Mayor de Blasio and the City Council, under the leadership of Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, understand the importance of our open spaces. It is a big step in the right direction, and with your help we’re going to build on this momentum next year.
To everyone whose dedication, advocacy, and support helped make this happen: Thank you!
In just a little over two years Audrey Williams has gone from having a temporary position in the Parks Department to becoming a full-time, permanent member of the Brooklyn Borough crew, with another promotion in the works. Having recently received her commercial driving license, she has her sights set on driving the “packers” – sanitation trucks in park’s lingo – a position that offers more responsibility and more compensation.
Ms. Williams started out as a Job Training Participant in November of 2014. Her supervisor saw her dedication and hired her as a gardener in Community Parks Initiative areas. She loved gardening, but the position wasn’t permanent. Every year the staff wonders if the funding will be renewed, or if this is their last year with a job in the department. So when a permanent position opened up, “I jumped on it,” she explains. “The pay is actually less, but being in a temporary position is very stressful. I wanted something I could grow with.”
Now a City Parks Worker responsible for rodent abatement in parks throughout Brooklyn, Ms. Williams drives her Parks Department van to a different site every day. “It’s not the most glamorous job in the world,” she says, “but it’s important. We can’t enjoy our parks if we don’t have someone doing this kind of work. Most people don’t realize how much work goes into taking care of them.”
A native of Brownsville, Audrey has gotten to know Brooklyn better than ever, and sees how much potential there is to improve open space in the city. In her position she talks to people all over the borough who tell her about what’s going well in their green spaces, and what isn’t. She knows the importance of her work, and knows that there is much more that could be done.
“There’s always work to do,” she says. “There’s never a slow day. We’d like to do more, but we have to make do with what we have. It’s ok. But it could be better.
“For us it’s a job, but it’s also important to the health of the city. Look at the trees and flowers. Somebody’s doing all of this work. I know Brownsville looks nicer. And you want to see green, you want to see flowers.”
We can't have quality parks without the hard work and dedication of staff like Ms. Williams. That's why much of our budget advocacy focuses on the protection and creation of permanent jobs within the Parks Department. These jobs support our parks, and support working families - a win-win. Join us in strengthening parks and our workforce by becoming a donor today.
Join NY4P and parks users, gardeners, and advocates from across the city to make sure the Mayor and City Hall know that we need quality parks and open space. We'll gather on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday, May 25, from 10-11 am. Every city council member will be at City Hall, and with a strong showing we can make sure they hear us. RSVP to the Rally 4 Parks today!