New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

NYC Parks seeks to lower barriers to accessing the city’s green spaces, with major revisions planned and a new design philosophy going forward.

New York’s got one of the most extensive neighborhood park systems in the nation. With more than 5,000 individual properties comprising some 29,000 acres of land, the parks and playgrounds and community gardens under the domain of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation add up to a significant share of the city’s space. Yet the agency believes that those parks could still be better interwoven with the city’s urban fabric.

That’s why NYC Parks just launched Parks Without Borders, a new program focusing on the corners, borders, and other underused spaces within (and around) New York parks. “When you see the New York park edges, you'll see why people are pushing for this change,” says Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mitchell Silver.

Using design and landscaping strategies—and by subtracting as much as they’re adding—park designers mean to edit and revise a number of parks to better meet their neighborhoods. A park that looks like this today:

(New York City Department of Parks and Recreation)

...might look like this, after a Parks Without Borders intervention:

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

NYC Parks has two funds it is using to introduce the Parks Without Borders program. One is a $40 million purse that will go toward reconstructing five parks at $8 million each. The remainder is a $10 million fund to adapt projects already in the pipeline with a Parks Without Borders emphasis on enhancing sidewalks and landscapes. These grants are funded by the mayor’s OneNYC campaign.

The program also targets a special site category called “park-adjacent spaces.” These are those vexing parcels that seem to have been forgotten or neglected or excluded by park planners.

“Very often we have these dead spaces that are just concrete, sitting there unprogrammed, next to parks,” Commissioner Silver says. “We’re now incorporating these into the parks themselves. We believe ‘park’ is not land for the park but the sidewalk next to the park as well.”

(New York City Department of Parks and Recreation)

To pick the eight parks that will undergo a complete overhaul, NYC Parks kicked the question out to residents. On the first day that the agency opened up a site calling for park nominations, it received more than 700 suggestions. The site will take recommendations through February 2016.

At a glance, it might seem as though Parks Without Borders is a literal program to take down park fences. That’s not quite right. Where designers are mitigating park security features, they’re for the most part lowering them—not eliminating them. This approach in fact improves park security, according to Commissioner Silver, who says that NYC Parks has worked with the New York Police Department on developing its Parks Without Borders strategies.

“We're increasing visibility and transparency for safety,” he says.

Parks Without Borders won’t resolve the questions raised by the fiercest critics of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approach to the parks program. But the biggest parks focus in the OneNYC sustainability blueprint will affect the way parks are designed today and for a long time going forward—a big contribution to the system for a small price.

Travers Park in Queens as it stands now. (New York City Department of Parks and Recreation)
Travers Park reimagined as a Park Without Borders. (New York City Department of Parks and Recreation)

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