Park life

Central Park, Manhattan, New York Central Park, Manhattan, New York IM_Photo
05 Jan
New York’s latest environmental initiative aims to break open the city’s green spaces

For the city that never sleeps, there’s a new scheme underway on how to spend those waking hours enjoying the urban environment. As part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s OneNYC plan, a programme called Parks Without Borders has been granted $50million to systematically reconstruct many of the city’s parks and green spaces, to increase accessibility and mobility for residents and other city dwellers.

‘This initiative flows from the idea that the public realm should be a unified space, promoting freedom of movement and making all parts of it as seamless as possible,’ says Mitchell Silver, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. ‘That public realm, including streets, sidewalks, parks and other public spaces, takes up about 40 per cent of New York City, and is a common resource that New Yorkers share every day.’

Our parks were designed over centuries, and reflect different notions about what public space means

Parks Without Borders will focus primarily on the transformation of park entrances – widening them in order to become ‘more welcoming, convenient and easy to find’ – and the parks’ edges, lowering or removing inhibiting fences and allowing increased freedom of sight and movement across park borders. The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation is now engaging with residents to choose eight specific parks to be first for this redesign.

Silver echoes 19th century architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s view that the area around parks should be seen as ‘outer park’. ‘Our parks were designed over centuries, and reflect different notions about what public space means,’ says Silver. ‘Thus, some of them were designed not to integrate the park into the surrounding community but to seal them off. Parks Without Borders makes these spaces more inviting by providing places to sit, bicycle racks, public art – whatever it takes to erase the border and replace it with an amenity that fosters engagement with the space. This is especially important in dense, low-income areas where people have little private space in which to meet and interact with neighbours and friends.’

Silver maintains that an open design approach to public spaces has innumerable benefits, from giving people a greater sense of belonging and ownership with their parks to improving public safety by allowing better natural surveillance of public spaces.

This article was published in the January 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

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