The Future of Parks and Public Spaces

Our second event for Friday, February 8th, was a sold-out program at the City Club titled “The Future of Parks and Public Spaces.” Mr. Mitchell Silver, the Parks Commissioner of New York City, was the principal speaker. We were seated at a table with Mr. Jonathan Holody, the Director of Planning and Development for the City of Euclid who shared with the progress of the Waterfront Project which will increase accessibility of our shoreline. We also said hello to two visitors in uniform from the National Parks Service  and thanked them for going out of their way to do perform their duties during the shutdown.

As the program notes read, “one of the nation’s most celebrated urban thinkers, Commissioner Silver oversees management, planning, and operations of New York City’s nearly 30,000 acres of parkland, which includes parks, playgrounds, beaches, marinas, recreation centers, wilderness areas, and other assets. He also has helped guide a strategy that redefines the role of New York public spaces in the 21st century, emphasizing ‘environment, economy, and equity.”

Accordingly, in the course of his presentation, Commissioner Silver contended that parks are not just green spaces, but public spaces that are vital for people and their physical and mental well-being. Therefore, city infrastructure must be integrated with the economy, environment, and people in mind. Next, he spoke about his community parks initiative that has designated $318 million to be used to re-create 67 community parks and 111 smaller-scale physical park improvement projects. Commissioner Silver demonstrated how deserted parks have been transformed into places where community members of all ages want to frequent. What’s more, he made an excellent case for how a park can enhance a neighborhood’s property values.

We, of course, asked him about any plans to make the parks more immigrant-friendly. He told us that literature and signs are now multi-lingual and that there are translators at public meetings concerning the parks. In terms of layout, the designs of certain parks are now amenable for international sports like soccer, rugby and cricket.

Naturally, someone asked Commissioner Silver about the potential to upgrade park conditions in Cleveland. Part of his answer involved his own observation that  there seemed to be a lot of unused asphalt areas that could be easily and inexpensively transformed into pleasant public gathering spaces.  In terms of local neighborhood parks, which are not included in the Metroparks System, he believed that it was essential that elected officials must work with their constituents to explore reasonable and realistic possibilities. Above all, Commissioner Silver emphasized that essential elements for any project are thrift and certainly innovation; in short, the opportunities are there but in order to realize them there must be energy and political will. Personally, we hope that city leaders will one day develop the city’s lakefront, which has so much unused potential.