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EPA Recognizes Outstanding Environmental Organizations in New York

Hunts Point Riverside Park in the South Bronx

Commemorating the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized 22 of New York’s residents and community organizations for their work in environmental protection with its “Environmental Quality Award.” Among those recognized were a handful of outstanding organizations who work in New York City’s parks and public spaces, including GrowNYC, Brooklyn’s El Puente and Prospect Park Alliance, and the Bronx’s Sustainable South Bronx. These organizations play a vital role in supporting community gardens, park improvements, greenways, and community health. Recipients included:

  • GrowNYC, is a New York City non-profit which operates the legendary Greenmarket farmers’ market program and supports community gardens throught the city. It’s Open Space Greening Program provides workshops, supplies, and planning assistance to gardening groups throughout the city and helps develop several new gardens each year. By supporting more than 45 community gardens, GrowNYC has created valuable community green space and helped secure healthy and affordable produce for the city’s residents.
  • Luis Garden Acosta, who founded Brooklyn’s El Puente, a community human rights organization based in Williamsburg’s Southside. El Puente engages community members in the arts, education, scientific research, and environmental advocacy. The organization’s ten year long “Green Light District” initiative fought to reduce pollution and promote physical fitness throughout the community, and has transformed the Southside into a model of community wellness.
  • Prospect Park Alliance formed in 1987 to address the legendary Olmsted park’s dearth of public funding. The alliance has mobilized private support to reverse the park’s deterioration, renovating the park’s playgrounds, restoring hundreds of acres of ailing trees, and repairing the park’s historic landmarks including Grand Army Plaza. Over the past 23 years, these efforts have increased park use by over 300%, proving that successful public-private partnerships can be the key to restoring city parks in decline.
  • Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx), a non-profit dedicated to environmental actions that address community needs. SSBx trains young people to prepare for “green collar” jobs in landscaping, green building, and environmental remediation. The organization has played a central role in designating greenspace in the Bronx, leading the planning effort for the South Bronx Greenway to link the community’s parks, waterfronts, and recreation destinations.

These organizations are leading the charge to create a livable urban environment. We applaud the EPA for connecting their work to the protection of the environment and improvement of living conditions for urban residents.

A Smattering of New Great City Parks

Bremen Street Park, East Boston (Source: BRW)

Each Year, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) recognizes one urban public space with the Amanda Burden Open Space Award, whose generous $10,000 prize rewards the project that has most “enriched and revitalized its surrounding community.” The award’s twelve person jury recently named its six finalists, chosen from a pool of 88 applicants. These included Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park, which Ben Welle profiled last year. The winner will be announced on April 16. From Planetizen, here are descriptions of the finalists:

• Bremen Street Park, Boston, Massachusetts (Brown, Richardson & Rowe, Inc./Massport): Bremen Street Park replaced a Park ‘n Fly lot, reuniting a neighborhood in East Boston that was formerly divided by an airport and highway. The 18.5-acre rectilinear park provides significant public space accessible to mass transit in a diverse, low-income neighborhood.

• Campus Martius Park, Detroit, Michigan (Detroit 300 Conservancy): Known as “Detroit’s Official Gathering Place,” Campus Martius Park has become the heart of the city’s downtown redevelopment, transforming a desolate area into a vibrant central square. The space attracts more than 2 million visitors year-round and has catalyzed an estimated $700 million of adjacent development.

• Falls Park on the Reedy, Greenville, South Carolina (City of Greenville): Reclaimed riverfront land once used by textile mills, Falls Park on the Reedy is a 26-acre park that straddles the Reedy River in downtown Greenville. The park—responsible for accelerating private development in the city’s historic West End—features a curving pedestrian suspension bridge that overlooks the natural falls.

• Herald and Greeley Square Parks, New York, New York (34th Street Partnership): Once desolate and dangerous, Herald and Greeley Square Parks in New York City have been recently renovated, becoming a haven for the neighborhood’s residents, visitors, and workers. The well-shaded triangular pocket parks feature movable seating flanked by raised flower beds, creating protected public space in one of the busiest and most urbanized locales in the world.

• Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, Washington (Seattle Art Museum): The nine-acre Olympic Sculpture Park has reclaimed Seattle’s waterfront for its residents, whose access had been restricted by rail lines and a highway. The z-shaped topography rises above the existing infrastructure, providing access to a restored beach designed for ecological education and serving as a home for the Seattle Art Museum’s sculpture collection. With more than 1.5 million visitors in three years, this green space has become a vibrant, year-round gathering place.

• Schenley Plaza, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy): Schenley Plaza has transformed an overgrown parking lot into a five-acre green space in Pittsburgh’s Oakland Civic and Cultural District. The urban square—which features a large lawn, multiple gardens, and a carousel—is designed to erase divisions in the community and improve circulation among the nearby university campuses, offices, and residential neighborhoods.

Photos of these exemplary city parks are available on ULI’s Facebook page. These projects incorporate many of the park design attributes we write about on this blog, including redeveloping parking lots, incorporating public art,  improving park access in low income areas, connecting with mass transit and using pocket parks to provide social space and mental respite in dense downtowns.

Nominate a Great Public Place in Your City

The American Planning Association has started a yearly Great Places awards program that gives credit to great neighborhoods and great public spaces. We mentioned the winners last year, that included Pittsburgh’s Mellon Square, New York’s Central Park and Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Do you have a park or other public space in mind that should be designated as a Great Public Space? A park or plaza in your community that meets the characteristics described by APA? Here’s a chance to bring some credit where credit is due and nominate a place at the APA’s website here.