Riverside Park Conservancy today announced that it had cancelled its annual gala and instead launched a fundraising drive to address racial and social inequities in its 400 acres of parkland.
During the COVID-19 crisis, public spaces like Riverside Park have proven their value for both the mental and physical health of all New Yorkers. Unfortunately, there are serious issues of funding equity which exist in plain view in parks, where investment in certain areas has been far less than equitable for far too long.
The Conservancy’s Board of Trustees decided to cancel its annual fundraising gala, planned for September 15, and instead to seek support of its North Park Initiative – to focus resources in the area of the Park bordering West Harlem and Washington Heights from 120th to 181st Streets. The residents of these neighborhoods are predominantly Black or Latinx, and experience poverty rates three times greater than the Upper West Side.
“It’s deeply disturbing when you can perceive real differences in conditions between the northern and southern tiers of the Park,” said Dan Garodnick, President of Riverside Park Conservancy, which cares not only for Riverside Park but also Ft. Washington Park, West Harlem Piers Park, and Sakura Park. “This is unacceptable, and we are committed to making sure that every acre of parkland is safe, beautiful, and welcoming for every park user, now and into the future.”
The Conservancy is seeking 400 donors – one for every acre of parkland under its purview – to make improvements in this historically under-resourced area.
The North Park Initiative has made significant progress since its founding 2009. Just last year, the Conservancy successfully secured $4.1M of City funding for vital infrastructure improvements, like paving repairs around 148th Street; advocated alongside a local volunteer group to advocate for more funding to formalize the structure of the 142nd Street Dog Run; offered free programming at West Harlem Piers Park and in Fort Washington Park; won the concession for the 172nd Street Tennis courts, which allows funds raised to be reinvested into the area; partnered with the West Harlem Development Corporation to bring young people from Community District 9 to learn about urban park management; and provided increasing numbers of hours of horticultural and maintenance work.
“In the post-COVID-19 ‘new normal’, Riverside and Fort Washington Parks are more important than ever. With travel, shopping, and dining options severely limited for health and economic reasons, parks are now an important refuge for small gatherings, socializing, and small recreational activity,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer.”The Riverside Park Conservancy deserves congratulations for making the area of the Park from 120th to 181st Streets – The North Park Initiative – a priority for upgrades to its infrastructure.”
“The Conservancy’s decision to raise funds to address long-standing inequities in Riverside Park is one hundred percent the right move to make in these times, and I applaud them for it,” said State Senator Robert Jackson. “I am proud to represent all of Riverside Park in the New York State Senate, and, since I took office in 2019, I have been working with community stakeholders and cultivating support of other elected public officials to direct funding to neglected parts of the park like the ballfields at 148th St. To have the support of the Conservancy in these efforts through their reinvigorated North Park Initiative will be a game-changer. I look forward to working with them as we fight together for [funding equity in] beautiful Riverside Park.”
“I applaud the Riverside Park Conservancy’s decision to concentrate their efforts this year on combating the systemic inequalities that have impacted the resources, investment and conditions we see throughout this beloved public space,” said Assembly Member Al Taylor. “All Riverside Park visitors deserve a beautiful and safe experience when they visit, no matter their background or zip code. Our green spaces and parks are an invaluable part of our communities, revitalizing our bodies, minds and souls. New York’s Black and Brown neighborhoods deserve public spaces they can be proud of, and I look forward to seeing all of the improvements and new programs in Riverside Park’s Northern tier when this initiative reaches its goal!”
“As our nation faces the dangerous threat of the COVID 19 epidemic, and wrestles with the social justice causes that have risen with the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others, we are all now emboldened to take the reins of a new civil rights movement that fights for people of color, immigrants, people of varying sexual identities, and fights for a healthy environment – which includes Riverside Park and Fort Washington Park,” said Assembly Member Inez E. Dickens. “Our parks allow individuals and families the opportunity to connect with nature, enjoy the vistas of our beautiful city, and gives us the venues for entertainment and public gatherings that bring us closer as a community.”
“I applaud the Riverside Park Conservancy’s commitment to ensuring that access to parks, recreation, and green space is available to all,” said Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell, Chair of the NY Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development. “The North Park Initiative is an important step toward addressing our City’s long history of underinvestment in communities of color, and will make sure that the opportunity to relax, play, and enjoy Riverside Park is accessible to all.”
“In the midst of the pandemic, parks are more critical than ever to the life of New York City. That’s especially true in low-income communities of color,” said Council Member Mark Levine. “That’s why it is so important that we invest more in the northern part of Riverside Park, which has historically suffered from significant underinvestment. This new initiative will bring much needed improvements to areas adjacent to West Harlem and Washington Heights, giving countless local families access to the high-quality green space they need and deserve.”
Riverside Park Conservancy is committed to take this moment in history to move toward a truly equitable park. “This is just the beginning,” added Garodnick. “We are determined to correct this painful history of under-investment in this beloved public space.”