NYC Models of Local Control
DOT routinely shares — and in some cases cedes — responsibility over public space to Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), Community Development Councils (CDCs), not-for-profits and private real estate developers. The Parks Department also shares and delegates control for the care and maintenance of green space.
NEP’s model of neighborhood empowerment simply builds on what exists and requires the city to fund and deputize a handful of specific responsibilities to the local level, so that every neighborhood in NYC gets the attention it deserves. This way, city agencies will be free to focus on large, citywide initiatives that connect our neighborhoods and improve the city as a whole.
BIDs were formed more than 20 years ago to address the same problems that many local NYC neighborhoods are facing today: poorly defined public spaces and dirty and unsafe streets. They supplement services such as sanitation and maintenance as well as act as an effective liaison between the city government and local stakeholders to improve local streetscapes. Commercial property owners fund this work through a special assessment. Since their inception, the City’s BIDs have contributed more than $930 million in supplemental services to invigorate their districts, create a sense of place and improve the quality of life in central, mixed-use neighborhoods.
In partnership with the Department of Parks and Recreation and the New York Tree Trust, Hudson Square BID planted 250 trees throughout their district based on a special Hudson Square Standard (HSS). These new trees and upgraded tree pits clean the air, reduce temperatures in the immediate area and capture a significant amount of the areas rainwater runoff. In 2001/2002, The Village Alliance, the BID covering Eighth Street, petitioned the city and won wider sidewalks and, over time, mid-block crossings. This small BID also campaigned and won the enlargement of Ruth Wittenberg Triangle, turning a small, forgotten concrete island into a respite with plants and seating.
In lower income neighborhoods, DOT often partners with The Horticulture Society of New York (The HORT). The HORT, in turn, partners with less-funded local groups and provides services and training under its Neighborhood Plaza Program (NPP). The NPP currently manages 14 of DOT’s 71 plazas. When the program started, NPP received some City funding and raised additional monies on its own.
In 2015, NPP’s former managing director Laura Hansen mused, “it would be great if we could solve the funding and maintenance problem so that NPP becomes obsolete. It would be great if we gather very credible data and experience that allows us to move the needle so the DOT or some other public funding stream could cover the cost of maintenance for plazas managed by a non-BID or a BID under a certain budget level.” [emphasis supplied]. Hansen’s idea has become a reality. Today, DOT contracts with The HORT and supplies full funding to maintain these 14 plazas.
The Clean-up NYC Initiative is another successful city-funded program that enhances quality of life in neighborhoods. Seeing that many communities were run-down and neglected, in 2014, Council Member Greenfield spearheaded this program that now allocates over 11 million annually to the City Council. Select Council Members use these funds to partner with not for profits to provide supplemental trash pick-up, graffiti removal and general tidiness. In Staten Island, Council Members Matteo and Borelli partner with the non-profit Where to Turn. “The group has filled nearly 7,000 contractor bags with litter from over 1,000 locations. In addition, the team has cleaned graffiti from more than 1,500 locations.”
Parks routinely delegates, shares, and sometimes fully hands-over public space stewardship through its partnerships with over 500 organizations. These organizations range in size from The Central Park Conservancy to small neighborhood groups such as the Jefferson Market Garden, which is completely volunteer run. Parks even delegates responsibility to individuals through its tree guard program. As long as a property owner follows certain guidelines, he/she is free to order a pre-approved tree guard design from a cross section of private contractors.
Vornado added a painted sidewalk extension, including benches and planters, on the north side of 32nd Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Judging by the popularity of these simple additions, Vornado answered a need in this community.