Former New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe knows parks. He’s been working in and around city parks since he was a teenager, first selling gourmet food out of a push cart in Central Park and later patrolling Manhattan as an urban park ranger. Benepe went on to excel in nearly every aspect of city parks work, from communications and operations to natural resources, horticulture and the arts before being appointed commissioner by Mayor Bloomberg.
The Trust for Public Land couldn’t have scripted a better resume for it’s new Director of Urban Parks. “I’ve been familiar with The Trust for Public Land for many years, working with the organization on community gardens and the NYC Playgrounds initiative, which is a very important part of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 initiative,” says Benepe. “My new role at Trust for Public Land is a natural fit.”
After Adrian settles in, he’ll have a lot on this plate; namely expanding The Trust for Public Land playgrounds and urban parks programs from New York City to the rest of the country. “This is a new frontier for city planning and management,” Benepe says. “We’re creating new paradigms in city park design, construction and maintenance. TPL is the only nationwide organization doing this kind of work.”
Adrian is particularly excited about the green infrastructure The Trust for Public Land is installing in “water smart” playgrounds in New York City and Philadelphia. The playgrounds double as stormwater management systems. “Virtually all cities, especially older ones, have serious problems with stormwater,” he says. “Water management is hugely important.”
Raising the ParkScore
Benepe plans to make use of The Trust for Public Land’s newly launched ParkScore Project, a ranking of the 50 biggest city’s park systems, as a tool to help improve city park systems nationwide. “Parkscore is brilliant because it provides a tremendous public service, but t’s also a way to get cities competing to have the best park system. Competition inspires.”
Under Adrian’s supervision, the New York City park system ranked third among the top 40 largest cities in the nation, behind only San Francisco and Sacramento. Adrian attributes the city’s high score to Mayor Bloomberg’s substantial investment in parks over the past ten years, combined with a health dose of local innovation. “It’s like Frankenstein’s laboratory here in New York,” says Benepe. “The city’s parks have gone from a low point to a very high point over the last three decades thanks to an interesting combination of public-public and public-private partnerships.”
So how would a lower scoring city move up the ranks and better their ParkScore? “Many of these partnership and structure models are applicable to other cities as well,” says Benepe. “The key will be getting out there and figuring out the best ways to help individual cities evolve and grow for the 21st century.”
One lesson Benepe learned after bringing 29,000 new acres of parks to New York City is to find property for parkland in unexpected places. He cites the adaptive reuse of old industrial venues—the Highline (a former railroad line) Brooklyn Bridge park (a former shipping dock) and the transformation of Fresh Kills landfill—as his favorite projects and potential models for city parks across the county.
“The Highline is one of the most visited attractions in New York City now and almost all of the maintenance is paid for privately,” says Benepe.
Now that he’s joined TPL, what will he do next? "I plan to spend a lot of time talking and listening to people, finding out what’s working here and what’s not working there,” says Benepe. “And I look forward to bringing my knowledge of park design and funding management strategies to The Trust for Public Land.”
Welcome to the team, Adrian!