In the early 1990s, the Bronx River was an overlooked and underutilized natural resource running eight miles through some of the poorest neighborhoods in the Bronx. Intersected by railroads, highways, and industry, it was a repository for discarded tires and abandoned shopping carts.
In 1997, the river became a focus for Partnerships for Parks. The organization promoted the river and encouraged citizen involvement in a number of ways: publishing a colorful Bronx River Map and Guide; sending a bilingual newsletter to 38,000 people living along the River; convening a group of public, private, and community stakeholders; offering canoe tours; and distributing $120,000 in grants to 13 local groups for River-related projects. This effort resulted in the restoration and reclamation of the River and many small parks along it. Today the Bronx River is a vibrant recreational and educational resource for its neighbors as well as home to hundreds of species of native plants and animals.
A number of parks throughout all of New York City's boroughs are thriving thanks to Partnerships for Parks. Founded in 1995, Partnerships for Parks, a joint program of the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation and the nonprofit City Parks Foundation, is based on the belief that parks are essential to the life of the city and that community involvement is essential to the life of a park. Partnerships for Parks is as much about using parks to spur community revitalization through civic engagement and mobilization as about improving the parks themselves.
Concentrating on neighborhood parks, which, unlike Central Park, do not have wealthy supporters, Partnerships for Parks is creating a city-wide constituency to improve and advocate for long-neglected spaces. Millions of dollars have been secured from public, nonprofit, and private sectors for park redesign, maintenance, and programming.
Partnerships for Parks is effective and credible in both the public sector and the nonprofit world. It uses a powerful array of tactics to mobilize the community that go beyond the efforts of ordinary bureaucratic administration. This strategy includes bilingual newsletters and brochures, family and community programming, partnerships with neighborhood organizations, award events, special membership privileges, and toolkits. In addition to awarding small grants to neighborhood park groups, Partnerships for Parks offers support for community groups interested in becoming parks activists, including workshops on topics such as How to Start a "Friends of the Park" Group, Building Alliances, Fundraising, Making Your Park Safer, Planning Events, and Advanced Outreach Techniques.
The very things that make a park successfu a balance of diverse interests, a strong sense of ownership and responsibility towards it, and a desire to oversee improvements and upkeep are the things that make a neighborhood strong. By encouraging and supporting citizen involvement, particularly in poorer neighborhoods, Partnerships for Parks is working to make both parks and neighborhoods bloom.