New York park rangers' speech from the Parkforce Tour
Sara Hobel and Sarah Aucoin
1 November 2005
Sara Hobel and Sarah Aucoin, New York’s director of urban park ranger services and deputy director of urban park ranger services, discuss New York's parks.
Each of us here well knows what parks should not be. We well know that parks should not be neglected, isolated, inaccessible, derelict. Such parks are frightening, crime-prone and dangerous. Neglected parks are neighborhood blights and breeding grounds for criminal and anti-social behavior.
We well know that parks should be valued, restored and beautified. A restored and beautified park appears safer, in fact is less crime prone, less dangerous. Restored and beautified parks are neighborhood assets, and catalysts for community development and social benefit. But do we well know the importance of staffing these restored parks?
Do we well know that it is park staff, dedicated, uniformed parks staff, who actually create the return on the capital investment in parks? Do we well know the power park staff has to exponentially enhance a restored park's value to the community and to the economy of the neighborhood?
It's 7:00 AM on a weekday in the park, and in the quiet zone the birders have added to their life list. In the active zone, the dog owners' pups are having a romp while their owners sip their Starbucks and scoop poop before heading off to work.
At 10:30 AM three groups from the local schools arrive to learn about the ecology of the park while zone gardeners are tending the seasonal beds.
It's 3:00 PM, do you know where your teenager is? He's earning community service credits and gaining job training with his peers, jute netting embankments to control erosion and planting spartina in the wetlands.
After dinner, while most of the park is quiet, the Park House is lit and busy with community members enjoying an evening discussion with a Master Falconer, a Goshawk on his arm.
It's a weekend morning. Families are enjoying the lake…in canoes. Others are peeking out of their tent, having camped the night under the stars in the park. A group of seniors are setting off on a health hike.
After lunch, a jazz quartet sets up on a portable stage. Community leaders stand at the podium speaking to the gathered crowd sitting on blankets, and thank the neighborhood businesses for sponsoring this musical afternoon.
Imagine this? In New York City parks, it is real. But it only became real in the last decade, through the efforts of talented Urban Park Ranger staff who thought outside the box, and found creative ways to do more with less. Who have, in fact, done all this without asking for any more in our budget from City government.
We are here today to tell you about that park staff, our Parkforce, the Urban Park Rangers, who in just the past 10 years made these imaginings real.
Today, in NYC parks, Urban Park Rangers ensure that parks users comply with park rules and regulations. Rangers respond to 'quality of life' incidents, and issue tens of thousands of summonses. Rangers keep our parks safe.
Urban Park Rangers provide in-park education, teen mentoring, outdoor recreation programs and special events tens of thousands of park users throughout New York City parks.
Rangers keep our parks vital. Urban Park Rangers, at a very personal level, affect hundreds of thousands of park users, and are the single most impactful force for building park stewardship and a parks positive public image.
In New York City, Central Park is the quintessential example of the value of restoring and beautifying a park and then adding park staff, the uniformed Urban Park Ranger providing public safety and public programs.
Run down and mostly abandoned near the end of the 1970s, Central Park began its impressive turn around when the New York City Parks Department decided that a public private partnership was essential to fund the capital improvement necessary to restore this historic park. Central Park's ball fields were dustbowls, its monuments and public buildings were covered in graffiti, and the park was overrun with anti-social elements.
Through the '80s and early '90s, with the focus on large capital renovation and reconstruction, crime was reduced by 55%. This reduction was further enhanced throughout the '90s by the introduction of uniformed officers and park staff who regularly patrolled the park and provided programs for the public.
Today, Central Park's beautifully landscaped, well-maintained green space is staffed with Urban Park Rangers who provide security and innovative public recreation and education programs, a primary force in the well-documented overall reduction of crime by over 90%.
With more than 25 million visitors annually and fewer than a hundred crimes in all of 2004, Central Park is by far one of the safest urban parks in the world.
Marine Park, in Brooklyn, is yet another example of how restoration, capital improvement - construction of a Ranger Nature Center - and an investment of dedicated parks staff can help turn a park around and make it a safe-haven for community enjoyment
By the mid-'90s, a portion of Marine Park had become a blight on the Brooklyn neighborhood of the same name. The abandoned salt marsh was a drug-riddled dumping ground, contributing to crime and disinvestment in the neighborhood.
With the restoration of the salt marsh, the introduction of public access through maintained trails, and the completion of the Salt Marsh Nature Center in 2000, there was an almost complete cessation of dumping, and a significant reduction in day time crime and anti-social behavior, although quality of life issues like after-hour vandalism and brush fires remained.
As uniformed Park Rangers have occupied the center, increasing the number of public programs and patrols in the park, there has been a clear improvement of quality of life in the park, with a reduction of vandalism, brush fires, and other anti-social behavior.
Today, the Rangers spend far less time patrolling the park and far more time leading programs for the public. The neighborhood is invested in the park and the center. The trails are hiked, the waters canoed and fished, the flora and fauna observed, explored and enjoyed. All under the watchful eye of the Urban Park Rangers.
Today, the Urban Park Rangers at Marine Park host a park volunteer program, and provide daily recreation and educational public programming serving over 5,000 school children and 10,000 adults. The Rangers run a summer camp serving 250 children over 7 weeks, and an after-school program serving 50 middle school and high school youth almost every week of the school season. The Nature Center hosts on a busy summer week up to 1,000 visitors. Certainly, the Urban Park Rangers have become a positive presence in what is now a busy, well-maintained natural area in NYC Parks.
Inwood Hill Park
Inwood Hill Park in northern Manhattan is a perfect example of how parks can benefit not only from dedicated parks staff, but from investments in quality programs and enhanced public facilities.
With an infusion of funding earmarked specifically for innovative public programming through a specific programming grant, the Urban Park Rangers have nearly tripled the number of programs offered to the public. The grant funds for this Center, totaling over $600,000 for four years of programs, have not only guaranteed canoeing, fishing, educational and other programs, but have also spurred capital development of a boathouse and boat dock for the Rangers to better serve the now abundant public that wish to use the Park for active recreation.
In addition, the on-site Ranger staff has allowed for wildlife introductions, including the American Bald Eagle, which requires daily supervision and management. The bustling activity of this park has heightened corporate interest in image building through contributions to the health and well-being of this park, increasing funding further.
Such funding guarantees Ranger staff will be at the Nature Center for years to come to provide security, programs and wildlife management for this vital community-centric park. The Ranger staff will continue to run daily school programs, after-school programs, summer camps, active recreation programs, weekend programs, as well as wildlife management, public outreach and safety patrol.
How does staff - specifically the Urban Park Rangers - work across New York City parks?
New York City has 28,000 acres of parkland throughout the five boroughs of the city. There are over 1,400 individual parks, ranging from 'pocket parks' of just an acre or so, to the well-known 'flagship parks', such as Central Park.
The flagship parks are staffed by Urban Park Rangers, a Civil Service Title that includes two distinct but related job titles: Urban Park Rangers ('Rangers') and Park Enforcement Patrol Officers ('PEP Officers'). Rangers and PEP Officers report to separate units of the Urban Park Service, a division of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Additionally, Urban Park Service has a training academy, and a communications group that relays messages to field radios and other communication devices such as pagers, Nextels and Blackberries. The Urban Park Service is overseen by a chief who reports directly to a Deputy Commissioner.
Urban Park Rangers
The Urban Park Rangers work out of Nature Centers or Ranger Stations in those flagship parks that contain natural areas for public enjoyment. There are twelve such sites distributed throughout the five boroughs. The Nature Centers have public exhibits and displays. The Ranger Stations are smaller, and serve as posts from which the Rangers serve the park and the public. The Rangers have four-wheel drive vehicles for traveling to other park areas and transporting equipment. At full staffing, each Ranger site is staffed by five Rangers, a Ranger Supervisor, and a Nature Center Coordinator.
The Rangers have powers of enforcement through the State and the City, as New York City Peace Officers and New York State Special Patrolmen. The Rangers, in general, have educational degrees at the college or graduate school level, and have studied natural sciences, history, recreation or another related field.
The Rangers are outdoorsmen, conservation officers and environmental educators. They work with the elderly, school-age children and youth, and the general public. They are also trained in animal rescue and wildlife regulations and management. The Rangers work closely with the Departments of Health, Education, Animal Care & Control, Environmental Conservation, and Police.
The Urban Park Rangers have a Director, two Deputy Directors, a Captain, Sergeants and Officers, in rank order. The Rangers also have a central Program Booking Coordinator, as well as Wildlife and Education Managers. The Rangers have one central administrative office that houses senior managers, where all primary decisions, purchasing and administration takes place. There are bi-weekly staff meetings at the central administrative office for senior field staff to meet with administration. Administrators also have vehicles for frequent visits to the field.
Park Enforcement Patrol
Park Enforcement Patrol Officers also work out of the flagship parks, primarily those that are more 'built' and less 'natural' in their design. There are 8 Park Enforcement stations throughout the five boroughs of New York, staffed by approximately 120 Officers who patrol the parks on foot and in vehicles. The vehicles are also used to service other parks and to respond to incidents.
There is also a Mounted division of approximately 20 Officers and 10 horses. The Mounted division transports their horses by trailer to various parks depending on need and special events.
Park Enforcement Patrol Officers have powers of enforcement through the State and the City, as New York City Peace Officers and New York State Special Patrolmen. Park Enforcement Officers have a minimum of an Associates Degree (two years in college), and provide security by providing a uniformed presence, issuing of summonses, aiding the public and responding to issues.
Park Enforcement Patrol works closely with Police and other City agencies, particularly those running special events. Park Enforcement Patrol has an Inspector, Deputy Inspector, Captains, Sergeants and Officers, in rank order.
In conclusion, we'd like to say that while our structure may look a little different than yours, we have found on our trip that the issues we face back in New York City are really very similar to the issues you face today in England. As our world becomes more urbanized, our urban parks become more important for many reasons. They provide respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life. They add aesthetic value to our urban landscape. And as we all know, they provide benefits that address health issues associated with urbanization such as increasing asthma and obesity rates.
But we don't need to tell you that. Everyone here already supports parks. But what we do want to tell you is that we hope we can continue this discussion with you. We have already learned so much from the Parkies we have met here in England, and we hope to continue that learning. We hope that someday, we can host the English Urban Park Rangers on a tour of New York City parks. You are welcome anytime.