Mission & History
Nature is a fundamental right of every New Yorker. NYRP partners with local communities, public agencies, and the private sector to acquire, create, maintain, and program public open spaces. Our sustained partnership with communities promotes strong social ties and collective action.
We aspire to expand our footprint and impact in all five boroughs to make a safer, healthier, and happier city.
Initially a grassroots effort led by Bette Midler to clean up neglected parks, NYRP has evolved into a conservancy protecting and preserving community gardens and other green spaces in New York City. Our efforts not only improve the physical environment, they enhance social resiliency by providing a context that supports and strengthens community – particularly in the least-green, high-need neighborhoods. NYRP set the standard for citywide greening efforts, leading to an historic partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to plant one million trees in ten years.
In 1995, New York City experienced a revolution that would change its very landscape – for the better. Returning to the city that helped launch her celebrated career, famed entertainer Bette Midler, found many of its streets, neighborhoods and parks consumed by a sea of litter and years of neglect. Appalled at the state of her neighborhood parks Bette set about removing garbage from Fort Tryon Park and Fort Washington Park in Upper Manhattan by recruiting friends and family.
I was so upset; I didn’t sleep for weeks… People were throwing their garbage out the window, leaving their lunches on the ground. Finally, I realized I needed to actually do something – even if it meant picking up trash with my own two hands.Bette Midler from an interview with Good Housekeeping Magazine
A year later NYRP also took on the task of meticulously clearing out and cleaning up Sherman Creek Park, transforming an illegal dumping ground along the Harlem River into the beautiful, five-acre Swindler Cove. That same year in Highbridge Park, after suffering almost 30 years of neglect and misuse, NYRP crews and volunteers – in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation – uncovered more than four miles of pathways that had been buried under accumulated garbage and debris, which included abandoned automobiles, 8,000 tires, and 481 tons of trash. Today, NYRP continues the environmental restoration, design and development, and daily maintenance of both parks.
Long before the city geared long-term plans for a sustainable future towards increasing waterfront development and accessibility, NYRP had the foresight to recognize the significance of the Harlem River to the Inwood/Harlem community. After clearing the pathway to access the river, NYRP opened the Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse – a floating oasis on the Harlem River – in June 2004. The boathouse is now home to our non-profit partner, Row New York. Read more.
A critical act of intervention in 1999 heralded the start of a new era for NYRP and crystallized its then-visionary belief that clean, green neighborhoods are fundamental to our quality of life and that every community in New York City deserves an oasis of natural beauty.
When Rudolph Giuliani, mayor of New York City at the time, announced plans to sell 114 community gardens to developers in order to bail out city budget shortfalls, NYRP quickly rallied and raised the money necessary to save these precious plots from destruction. Collaboration with the Trust for Public Land and other like-minded non-profits ensured that these community treasures would remain public gardens in perpetuity. An investment that has since changed the face of the city, NYRP now owns and manages 52 community gardens throughout the five boroughs and works every day to promote the revitalized health of the neighborhoods these gardens serve.
NYRP’s most cherished community gardens are more than places: they are hyper-local sources of fresh food, green oases of nature that soothe urban stress, and hubs of activity where neighborly bonds are formed.
On Earth Day in April of 2007, then-New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled PlaNYC, an extensive vision to strengthen the city’s urban environment and make New York a model 21st-century metropolis by creating a more sustainable city by the year 2030.
As one of the plan’s major propositions, MillionTreesNYC was formed to revitalize New York City’s urban forest by planting and caring for one million new trees throughout the city’s five boroughs, originally by 2017. To accomplish this ambitious goal to make New York City greener, healthier and more sustainable for future generations, NYRP joined forces with Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, and became a co-leader in MillionTreesNYC.
With Department of Parks & Recreation and other municipal agencies planting along city streets, in parks, and on public rights of way, NYRP planting domain is through two primary tactics: providing free trees to New York City home or land owners to plant in their front or back yards every spring and fall; and directly planting trees alongside corporate and community volunteers in parks, school yards, public housing properties, and other public spaces.
MillionTreesNYC has become a citywide movement that is engaging and energizing to New Yorkers of every background. It promotes interest beyond planting and caring for trees by fostering greater respect for the city’s urban forest, in volunteerism, and environmental education. Its sweeping success has put 830,000 trees in the ground as of autumn 2013 and is was completed on November 20, 2015. Read more.