Annual Report | February 11, 2022

Annual Report 2021: Cultivating Environmental Leaders

Kele Nkhereanye, a gardener at our Williams Avenue Community Garden in East New York, teaches community members how to prepare a delicious kale and apple salad using garden ingredients. Photo: Ben Hider

The following blog post is an excerpt from our 2021 annual report.

We were more than ready to reconvene with community members in our parks and gardens this year after a pause on all in-person programming in 2020.

Throughout that chapter, our spaces functioned as essential hubs for food production and distribution, community resource sharing, and places to get outside. Before COVID hit however, our gardens and parks had also been consistently active with over 130 public events a year including weekly yoga and fitness classes, local music performances, art exhibitions, and volunteer days.

2021 reassuringly felt like those past years. Throughout this season, our 700+ community gardeners wasted no time organizing almost 80 events to meaningfully reconnect their communities to their spaces. Highlights from this season included jazz concerts, community block clean-ups, outdoor movie screenings, neighborhood plant swaps, and creative movement workshops. “This year our spaces brought people out who were never active in gardens before,” reflects NYRP’s Engagement Manager Jessica North. “Our gardeners and residents searched for creative ways to gather safely.”

The situation was similar in our 80+ acres of Northern Manhattan parkland. While both Highbridge and Sherman Creek have had record levels of use throughout the pandemic, in 2020 we had to put most volunteer events on hold for public safety. Thankfully this year we were able to host weekly volunteer days where community members joined our staff for invasive species removal, tree planting, gardening, litter removal, and wetland stewardship.

With local school groups eager to move away from virtual learning, our parks also provided a safe and inviting classroom alternative. NYRP Director of Northern Manhattan Parks Jason Smith helped facilitate and design the Environmental Justice and Urban Ecology Summer Research Program with students from the nearby Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS). Through this program, students developed their basic field ecology skills and learned tools to identify and analyze the environmental injustices they encounter in their neighborhood while also reclaiming their right to enjoy the parks. “I didn’t even know this park was so big… a huge park right next to my house!” explains Crisbelly Lopez, WHEELS Class of 2024 Youth Leader.


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Additionally, NYRP hosted a course from PACE University where students performed a social assessment of public engagement along our Harlem River waterfront. The assessment found that 68.4% of respondents valued the park most for nature, followed by 42.1% that valued the sense of safety and well-tended landscape created by NYRP’s presence.

For the benefit of all our parks and gardens throughout the city, a highlight of the year was restarting our Corporate Partnership Program after a long pause. Through it, 21 corporate supporters provided 1,652 hours of volunteer support and financed projects including beautifying neglected school grounds, rebuilding raised garden beds for community groups, and completely overhauling a half-acre urban farm in the South Bronx that serves local asylees, refugees, and residents.

“It was great to watch this work return. Everybody was satisfied with their goals,” reflects Jason Sheets, Director of Garden Horticulture & Citywide Greening Projects. “Just working with volunteers, we completed a huge and very gratifying project. It’s just great to see that everybody had a good experience getting back to work.”

In March 2021, we hosted a virtual panel discussion with accomplished leaders in the environmental justice movement about what it takes to use the tools of government to make change. Entitled “Turning Red Tape Green: Making Government Work for Environmental Justice,” journalist Bill McKibben moderated the conversation with youth climate activist Vic Barrett, Roosevelt Institute Director of Climate Policy Rhiana Gunn-Wright, and Deputy Director of Advocacy and Organizing of Ironbound Community Corporation Maria Lopez-Nuñez.

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