Mayor Bill de Blasio invoked his vision of a more equitable and fair New York City on Friday in naming a Brooklyn-born urban planner as the new parks commissioner.
De Blasio said Mitchell Silver, the chief planning officer with the city of Raleigh, N.C., would oversee the city’s 1,900 parks and 29,000 acres of green space by emphasizing the goal of making the park system work for New Yorkers in all neighborhoods.
“He has a passion for fairness and equality,” de Blasio said of Silver. “And he brings it to the work of government, and understands that we have to ensure that parks and open spaces are available in every community.”
After thanking the mayor, Silver, who also served as past president of the American Planning Association, recalled riding his bike through Prospect Park as a 9 year old listening to the Mets win the World Series in 1969.
“Prospect Park was my backyard,” he said. “So I understand the importance that parks play to the importance of our lives.”
He said that de Blasio’s vision of a park system that was equitable, innovative, healthy and safe had convinced him to return to the city after nine years in Raleigh. He said that, being trained as a planner gives him a unique understanding of how parks fit in with surrounding space. “They do not sit in isolation,” he said.
There are a number of major policy questions facing the next parks commissioner — including how to sustainably fund the maintenance of parks and the role of private-public partnerships.
Geoffrey Croft, a parks advocate who leads a group that recently filed a lawsuit to stop a plan to build a mega-mall at a parking lot at Flushing-Meadows Corona Park in Queens, said he was taking a wait-and-see approach to the new commissioner.
But he said he was hopeful so far by what he has learned about Silver.
“One of the big differences is that he has a strong background in engaging in the community, which is a huge departure from the previous administration,” Croft said.
Silver previously served in a number of planning positions in both the private and public sectors, including in New York City and Washington. He managed the rewrite of the Raleigh’s development code. Before starting his professional career, he earned degrees at Pratt Institute and Hunter College.
Silver succeeds Veronica M. White, who was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in August 2012 and served until December 2013.