The grass is looking greener for the Big Apple.
A new plan led by the Department of the Interior aims to boost volunteerism in public parks across the United States, starting with New York City.
Striving to raise the national number of park volunteers from 322,000 to 1 million annually by 2017, the project will create “community coordinator” positions in 50 U.S. cities to help care for public parks, organize local events, and promote the importance of historic sites.
Outside the Castle Clinton National Monument in Battery Park on Thursday, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the department’s partnership with American Express, whose $5 million grant will fund the national initiative over the next four years.
Beginning in New York, the project will target the city’s green spaces that need the most assistance. The parks chosen for the program will be announced in the coming weeks.
Jewell says increasing volunteerism in public parks will improve the connection between youth and the outdoors.
“When we think back to our childhood, it’s the outdoor places that are so special to us,” Jewell said. “Kids now seem to be disconnected to nature, so we will be reaching out to school groups and youth groups with a focus particularly on kids who might not have these opportunities otherwise.”
One particular woman is already leading youth’s involvement in New York City’s parks. A climate and society graduate student at Columbia University, Jane Chan has been trying to revive the city’s green spaces, while encouraging others to follow suit. Chan is now an active environmental stewardess, rallying community members together to care for New York City parks.
“I wanted to understand the importance of conserving natural landscapes,” Chan said. “Seeing people of all ages, ethnicities, and beliefs off their technology devices and getting their hands dirty was really a beautiful thing.”
New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver was also in attendance to support the partnership, promulgating the initiative as a way for New Yorkers to better engage with the over 29,000 acres of park lands in the city.
“Parks make us feel alive in this city,” Silver said. “They need constant love and attention. You just can’t plant something and expect it to grow and be healthy on its own.”
As a native New Yorker, Chan said she is proud to be part of such an enriching project.
“It just shows that change can really begin in our backyards,” Chan said.