In 1999, PPS began work with The Friends of Morningside Park and park users to revitalize what has long been one of New York’s most troubled parks. The 30-acre, Olmsted-designed Morningside Park lies between residential neighborhoods and some of the city’s most elite institutions, including Columbia University.
PPS also worked with the Morningside Area Alliance and Partnerships for Parks to conduct surveys, workshops and interviews to create a strategy to revitalize the park and its friends group. Focusing recommendations on new activities scaled to local community uses, the plan has helped the Friends win new respect and forged new partnerships with funders, churches, schools and New York City Parks and Recreation.
The Friends of Morningside Park is now considered to be the model of a successful and enterprising citizens group in New York City. Notable successes of the Friends since 1999 include:
- Membership in Friends of Morningside Park swelled from 30 to over 200, and the mailing list to nearly 800 people.
- Friends received a grant to hire a staff person to do outreach.
- Friends received a grant to put PPS report recommendations into the official plan of the park for future improvements.
- Several positive articles about the park and the Friends have appeared in the New York Times and the Columbia Spectator.
- Friends initiated a committee to address the concerns of dog owners.
- A Friends staff person is teaching environmental education classes at nine area schools to encourage them to use the park as a resource, and is also teaching the teachers how to use the park.
- A birding area has been established with the help of the National Audubon Society.
- Meetings now attract 25-30 people (60 people attended recent elections of new officers).
- Friends make frequent presentations to local groups to attract more members, as well as to City Council members and other local politicians, the police precinct, etc.
- Friends have raised $9,000 from individuals, in amounts from $5-$50.
- Columbia University has agreed to match the Friends’ fundraising among individuals.
- City Officials have been responsive: the NYC Parks Department has fixed lights and general appearance of the dilapidated upper pathways that have been a source of complaints for years; installed a dog run; City Councilman Perkins promised $700,000 to repair broken stairways that crisscross the park’s steep terrain (unfortunately half of this money has been frozen in the latest budget emergency).
- The Parks Department has identified an operator for the café that was proposed in the PPS report. It is scheduled to open summer, 2002.
- Usership has increased significantly – more recreation all over, dog run, events, and school programs. The Friends are hoping to conduct a follow-up analysis of usership to compare to the 1999 baseline.