Research from the Urban Parks Institute

Central Park’s 1994 change in management style has helped Central Park make dramatic improvements in overall maintenance of the park. The new zone-based system replaced a decades-old tradition of maintenance crews that worked all over the park as a team — an approach that discouraged accountability since work undone could not be traced to a single person in charge. Now, each of 49 zones, roughly 10 acres a piece, are the direct responsibility of a zone gardener whose task is not only to maintain horticultural standards, but also to remove minor graffiti, empty trash baskets, do small-scale mowing, repair benches, and address potential crime situations.

To help the zone gardener meet the standard of cleanliness expected, they use a checklist that helps them rate the zone for specific qualities. This checklist, a “G.L.O.W.” card (G stands for graffiti and glass, L stands for lawns and litter, W stands for weeds, O stands for nothing), is the same card used by the Parks Department citywide to maintain playgrounds (see related Success Story). Zone gardeners also get training from the New York City Police Department in identifying potential problems, dealing with homeless people, and giving good descriptions of perpetrators if a crime does occur.

Zone gardeners are not on their own — each gardener has his or her own crew, receives assistance from park-wide crews specializing in major repairs, security, graffiti and garbage removal, etc., and manages a regular team of volunteers. But now the quality of maintenance can be directly attributed to a single source.

Contact: Central Park Conservancy, 212-310-6600.

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