Having accomplished so much in the 17 years since the appointment of the Park Administrator, and the ten years since the founding of the Alliance, Prospect Park and the Alliance still face many challenges. As an organization with most of its original board and staff leadership, the Alliance is now asking, “how do we ‘institutionalize’ this growing operation to make it effective, permanent, and sustainable beyond its founders? How do we develop the resources and broad constituency to support an evolving Prospect Park? What are our priorities for the future and the strategic next steps we can take to achieve our goals?”
In November 1996, the Prospect Park Alliance hired Wolfe, Keens and Company to help us produce this strategic plan. We affirmed Olmsted and Vaux’s vision of the Park as an essential democratic resource, serving social and civic concerns, as well as recreational and ecological ones. The public-private partnership between the City and Alliance that is now necessary to run the Park complements that vision, for the Alliance’s role is to actively involve the community in maintaining and improving the Park.
The planning process was much more than agreeing on general goals for the organization. Working with senior staff, our Board of Directors reached a consensus on seven detailed strategies to strengthen the alliance and improve the Park as we near the 21st century. The strategies are:
- Undertake a comprehensive plan of the Park’s management, programs and facilities, to determine the park’s needs from the year 2000 to 2010;
- Restructure the Board to develop strong leadership and maximize implementation of the Strategic Plan;
- Strengthen our partnership with the City of New York, Department of Parks and Recreation, especially to insure stable and flexible funding for the Park;
- Link fund-raising and advocacy more directly to increase public and private sources of support;
- Expand community outreach to involve more residents as advocates and volunteers for the Park;
- Provide educational and cultural programs in the Park which also fulfill strategic goals; and
- Offer the staff skills and benefits needed to meet the challenge of the Strategic Plan.
1. Comprehensive Planning
Prospect Park has a masterful design. Nonetheless, we must make hard choices about how to preserve and adapt the Park for the 21st century, especially where and when to spend money. In a Comprehensive Plan, we hope to designate our priorities for capital, management and programs from 2000 to 2010. Those priorities will be based on discussions among the Board and staff, the community and the City. With use of a geographic information system (GIS), we will collect data not only for the Comprehensive Plan but also to insure responsive planning and management in the future. The Plan and GIS will allow us to easily reevaluate our priorities and fine-tune our program designs, as well as to provide clear directions for maintenance, education, outreach, and fund-raising.
2. Board Development
Central to the effort of building strong leadership among Board members is the formation of the Committee on Directors, which oversees identification, recruitment, orientation, training, and evaluation of Board members. As the Prospect Park Alliance takes on new initiatives and new Board members, the Committee on Directors can play a key role in ensuring that Board members are informed and have the tools they need for effective Board service.
3. Public/Private Partnership
“Over the years, the Alliance and the Parks Department have worked well together in the context of a general, unwritten understanding, coordinating their efforts through a single Park Administrator/Alliance President. The Alliance seeks to continue that positive relationship, and to clarify those key issues of responsibility and funding that directly relate to the Alliance’s ability to achieve its goals.” As City support of parks has declined, the Alliance’s role in Prospect Park has grown. Because we do not want to assume the Park’s basic operations, we must enhance our advocacy for public funding.
4. Fund Raising
The Alliance began primarily as a fund-raising effort to augment the City’s budget for Prospect Park. The success of the Woodlands Campaign is the best example of that cont8inuing commitment. Having in a short period added responsibilities for concessions, volunteers, design and construction, woodland restoration and community outreach, the Alliance should analyze the successes of these activities. The Board and staff’s fund-raising capacity must be expanded, including major gifts, business marketing, general membership, user groups, case studies, and grassroots public relations. The Comprehensive Plan should be completed in two years. Then a new development campaign can begin based on those findings.
5. Community Affairs
Community outreach, involvement, and education are central, not peripheral, strategies in today’s environment of scarce and highly competitive resources. The Prospect Park Alliance had the potential to mobilize one of the largest and most diverse constituencies in New York. In its first year, our Community Committee, of 50 local groups and dozens of public officials, advocated successfully for significant improvements in the park. To achieve this potential, the Alliance must develop an office of Community Affairs, with a staff which can work with other groups committed to the Park and neighborhood improvement, expand our successful volunteer program, be leaders of city-wide parks reform and create education and cultural programs which reinforce Park advocacy.
The Prospect park Alliance has a well-deserved reputation for fine education and cultural programs. In addition to maintaining the open space that attracts so many people, the Alliance has used such programs to draw people into the Park. Because so many of these events have become part of the Park’s natural rhythms, we intend to continue such programs as You gotta have Park!, the Halloween Walk, the Macy*s Fishing Contest, New Year’s Eve fireworks, and Lefferts Homestead children’s museum. And we will develop new cultural programs to meet the changing needs of the Park’s users. Whereas the Parks Department and the Alliance were once the sole producers of such events, there are now many groups that sponsor their own activities in the Park. We should therefore be more selective in the new programs we run and more encouraging of other groups who can meet the cultural and educational needs of our constituents.
7. Staff Development
The growth of organizational scope and effort described in the plan implies the further development of a core of permanent, committed and skilled staff to match the tasks of implementation. In addition, key issues about staff compensation, working conditions, and professional development need to be resolved if the staff is to be fully prepared to undertake the strategies outlined in this document.
This is an ambitious undertaking, requiring $400,000 to $500,000 a year for five years. Thanks to the LuEsther Mertz Charitable Trust and the Commonwealth Fund, the Alliance has and exciting vision for its future and that of Prospect Park. Already the LuEsther Mertz Charitable Trust has granted us $500,000 outright and pledged another $500,000 if we can match that amount. We believe other foundations and corporations will make long-term investments in the Park and in the future the Alliance offers.