The following interview was published in Spaces & Places magazine. Spaces & Places is a publication of Green Space, a UK based charity set up to help those committed to the planning, design, management and use of public parks and open spaces.
Brad Taylor, president Friends of Morningside Park, Harlem, New York
What Inspired you to give up your free time and get Involved with a friends group?
I saw the injustice of a few select parks in our city getting the lion's share of resources while historically important parks such as ours were being neglected. I also found in the Friends of Morningside Park a group of highly committed like-minded individuals who were working toward a positive goal of improving our neighbourhood.
What does being in a Friends group involve?
As an elected officer of the Friends, my primary role is to be an advocate for the park with local officials, the Parks Department, local institutions and the public. Most of this advocacy revolves around getting increased funding and donations directed towards our park. As we are an all-volunteer organisation, I and other members of our Board of Directors take on many other roles as well -from designing flyers and maintaining our website to planning events such as summer concerts and children's events for the users of our park.
What do you feel has been your greatest success as a group?
Our greatest success has been to change people's perception of the park. Twenty years ago our park was considered off-limits to many local residents because it was poorly maintained and had a reputation as being unsafe. Today our park is more beautiful and well maintained than it has been in many, many years. Through our planting, clean-up and programming which brings users into the park we have been able to turn the image of our park around.
What have been the challenges?
Our greatest challenges have been in getting the necessary monetary and staffing resources allocated to our park. Without these resources it becomes next to impossible for us to see that our park is adequately maintained and that lingering problems such as drug use in the park are stamped out.
Have you achieved all your aims, or Is there more to do?
There is much work left to do to return our park to being one of Manhattan's premier parks as it was when it was designed in the late 1800s by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Along with working to restore the park's beauty our organisation also needs to expand its membership. We are starting to reach out to more of our constituents by moving our monthly meeting locations to various settings that will be more convenient to people who live around the perimeter of our 30 acre park.
What plans have you got for the park this summer?
We are starting a Farmers' market in our park on Saturdays. The market will bring farm fresh goods to a population that has been traditionally underserved. We also have a series of four summer concerts that are held in our park. This summer we are also planning to screen films, have an African dance workshop, a puppet performance and a jump rope contest.
Do you have any advice for friends groups, based in the UK?
We have found that a park can be a powerful ideological as well as literal common ground in communities. Parks groups can often bring otherwise warring local political factions together for a cause (parks) that everyone cherishes. This ability to act as a mediator of sorts can be very advantageous to a park group and ultimately the park itself.