Saturday, January 09, 2010

Central Park Conservancy, a Model of Nonprofit Parkway Fundraising and Management

The model we have always looked to for guidance on how effectively a nonprofit in partnership with government could manage the American River Parkway is the Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit organization which manages Central Park in New York City under contract with the city, raising 85% of the required funding for the Park in the process.

The other innovations that they have been able to bring to Central Park are remarkable and were written about in this article from the Property & Environment Research Center.

An excerpt.

“Most people consider New York City more a concrete jungle than an environmental oasis. Gotham’s seemingly endless cement, asphalt, and steel keep it almost beyond nature. Yet an environmental hot spot has bloomed within America’s largest, most dense metropolitan center. Central Park’s 843 acres of lawns, trees, and lakes, make excellent habitat for, among others, nesting woodpeckers, migrating chickadees, and vacationing Homo sapiens. Thanks to an initiative that employs many of the free-market-environmentalist principles that PERC espouses, Central Park may be in its most magnificent shape since opening in 1859.

“After its mid-1970s near-bankruptcy, New York and Central Park were in similarly precarious shape. This former urban refuge had devolved into a rectangular showcase of despair. The Great Lawn was nicknamed “The Municipal Great Dustbowl.” Next to a torched building, trash floated in the Harlem Meer. Few could sit and lament this, since so many benches were broken.

“It was another park and another era when I was a university student and our horticulture class made a field trip to Central Park,” Douglas Blonsky recalls. “It was in such disrepair— landscapes were reduced to bare ground, historic buildings and structures were dilapidated and covered with graffiti, garbage was strewn everywhere—that we soon retreated to a bar on Madison Avenue.”

“In 1980, several philanthropists and activists launched the organization that Blonsky now leads. The Central Park Conservancy informally began to address the Park’s urgent needs. It privately funded overdue repairs to Gotham’s battered retreat and rehabilitated the Great Lawn, Turtle Pond, and Azalea Walk, among other areas.

“The Conservancy turned a literal tragedy of the commons into acres of accountability. Under “Zone Management,” the Conservancy divided the Park into 49 separate sectors.

“Each Park supervisor and uniformed gardener is now held accountable for the condition of his or her zone,” explains Conservancy spokesperson Kate Sheleg. “Accountability is the single most important factor that the Conservancy employs in the management of Central Park.” She says this policy “fosters a sense of ownership and pride among the gardeners as well as the volunteers assigned to each zone.” Merit-based pay for Conservancy employees partially reflects how well they clean and cultivate their respective zones.

“Graffiti is removed within 24 hours,” Sheleg adds. “Visible litter is removed by 9:00 each morning and continuously throughout the day; trash receptacles are emptied daily; lawns are carefully maintained; broken benches and playground equipment are fixed on the spot.” Roughly 180 regular volunteers help perform this ongoing maintenance.”