The End of the Parks Commissioner's Reign

updated 2:35 p.m.

Adrian Benepe at WSP Phase I Opening Ceremony 2009

In the news… big news, in the parks and public space domain: NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has resigned and will be leaving his position around Labor Day. Commissioner Benepe oversaw the controversial redesign of Washington Square Park and was caught in a web of … shall we call them… untruths at times. Rather than focus on items that might not be quite so media-worthy, such as proper maintenance of our existing parks, his calling, for the last ten years under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, leaned towards splashy redesigns and planting a million trees. These undertakings left out serious forethought as to how to maintain either aspect. The result? Continued and overwhelming dependence was shifted to private dollars with large disparities in the amount of money, love and attention given to ‘other’ parks across the five boroughs. (Oh, and a number of dead trees.)

From Mayor Bloomberg’s quotes yesterday (below), he is quite happy to continue that model with Adrian Benepe’s replacement, Veronica White, someone with no background in parks or public spaces — like many of Mike Bloomberg’s recent choices who are positioned at the helm of city agencies without related experience. (Ms. White gets some points for citing the position as her “dream job.”) Commissioner Benepe was appointed at the beginning of Bloomberg’s (seemingly never-ending) tenure and had already risen through the ranks of the Parks Department. Benepe will be going on to further the private-public model across the country, according to The New York Times, despite the problems found with the model.

From the NY Daily News, NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe to leave post he’s held for 10 years alongside Mayor Bloomberg

Adrian Benepe, one of the few top officials who has been with the administration since Bloomberg took office in 2002, is set to take a job at the nonprofit Trust for Public Land.

He will be replaced by Veronica White, executive director of the city’s Center for Economic Opportunity.

“I’ve been joined at the hip with the Parks Department,” said Benepe, who got his first parks job as a teenager in the summer of 1973 cleaning bathrooms and picking up trash. “You never want to leave. But you can’t be emperor forever. Sometimes there’s the risk of overstaying your welcome. And there would have been no guarantees after next year [when Bloomberg’s term ends].”

The city has added 730 acres of parks under Benepe, including glitzy new spots like Brooklyn Bridge Park and the High Line.

White is set to take over around Labor Day. “It’s been my dream job forever,” she said.

New York Times, His Domain Transformed, Parks Chief Is Leaving:

At the Trust for Public Land, Mr. Benepe will promote the public-private partnership model, an environmentally minded infrastructure and wider access to parks to cities across the country.

Ms. White’s work at the economic opportunity center has followed the same mold. Mr. Bloomberg praised her record of “exploring innovative partnerships and attracting private funds,” skills that should serve her well as parks commissioner. …

Yet Mr. Benepe was not without critics. Some people objected to his turning to private sources for the money to pay for park maintenance, like the plan for upscale housing to underwrite Brooklyn Bridge Park and the twice-yearly fashion shows that take over Damrosch Park next to Lincoln Center.

Mr. Benepe also clashed with vendors and artists over the city’s efforts to rein in commerce in parks. And there have been complaints that the upkeep of the city’s many existing parks has been sacrificed for lavish expenditures on a few new gems.

“We’re classic victims of our own success,” said Holly M. Leicht, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy group. “All the attention paid to the beautiful new parks has created a certain complacency about the state of the existing parks. There’s a disconnect between the capital investments and the depletion of the maintenance budgets.”

Village Voice, Adrian Benepe’s Resignation: Will Changes in Parks and Recreation Affect Artists?

DNAinfo: Adrian Benepe Resigns as Parks Commissioner & Meet the New Parks Commissioner, Veronica White

Wall Street Journal, Parks Chief Steps Down after 10 Years

Previous posts here at WSP Blog:

* A Quiz on NYC’s Parks Commissioner

* NYC’s Parks Department: 2/3 cuts in workers and endless privatization schemes

* Part I of II: NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe Responds to WSP Blog Concerns February 2, 2009

* Part II: My Response to the Parks Commissioner Regarding Washington Square Park Redesign February 13, 2009

* Privatizations, Concessions and New York City Parks

* Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Washington Sq Park May 28, 2009

Other interesting background reading:

WNYC, Shake Shack $$$: Bad for City Parks? September 14, 2010

Next American City, The High Cost of Free Parks, award-winning piece by Patrick Arden

Park Slope Patch, Which Park is it, Anyway? by Johanna Clearfield on Commissioner Benepe talk at Museum of the City of New York

Photos: Cathryn