THE BLOG
01/31/2011 11:30 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Rose for Parks

As a lifelong parkie, I am particularly interested in developments involving public open spaces, city, state and federal. It was particularly satisfying for me to learn that Governor Cuomo has appointed Rose H. Harvey (park name "Harvest") as New York State Parks Commissioner.

Click here to read the Governor's statement on the appointment:

"Rose Harvey's experience and knowledge as well as her expertise creating countless cost-effective parks, playgrounds and open spaces in underserved communities with efficiency makes her the person we need to lead this agency. I thank her for her public service and look forward to working with her."

The release, which you can click on here, continues with the professional and educational biography of the new commissioner. We cite here the achievements for which she earned her reputation.

For 27 years, Ms. Harvey held multiple leadership positions with the Trust for Public Land, most recently as senior vice president and national director of urban programs. There, she oversaw all real estate acquisitions, urban park design and developments, managed the finances of a $20 million annual operating budget, and closed between $50 and $75 million worth of land parks transactions each year across eight states - a total of nearly $1 billion and more than a thousand new and enhanced parks, gardens and playgrounds in underserved neighborhoods in New York City, Newark, N.J. and Baltimore.

She has also established large landscape woodlands and natural areas throughout New York State and the mid-Atlantic region.

The release continues with five tributes to Ms. Harvey from prominent individuals in the conservation field. We print below the text of the first, and the names of the other four, who are also distinguished conservationists.

Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky, M.D., chair of the New York State Council of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said: "Ms. Harvey has been key to many of the great additions to state parks of the pasts 20 years. I look forward to working with her to foster private-public partnerships that protect and enhance New York's parks, open spaces and heritage. I am also deeply committed to working with Governor Cuomo's administration in preserving our state's recreational landscapes and natural resources."

THREE GENERATIONS

Dr. Waletzky, a psychiatrist, has had a lifelong interest in parks and open spaces. Her father, Laurance S. Rockefeller (park name "White Rabbit"), was appointed to chair the State Parks Council in 1963 by her uncle, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. He served as chair for ten years and remained a member of the Council for thirty. The selection of Laurance caused a break between the Rockefellers and the man who had been chair for 39 years (since 1924, if subtraction is burdensome), the former City Parks Commissioner (1934-60), Robert Moses, who had been the Republican candidate for governor of New York State in 1934, when he was defeated by a 2-to-1 margin by the incumbent, Herbert H. Lehman.

Laurance Rockefeller (1910-2004) was one of the great conservationists of the twentieth century. He not only advocated acquiring park lands, he bought the land and gave it to the Federal government. Among his donations were thousands of acres of land in Wyoming for Jackson Hole Park, the Marsh-Billings Historical Park in Woodstock, Vermont, and Virgin Islands National Park. It was Laurance's father, Lucy's grandfather, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who gave the City of New York Fort Tryon Park in upper Manhattan and the Cloisters, an art museum including restored medieval abbeys brought over, stone by stone, from France and Spain.

The other advocates who praised Rose Harvey's appointment are Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson; Kim Elliman, CEO of the Open Space Institute; and Leslie Wright, New York State director for the Trust for Public Land. Their statements are worth reading.

I had the pleasure of working with Rose Harvey when I was Commissioner of Parks & Recreation for the City of New York, and she is first-rate. Governor Cuomo deserves praise for appointing her. Too often in the past, parks commissioners have been chosen on the bases of celebrity, campaign contributions or cronyism. New York City is fortunate in having Adrian Benepe in charge of its parks, and credit for that goes to Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Harris for the selection. The past nine years have been good ones for New York City parks with capital construction increasing and the million tree initiative (with over 400,000 already planted).

SUFFERING STATE PARKS

Unfortunately, state parks have not fared as well over the years, despite the efforts of retiring commissioner Carol Ash, who will continue her involvement as an advisor to the Alliance for New York State Parks, and another non-profit, Parks and Trails New York. People who care about parks, like former State Commissioner Joan Davidson, tend to maintain that concern after they leave public office, because the struggle to protect and support parks, like the fight against crime, will always be with us.

The state parks agency, officially the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, is less than half the size of New York City's department of parks and recreation. It manages 178 state parks, of widely varying sizes. Most parks in New York State are administered by cities and counties. New York City alone has over 1700 park properties.

New York State parks do not even have the distinction of being run by an independent agency. They are part of the governor's office. The two largest areas generally regarded as parks: the Adirondack and Catskill wilderness areas, are managed by the State Department of Environmental Conservation (Encon). A separate body, the Adirondack Park Agency, was created by the Legislature in 1971 to develop plans for both publicly and privately owned lands within that 6.1 million acre park, a land area greater than the state of Vermont.

The state parks system has never received the attention or funding it deserves. This is not the year to expect more government money, so achievements are likely to result from the kind of partnerships Ms. Harvey has pioneered.

By selecting Ms. Harvey, Governor Cuomo has taken a great step forward. Now comes the hard part: achieving significant results for a neglected system in an era of scarcity.