As 2023 draws to a close we celebrate major milestones and the enormous progress we have made together while recognizing the enormous funding challenges that lie ahead.
2023 marked the 150th anniversary of the first design of the park by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1873.
Our advocacy for increased capital funding paid huge dividends with our NYC Council Member Shaun Abreu allocating $17M over two fiscal years for much needed capital improvements to park stairs and the upper paths. These investments will allow us to bring even more arts programming to the upper level.
We launched a historic partnership with Columbia University and NYC Parks to fix the waterfall pumps and the algae problems at the Morningside Park pond.
Our private fundraising reached an important milestone when generous park neighbors funded an update to our 2000 Master Plan that will guide park improvements for decades to come.
We also celebrate the enormous success of our programs.
Acre for acre we believe we have the most robust volunteer program in the city. Our own volunteers and groups whose efforts we coordinate have contributed over 8,700 hours of volunteer labor to the park this year. We are ever so grateful to NYC Parks for developing a citywide system to track the hours groups like ours contribute to our city's parks.
The Harlem Youth Gardener Program which we founded in 2020 during the COVID pandemic will have its fourth anniversary this summer. Over the course of the first three years the program has created 108 well paid seasonal positions for Harlem youth and given many of these teens their first job opportunities. We are enormously thankful to the New York City Green Fund administered by the City Parks Foundation and to the West Harlem Development Corporation for the grants that underwrite this hugely popular STEM learning program in West Harlem.
Thanks to the office of Community Engagement and Inclusion at Barnard College the Morningside Explorers STEM learning program for children ages 4 - 7 returned to the park in 2023. The program is a free nature learning program in the park.
We continue to support local artists by helping bring their art to the park. The most recent example is Susan Stair's piece Setting the Stage for Climate Change which is installed on the plateau below the 116th Street entrance to the park from Morningside Drive. Susan's work has inspired preschoolers at the Columbia Greenhouse Nursery School to build collages of their own using recycled materials.
As a tiny but mighty volunteer-led organization it would impossible to do any of this without our amazing donors. If you haven't already given in 2023 this is your chance. Smash that donate button above!
Looking ahead, 2024 brings many opportunities and challenges. The greatest challenge will be to keep the park on an upward trajectory in the face of city budget cuts. We are ready to step up and look forward to working with NYC Parks on the framework for a license agreement which would allow us to raise funds in ways that some of our larger park neighbors do, including installing bench plaques and in-park solicitation banners, and sharing concession fees so that a share of the monies raised in the park come back to the park.
We have already raised the funds necessary to develop an update to our 2000 Master Plan. The updated plan will concentrate on the upper level of the park which hasn't received the same attention as the playgrounds and playing fields of the lower level. The Upper Level Master Plan will be a community led effort that will help carry the park's planning forward for decades to come.
I look forward to engaging with all of you on these efforts on behalf of a park we all love.
All the best for the new year!