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  • Brad Taylor

Remembering the Community Forum at the Harlem PAL - One Year Later

Updated: Mar 3

Dear Friends, It’s been a bit over a year since we gathered with you at the Harlem PAL in the wake of Tessa Major’s murder. The outpouring of support and constructive dialog that took place that evening, and in the months since, has been extraordinary, and a true reflection of our compassionate and resilient community. We are so grateful to Borough President Gale Brewer's amazing staff for helping us convene that night. In response to your thoughts, ideas and engagement over the past year, many improvements have been made to Morningside Park. Today, I’d like to share some of that progress with you. SECURITY AND LIGHTING Security NYPD has installed additional cameras along the lower path and at the upper level near the Dog Run. I am looking forward to a follow-up community walkthrough of the Park with the 26th Precinct. Please reach out to me if you’d like to take part in that, or in future Park walkthroughs. As I’m sure many of you have noticed, the Park now has six Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) Officers to supplement the NYPD patrols. We are so grateful to NYC Parks for allocating these officers to Morningside Park. Lighting While there is an ongoing light outage along the lower path, NYC Parks, DOT and ConEd are working to address the issue which we are told stems from flooded equipment under Morningside Avenue. We are again grateful to NYC Parks for bringing temporary solar powered light towers to help light the lower path. Overall, the lighting situation in the Park is much improved with brighter LED bulbs being installed along all the major Park crossings.



IMPROVED VISIBILITY Clear sight lines along the Park paths were a major concern a year ago, especially in the upper level of the Park. We have launched our Upper Park Initiative to help address this issue. Our hard working volunteers have already done so much to cut back overgrowth in this area. We also commissioned this study of the forestry and vegetation of the upper level as a first step in the Upper Park Initiative plan. This assessment of existing conditions and Volunteer Manual will guide our volunteers as well as the Parks Department as we move forward. ACTIVATING THE UPPER LEVEL OF THE PARK We are eager to bring arts and cultural programming to the upper level of the Park. We are so grateful that the NYC Parks Historic Harlem Parks Administrator, Jana La Sorte, is enthusiastically supportive of this effort! The Park Plateau between 115th and 116th Streets is a particular area of focus. We aim to provide this level with vehicular and ADA compliant access from the south to realize the full potential of this beautiful space. To that end, we are seeking to raise funds to update our 2000 Master Plan for Morningside Park. The updated Master Plan will guide requests for funding the capital improvements needed to make our goals for the Park Plateau a reality.



PROGRAMMING FOR TEENS AND YOUNG CHILDREN Harlem Youth Gardeners As you will remember, the lack of programming for teens was a major concern expressed by those who attended the January 2020 Forum. And due the pandemic, city services for teens faced major cutbacks in programming. Over the summer of 2020, we launched a major teen employment and learning opportunity: The Harlem Youth Gardeners (HYG) Program. One casualty of the city services cutbacks was the Summer Youth Employment Program. Thankfully, private resources stepped in to partially fill the vacuum. We were quick to act and secured over $116K in combined grant funds through the New York City Green Fund administered by the City Parks Foundation, and the Covid Relief Fund of the West Harlem Development Corporation. We ran the HYG Program as a collaborative effort with our sister park groups in the Historic Harlem Parks Coalition (Friends of St. Nicholas Park, The Jackie Robinson Park Conservancy and the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance). Over the summer, this outdoor, socially-distanced program employed and taught 22 local teens under the guidance of two coordinators and NYC Parks gardeners and continued with a 12 member team into the fall. These young people did a tremendous job beautifying our Harlem Parks. We are so proud of you all! We will soon be starting up a spring 2021 program and are working to secure funding for the summer of 2021. Watch for an email with application details soon!



Morningside Park Explorers For our younger park enthusiasts, we launched this free summer program under the direction of our amazing local naturalist/teacher Rosa Karim, aka “Farmer Rosa”. We are gearing up to run this after-school program for kids ages 4-7 again this spring and summer. Sign-up information will be sent via email and posted on our social media accounts (@NYCMorningsidePark on FB, IG and Twitter). Stay tuned, Explorers.



NEIGHBORHOOD-BASED ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS Park Workers Appreciation Lunch As a small token of appreciation, we were thrilled to be able to fund a grab-and-go bag lunch event for the dedicated NYC Parks workers. We channeled our funds through our local business association, the Frederick Douglass Boulevard Alliance with whom we’ve had a decades-long partnership. Lunches were provided by our friends at the Harlem Tavern. Supporting our Local Food Bank Wanting to reach out to our broader community, we matched our Park-related lunch endeavor with a donation to the Food Bank on west 116th Street. CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS Since the publication of our 2000 Master Plan for Morningside Park, our organization has been the primary community catalyst, along with Community Board 9, for millions of dollars in public investment in the Park's stairs, sidewalks, perimeter lighting, and playgrounds. We are so grateful to our partners at NYC Parks for executing many of these improvements and to our local elected officials such as Mark Levine, Danny O’Donnell and Gale Brewer for providing significant funds for these projects. Thank you! 118th Street Playground and Basketball Courts The most recent project under construction is the renovation of the 118th Street Playground and Basketball Courts. We remember our site walkthrough with the Borough President, Gale Brewer, a couple of years ago when she encouraged the community to “think big” regarding the potential of this project. You will be thrilled with the results! The new playground and basketball courts are scheduled to open this spring! Handrail and Stair Repairs at 113th Street Both Council Member Levine and Borough President Brewer also allocated significant funding to correct a longstanding problem at the 113th street stairs that connect Harlem and Morningside Heights. Since the building of these stairs in the 1980’s they have lacked a handrail. Funds have now been allocated to correct this oversight. SEASONAL PARK PROGRAMMING Common Ground Festival Though the pandemic paused our traditional signature in-person arts festival, Common Ground, we moved programming online and were able to support local artists and businesses such as Harlem Cycle, Sugar Hill Creamery, and Land Yoga. We are grateful to the Vandewater Condominiums for supporting this program and we look forward to a long and productive relationship with them for years to come. Mindful Walks In partnership with Mindful Harlem we offered weekly socially distanced park walks as a means to stress relief and well being.

Annual Tree Lighting Many of you will remember the oohs and aahs of hundreds of attendees at our 2019 tree lighting event. While the pandemic prevented the same crowds in 2020, we did light a magnificent 40 tall evergreen in the Morningside Park Pinetum, north of 120th Street, for our community to enjoy! Once again we received professional pro bono lighting advice from Nick Diaz formerly of Focus Lighting on West 116th Street, and enjoyed festive music played by brass musicians from the nearby Manhattan School of Music.



VOLUNTEER ENGAGEMENT Despite the pandemic, and at a time when many parks groups were cutting out volunteer events entirely, our dedicated volunteers continued to show up to assist our extraordinary NYC Parks Gardener, Ben Shupp. All events were held outside and adhered to CDC, NYS and NYC guidelines with regards to number of participants, masks and social distancing. These efforts continue with weekly Friday Friends Volunteer Gardening Club, a new Friends Auxiliary Snow Shoveling Team and, as of March 2021, a Volunteer “Second Saturday” of the Month event. To join our volunteers visit our website and complete a Volunteer Interest Form. Thank you, Volunteers!



POP-UP ART INSTALLATION We were thrilled to provide funding for a piece of sculpture that will generate lively conversation and reside in the Park for a year. The piece by artist Zaq Landsberg,is titled Reclining Liberty. Installation is scheduled for April 2021. We can’t wait! THE MORNINGSIDE PARK FARMERS MARKET Friends of Morningside Park started this amazingly successful community amenity more than 15 years ago when we reached out to market managers at Down to Earth Markets. Over the course of this pandemic, the market has been open every Saturday to serve our community. We continue to be thankful for their partnership. It has been a tough year, yet we have much to celebrate. Thank you ALL for the commitment to our Park that you showed through your attendance at the Friends PAL Forum over a year ago and continue to show today. We look forward to hearing your feedback and suggestions as we continue to build upon this progress, together, in the months and years ahead. Gratefully, Brad Taylor President, Friends of Morningside Park


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