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Proposal from Municipal Art Society for the creation of the position of Director of the Public Realm in New York City

At the regularly scheduled monthly Community Board Five meeting on Thursday, December 10, 2020, the following resolution passed with a vote of 44 in favor; 0 opposed; 1 abstaining:

WHEREAS, The Municipal Art Society, in partnership with New Yorkers for Parks, has issued a policy brief calling for the creation in New York City of a Director of the Public Realm, a new position tasked with coordinating the many public and private entities that oversee public spaces in the City; and

WHEREAS, Unlike many other large American cities, New York City lacks a central position within its government for planning and maintaining the public realm, instead divvying up oversight of these essential pieces of urban infrastructure across a vast array of City agencies and private entities that do not coordinate consistently or comprehensively; and

WHEREAS, Public parks, pedestrian plazas, sidewalks, street beds, privately-owned public spaces, and playgrounds fall under the jurisdiction and management of completely different entities, including the Department of City Planning (DCP), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks), the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), or the Department of Education (DOE)—and often in contractual partnership with conservancies, BIDs, or private entities that may be additionally involved; and

WHEREAS, These spaces should function together as a seamless public realm network, but instead are governed with different rules, competing priorities, and disjointed leadership, resulting in confusion and opacity about enforcement of compliance with City laws and regulations regarding use, public safety and health, sanitation and permitting practices; and

WHEREAS, A Director of the Public Realm would help address this disjointed approach to our public spaces by greatly reducing overlap and providing coordinated leadership; and

WHEREAS, This role could help ensure that investment in the public realm is equitable, and that the City could act quickly and think innovatively about long-term improvements to the health and equity of public space across the city; and

WHEREAS, One key focus of the proposal is the role of the Director in preserving and expanding sunlight access within the public realm—a critical issue facing Community District Five; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five prioritized the request for funding of the proposed position as part of the budget request process in November, 2020; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five strongly supports and endorses the proposal put forth by the Municipal Art Society, in partnership with New Yorkers for Parks, for the creation of a position in New York City government of a Director of the Public Realm.

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