Parks without Borders: Unifying the Public Realm


  • The planning and capital process needed to support an innovative approach to redesigning underutilized or untraditional  areas of our parks and public realm
  • How to enhance community engagement in a citywide, multistep site selection process
  • The challenges, opportunities, and solutions for successful interagency collaboration in helping to create a more unified vision and understanding of the public realm
  • Basic principles for designing open, welcoming spaces that connect to their surroundings


The planning-related educational objective is to share and discuss the step by step process taken to breathe new life and opportunity into spaces that are closed off and disconnected from the communities they serve through better design.  Acknowledging and enhancing these spaces is an important step in maximizing parks and public spaces in a city where these spaces are integral to everyday life.

Moderated by Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP, NYC Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, this panel discussion explores how the Parks Without Borders (PWB) program was created, the design, outreach and stakeholder collaboration challenges that were addressed, as well as the program’s next steps and how these innovative design principles are being incorporated into other projects.

NYC Parks is the steward of nearly 30,000 acres of land, accounting for 14% of New York City. This percent skyrockets to 40% when combined with streets and sidewalks owned by NYC Department of Transportation. Parks Without Borders (PWB) is a new approach to park design focused on creating more open, welcoming, and beautiful open spaces, bolstered by a $50M capital campaign.  The PWB program is a part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s OneNYC plan to create a strong and just city through programs supporting growth, sustainability, resiliency, and equity.

The PWB design approach works to unify park spaces with the neighborhoods they serve by making parks more welcoming, improving neighborhoods by extending the beauty of parks out into communities, and by transforming underused areas into vibrant community spaces.  The approach has also placed an important new focus marrying how planning, funding and design opportunities can be better connected.  Furthermore, PWB design approach focuses on nature, the use of perimeter and adjacent park spaces and aims to improve the overall feeling of these parks, through a more robust and strategic community engagement effort.

Over a three month comment period, NYC Parks asked park users where they wanted to see these types of improvements.  New Yorkers responded with more than 6,100 nominations for 692 parks through online surveys and dozens of workshops and presentations. This city-wide public engagement helped NYC Parks choose eight parks with the right mix of community support, physical conditions and context as showcase projects to fully highlight the Parks Without Borders program.

As cities and communities continue to increase in density, this type of approach will become more important as the need for new “parks” in appropriate or traditional places becomes scarce.  All cities will be looking beyond the borders of their current dedicated park land and trying to make their existing parks do more.