This week Adrian Benepe, the commissioner of the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, leaves his post to join The Trust for Public Land.
Commissioner Benepe and his colleagues in the Bloomberg administration were among the High Line’s first champions.
Now that the High Line is open to the public, some may not fully appreciate the numerous hurdles and the high level of skepticism we faced when we began advocating for the High Line’s reuse more than a decade ago. In those early years, the High Line was seen as a rusty, hulking mass of abandoned infrastructure, and many people believed that tearing down the elevated railway was the best solution.
However, under the leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Commissioner Benepe and his colleagues took the bold step of supporting our vision – that the High Line could have a new life as an extraordinary public space. He worked with us to develop a framework to allow the High Line to be operated by a conservancy group in partnership with the Parks Department, just like Central Park, and funded by philanthropic contributions from people like you, so that government funding could be available for the city’s public parks that need it most.
When it came time to select a design team, Commissioner Benepe and his colleagues worked in a productive and creative partnership with Friends of the High Line, even though it was still relatively rare at that time for a community-based non-profit to be invited into such a collaborative relationship with City officials. Later on, when the designers presented some of their more ambitious ideas, Commissioner Benepe was willing to take risks. He embraced the strategy of being flexible about some of the traditional design standards used for other City parks to make way for innovative treatments which would make the public space on the High Line unique and reflective of its industrial past and its neighborhood context.
Then, as we were building the High Line and preparing to open the first section to the public, Commissioner Benepe worked with us to craft the operating agreement between the Parks Department and Friends of the High Line. When the High Line opened in 2009, it was the first public park in New York City to be maintained, operated, and funded by a conservancy group that had originally advocated for a park’s creation.
Commissioner Benepe’s impact has reached far beyond the High Line. Over the past decade, he has improved access to public parks in all five boroughs and led new greening initiatives as part of PlaNYC, the mayor’s long-term sustainability agenda for a greater, greener New York.
Commissioner Benepe and his team provide invaluable guidance to our staff as we work every day to maintain and operate the High Line. We will miss working closely with him at the Parks Department, and we are thankful that he is leaving it in the capable hands of Veronica White, who is currently the Executive Director of the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity.
On behalf of all of our supporters, members, and friends, we thank Commissioner Benepe for his many years of service to New York City, and for his visionary role in transforming the High Line into a public park. We wish him all the best in his new role at The Trust for Public Land.