‘A New Leader for Prospect Park’

From Civic News, Summer 2011

The day after Emily Lloyd moved with her family from Boston to Brooklyn in 1983, she took her two young children to the Third Street playground in Prospect Park. “We thought it would be like a playground in Boston, a busy and happy place, babysitters, people with kids.” Even though it was a beautiful October day, “the park was empty, the playground was in terrible condition; it was really depressing.” She later found out that “unless you went with a group and stayed near the drives, the park was a little scary.”

Fortunately, the park has changed a lot since then, becoming a safe, fun, and very active green space for Park Slope and indeed all of Brooklyn. That turnaround came thanks to efforts of the community and of the Prospect Park Alliance (PPA). The most visible advocate for this change was Tupper Thomas, who stepped down earlier this year as the park’s administrator and PPA president.

Lloyd, a resident of Park Slope for nearly three decades, watched those improvements year by year and found them “thrilling.” In February, she assumed Thomas’s dual roles, http://davidhermanstudio.com/civic-news-fall-2011-2/and hopes to build on her predecessor’s achievements for an even stronger Prospect Park.

CN su 11 Lloyd Bridge on LakeThe park’s new chief has a history of government leadership, project management, and urban planning. Prior to assuming this job, she managed the commercial real estate division of Trinity Wall Street. Lloyd served as New York City commissioner of environmental protection from 2005 to 2008, as Columbia University’s executive vice president for administration from 1994 to 2003, and as the city’s sanitation commissioner in the mid-1990s. She holds a master’s in urban planning from the University of Pennsylvania, and Loeb Fellowship from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

“I just think it’s such a privilege to have the opportunity to work on Prospect Park and with all the people who care about the park,” she said. “It’s such a different endeavor for me in terms of the city work I’ve done. With Sanitation and Environmental Protection, people certainly wanted the service you provided, but it didn’t bring them much joy. With the park, people all want to be in the park and love using the park.”

Prospect Park plays an important role for many people, Lloyd noted, in part because of the density found in Brooklyn neighborhoods. “People may love living in the dense urban environment — I certainly do; I lived in the exurbs and I got out of there as fast as I could — but still they feel the need to let the stress of living in that density fall away. There are plenty of ways for people to do that with headphones, yoga, etc., but there’s something almost primal about doing it in a natural setting like the park, with grass and trees and water and open sky.”

She also tied the park’s success to its role as a community builder. Its designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, believed a great park should accommodate a lot of activities in a spacious environment, and create an “ease of association” that made visitors feel comfortable in their pursuits alongside other people. “Having a place where people can come together and feel welcome … is really the first building block of making Brooklyn work as the kind of neighborhood-oriented place it is,” she said.

Of course, those guiding principles would mean little if people stayed away from the park, as when Lloyd first moved to Brooklyn. She credits her predecessor with providing the necessary leadership for the transformation. Thomas helped take “Prospect Park from being really derelict and depopulated, and figured out how to engage people, and how to engage the city and foundations, all to come together to fix the basic infrastructure of the park and make it beautiful again. Everything from fixing up the Picnic House so people love to have events there to the reconstruction of the waterway and the restoration of the Woodlands — she didn’t miss any part of it.”

Thomas’s success fostered a steady growth in visitors to the park, from surrounding neighborhoods and beyond. “Utilization keeps going up, but availability of government support has been going down because of the economy,” Lloyd said. (Hence the need for the PPA to cut some education programs and positions in May.) “That leaves a big job for the Alliance. Utilization creates a lot of wear and tear. In the busiest areas, it means getting the trash picked up after the busy weekend, and finding a way to pay overtime so collection can begin prior to the standard hours.”

Greater crowds have also meant more people going into the Woodlands, where restoration is still ongoing. “We really need to know that we’re protecting the Woodlands areas, where for 20 years we’ve been letting the natural ground cover regenerate itself from the leaves and trees that fall down, and not letting the press of people do damage to the area. We don’t have the staff to be watching them all the time.” More signage, something “Olmsted was not a huge fan of at every corner,” may be required to give people the information needed about how to use the park.

“The question of signage and enforcement is something we’d want to address in a very thoughtful way — something we’d need to take on long-term.”

CN su 11 Lloyd portait

Emily Lloyd, the new Prospect Park administrator

Another challenge, also due to the current economy, is funding for Lakeside Center. The project has already removed the old Wollman skating rink. In its place will be a lake area and shoreline restored to the park’s original elegant plan. Nearby, in what is now a parking lot, will be a new ice rink open all year for other activities.

The PPA must still raise another $17 million for the project, and “because of the government cutbacks, we probably won’t get some of the government money we had anticipated. We have to figure out how to fill that last step.” With “construction going like gangbusters,” the project remains on schedule for completion in 2013.

The park is facing other short-term challenges that go beyond just funding. One recent crisis has involved the culling of geese, a city-led program that last year killed hundreds of geese in the park in the name of airplane safety. This year, park staff have developed a new goose-management plan, praised by the Humane Society and New York City Audubon, that will make the green space less hospitable for the birds by using dogs to scare geese away, oiling eggs to reduce the likelihood of new births, and planting ground cover near the water that the birds won’t eat.

“It’s difficult to achieve a balance [between wildlife management and aviation safety] in a park where your philosophy is to foster affection and respect for wildlife,” she said. The culling “is something I would rather they not do in Prospect Park, although I respect the responsibility for making the airports safe.” (At press time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will reportedly not be culling in Prospect Park this summer.)

Lloyd also discussed the alterations in traffic taking place around Grand Army Plaza over the summer. “The Plaza area is so gorgeous and so underutilized because you have to risk your life to get there,” she said. “I’m so thrilled that they’re doing those changes because the plan really is going to make it possible to cross at any of the logical places in the plaza. I think we’ll get a lot more people who live around Grand Army Plaza using the fountain area as their front yard.”

CN su 11 Lloyd FountainFurther in the future, Lloyd would like to see facilities and programs in Prospect Park that focus on childhood health. “There’s a natural fit for that with the park, but we’re just in the early stages of thinking how we can participate in that without assuming a lot of expenses — where the park is a resource but where we’re not making something out of whole cloth. There’s a lot of interest among the groups in the park’s Community Committee for these kinds of programs,” especially from organizations on the east side of the park in relation to childhood diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. “We need to join that conversation.”

As for her own activities, Lloyd enjoys walking around the park on Saturdays and Sundays, “because you see all of Brooklyn — some regulars, some people here for the first time, all very communal.” Even though she’s been coming to the park for decades, she’s still making new discoveries. On one of her first days on the job, a colleague took her to the Vale of Cashmere.

“I had never been there before in 28 years,” she said. “It was so beautiful. The design of the water and the way it terraces down. I only thought there were woods back there. It was a very thrilling moment — I felt so connected to Olmsted, that this was the kind of joy he wanted to give people, to fill their soul.”

Stepping into the roles held by Lloyd’s predecessor has been a challenge of a different sort. “Coming into a transition, I always try to think about what are my experiences that might be useful here,” Lloyd said. “We of course want to maintain what Tupper accomplished, and because I’m a different person we have to find different ways of doing that. I’ll have different strengths, and as a staff we’re just figuring that out now — in my relationship with the park, my relationship with the board, my relationship with the staff.”

Another legacy of Thomas’s leadership “that will be fun to do is that she really understood how important the connections with community organizations were,” Lloyd said. The Community Committee, a coalition of some 80 local organizations interested in a stronger park, “has in its culture a history of coming together to solve problems as opposed to coming together to get only my problem solved. They love it when you throw them a really good problem that they can really work on.

“That’s something very rich, and I hope will be very vital during my time here.”

Photographs by David Herman; see more of my photo work for the Civic Council in this portfolio.

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Posted: July 2011