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Mayor Adams Highlights Improvements to Public Space Following Appointment of City's First-Ever Chief Public Realm Officer

June 13, 2024

Realm of Possibility: 15 Ways NYC is Improving Public Space for New Yorkers” Outlines Efforts to Elevate Existing Public Spaces, Create New Ones, and Cut Red Tape for Partners  

NEW YORK – New York City Mayor Eric Adams today released a new report highlighting capital improvements and policy changes the Adams administration has made and continues to make to improve the public realm over the last year, following his appointment of the city’s first-ever chief public realm officer, Ya-Ting Liu, as he delivered on a key 2023 State of the City commitment. The report highlights the ways in which New York City is improving how people experience public space; speeding up delivery of new spaces for rest and leisure; and cutting red tape for the city’s private partners, who are instrumental to maintaining and activating the city’s public spaces. These initiatives also are key to the revitalization of New York’s economy, building on the recommendations of the “New” New York Panel to invest in beautiful, permanent public spaces and to establish the chief public realm officer position to provide a centralized and holistic approach to public realm policy, stakeholder engagement, and coordination of public realm projects. 

“At the heart of our mission to make New York a more livable city is our work on public spaces,” said Mayor Adams. “Our parks, plazas, sidewalks, streets, and more are our shared front yards. These spaces are what make New York City the greatest city in the world: they’re where we play, where we form community, and where we engage with each other and our shared city. We’re making those spaces even better every day and transforming what it feels like to be outside in New York.” 

“New York isn’t always the easiest city, but our public spaces are part of the glue that keeps people here, adding living space and literal breathing room outside of our small apartments,” said Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi. “Investing in our public spaces is one of the most crucial duties of this administration, and thanks to the leadership of our mayor and our chief public realm officer, Ya-Ting Liu, they are thriving. Forty new football fields worth of public space, the nation’s largest permanent outdoor dining program, fewer and better sidewalk sheds, and parks and plazas with more music and art — it’s a realm of possibilities out there.” 

“In the ‘New’ New York Plan, we called for the creation of the city's first-ever chief public realm officer and, as this report showcases, the city's public realm is under the deft and creative management of Ya-Ting Liu,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing, Economic Development, and Workforce Maria Torres-Springer. “Our public spaces are among our greatest assets, and they must be actively planned, developed, and maintained over the long run so that New Yorkers continue to stay connected to the outdoors and each other, while supporting small businesses, residents, and visitors alike.” 

“Public spaces in New York City are more than just physical locations; they are the heart and soul of urban life. These shared spaces offer a sanctuary amidst the hustle, a stage for spontaneous interactions, and a canvas for where the city’s eclectic energy converges,” said Chief Public Realm Officer Liu.  “From outdoor dining to cutting red tape for public space partners, I am proud to share all the ways the Adams administration is improving the spaces between buildings, where the pulse of the city is felt.”

“Our streets are our largest network of public space — that's why we've been reimagining our roads for everyone, through the creation of the nation's largest permanent outdoor dining program, expanded Open Streets, and the record-setting amount of new bike lanes, plazas, and other pedestrian spaces across the five boroughs,” said New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. “This work helps enrich communities, makes our streets safer, and allows small businesses to thrive. It's an honor to deliver world-class public spaces alongside New Yorkers and our sister agencies.”   

“Parks make New York a healthier and more livable city. As the steward of more than 30,000 acres of public parkland, we know that investments in open space are a critical tool to build communities, enhance safety, and protect our city from the increasing threats of climate change," said New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks) Commissioner Sue Donoghue. "From planting a record number of trees to building new bathrooms, this report spotlights the many ways in which this administration is delivering on making our infrastructure serve all New Yorkers.” 

“Investments in our parks and plazas don’t just make New York City more livable — they drive our economy and fuel our city's small businesses,” said New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS) Commissioner Kevin D. Kim. “SBS is proud to have a partner in Ya-Ting Liu, our city’s first chief public realm officer, and in Mayor Adams, who have both made revitalizing New York City’s public spaces a priority of this administration. I always say that investments in our neighborhoods aren't just dollar signs next to numbers, but represent real, tangible benefits for every New Yorker, no matter where they live and work.” 

“The shared streets, sidewalks, and public spaces used by all New Yorkers are our city’s greatest underutilized resources,” said New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) Commissioner Jimmy Oddo. “Mayor Adams understands that investing in our public realm will help unlock these spaces, further cementing New York’s status as the nation’s premier city to live, visit and to start a business. The initiatives being implemented across the administration, under the coordinating efforts of our seemingly tireless chief public realm officer, Ya-Ting Liu, work together to create a positive impact on this city both in the short-term and for generations to come.” 

“The creation of the chief public realm officer position was a key initiative from the ‘New’ New York Panel, and I am thrilled to see this recommendation in action with the release of this new report,” said New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) President and CEO Andrew Kimball. “The report underscores the importance of Ya-Ting’s leadership and the work she has undertaken to improve our public spaces and quality of life for New Yorkers. The projects she has spearheaded have been critical to the city’s economy by bolstering the public realm, encouraging back to office work, and building neighborhoods around those offices where New Yorkers can live, work, learn, and play.” 

“Public space is essential to a great quality of life in New York City,” said New York City Department of City Planning Director and New York City Planning Commission Chair Dan Garodnick. “From Dining Out NYC to improved access for privately-owned public spaces, and more, we’ve been proud to work with Mayor Adams and Chief Public Realm Officer Liu to move full speed ahead on planning for a cleaner and greener tomorrow, one where every New Yorker has a chance to relax in our wonderful outdoor spaces.” 

“The importance of our great public spaces took on new meaning during the pandemic and New Yorkers value them now more than ever,” said “New” New York Executive Director B.J. Jones. “The Adams administration, with the incredible leadership of Chief Public Realm Officer Liu, is working across agencies with valued partners like Business Improvement Districts and park conservancies to make New York City’s public realm the place where people want to be.”  

Improving the Way People Experience Public Space

  • Implementing the nation’s largest — and best — permanent outdoor dining program. Dining Out NYC represents one of the most significant efforts of the last decade to reimagine the city's streetscape by creating vibrant public spaces that improve quality of life for New Yorkers while simultaneously continuing to accelerate the city's economic recovery by supporting workers and small restaurant owners. The new program, implemented by DOT, draws on lessons learned from the temporary outdoor dining program created during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saved 100,000 jobs across the city but led to quality-of-life issues as a subset of restaurant owners were unable to maintain their temporary outdoor dining setups.  
  • Removing longstanding sidewalk sheds. Through the "Get Sheds Down" plan, the Adams administration is working to expedite the removal of sidewalk construction sheds and scaffolding while reimagining the future of pedestrian protection in New York City. The administration is working alongside the New York City Council to amend the rules and grant DOB greater enforcement powers to ‘Get Sheds Down,’ and advancing proposals to re-imagine a new, more attractive sidewalk shed for the future.  
  • Planting more street trees at lower costs. Street trees keep neighborhoods cool and improve the health of communities — but like other city construction projects, they can be cost- and time-intensive to plant. NYC Parks has already planted 15,000 trees, including approximately 12,000 street trees, this fiscal year — the highest total in eight years — and is on track to plant 3,000 more by the end of June. The city has also cut tree planting costs by 7 percent from Fiscal Year 2021 to Fiscal Year 2023, with further reductions anticipated in Fiscal Year 2024. By 2027, NYC Parks expects to plant a tree in every viable location in the most heat-vulnerable neighborhoods. The city is also launching an in-house tree planting team to reduce costs and speed delivery.  
  • Delivering more public restrooms citywide. Through “‘Ur In’ Luck,” over the next five years, NYC Parks will build 46 new restrooms and renovate 36 existing restrooms, adding to New York City’s nearly 1,000 existing public restrooms. At the same time, the city is making wayfinding to the city’s public restrooms easier, just in time for summer by introducing a new Google Maps layer that New Yorkers can activate on their phones to easily find the locations of every public restroom operated by a wide-range of agencies and civic institutions citywide. NYC Parks has also added changing tables to every feasible public restroom in the city’s parks — three years ahead of schedule. 
  • Prioritizing curb and street space for best public use. With the explosion of home deliveries and growing range of transportation modes on city streets, curb space has become increasingly sought after, competitive, and chaotic. The "Curb Management Action Plan" includes 10 concrete steps to better design and manage the curb lane to reflect the increasingly wide range of needs of residents, workers, visitors, business owners, and all New Yorkers. Additionally, DOT expanded the popular Summer Streets program to all five boroughs for the first time in its 15-year history, and the city launched new holiday-themed public space events, such as the Fifth Avenue and Halloween open streets.

Delivering More Quality Space in Less Time in All Five Boroughs  

  • Creating a Public Space Incubator to complete public space capital projects in underserved communities within a five-year timeline. Far too often, the city’s capital projects take too long to complete and cost more than originally budgeted. The city’s Public Space Incubator, housed at NYCEDC, is leveraging new capital delivery methods like CM-Build to remove redundant steps from the contracting process, cut down on time and costs, and ensure that New Yorkers can more quickly benefit from the city’s projects. 
  • Establishing a ‘Public Space Avengers’ interagency team — made up of the city’s mightiest public realm experts — to better coordinate planning and project delivery. In New York City, it’s too common for a street to get ripped up by one entity, paved over, and then ripped up by another. The ‘Public Space Avengers,’ made up of representatives from the city’s capital agencies, will combine efforts to deliver projects faster. 
  • Ensuring privately-owned public spaces are open and inviting. Privately-owned public spaces — operated by private-sector partners who are committed to maintaining these spaces as a part of development agreements — are crucial avenues to give New Yorkers access to public space near where they live and work. Not all of New York City’s 598 privately-owned public spaces, however, are open to the public. The city will support incentives to maximize public space while ramping up enforcement efforts, starting with an audit of out-of-compliance privately-owned public spaces in 2024. 
  • Opening more schoolyards to the public after hours in the highest need areas. Transforming schoolyards to publicly-accessible playgrounds after-hours is a key strategy to expand the city’s public space footprint, especially in communities that lack open public areas. The city will seek private funding to unlock additional playgrounds in high-need neighborhoods, prioritizing areas with multiple compounding vulnerabilities: race, socioeconomic status, health, and climate change factors like flooding and extreme heat. 
  • Transforming New York City into the skate capital of the East Coast. Skateboarding and other action sports are rapidly growing in New York City, even though there are not enough dedicated public spaces to safely accommodate them. The city has launched its design and public engagement process for four new and enhanced skateparks in Brooklyn and in the Bronx. Mayor Adams announced a $24.8 million investment to build these skate parks as part of his 2024 State of the City address in January.  

Cutting Red Tape for City Partners

  • Establishing a ‘Public Space Academy’ to train partners on best practices for activating public spaces. The city will establish a Public Space Academy to provide technical assistance to new and existing public space partners — like plaza partners, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), Open Streets, and community-based organizations. The academy will create a roadmap for public space management by community organizations and identify the city resources available to them. After training, participants will qualify to be considered as “trusted partners,” making it easier for them to secure permitting for street activations. 
  • Streamlining the permitting process for public space activations. The city’s street activity permitting process can be lengthy, impacting smaller organizers with limited capacity. The city will improve the user experience of obtaining a permit for street activations by aligning permit requirements across agencies, updating SAPO’s permitting website, and more. 
  • Reducing the legal and financial burden on public space partners. The city often requires partners to take on onerous costs and risks for maintaining the city’s public spaces. The city will revise maintenance agreements for plazas and reduce insurance requirements on low-risk activities so that partners can focus resources on helping public spaces flourish. 
  • Mobilizing a Public Space Clean Team, mobilized by DOT, to provide additional cleaning and maintenance efforts for critical public space connectors. BIDs and other neighborhood organizations provide maintenance to many commercial corridors, but there are places these partners do not reach — such as step streets, bridge paths, and roadway medians — that provide critical connections to commercial corridors and public spaces in communities. These Public Space Clean Teams will provide targeted litter removal to clean up critical connectors, resulting in more clean, vibrant, and active spaces that communities rely on.  
  • Establishing metrics for measuring impact of public space projects and activations. The city has an abundance of data related to the built environment, but none of it is unified to show the economic, environmental, or public health impact of public space. The city will leverage public-private partnerships to assess that data and guide public space investments.

“I commend Mayor Eric Adams on this new report outlining infrastructure projects for underserved communities across New York City and am appreciative of these efforts, in collaboration with the New York City Department of Buildings, New York City Department of Transportation, the New York City Department of Small Business Services to bring each of these projects to fruition,” said U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat. “I look forward to working to help further our efforts to nurture and expand public spaces for the health and wellbeing of all New Yorkers."

“‘Realm of Possibility’ is the boldest initiative in the history of our city to reimagine public spaces,” said New York State Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar. “Mayor Adams and first-ever Chief Public Realm Officer Liu have developed an innovative 15-point plan to permanently reshape our city. Through public engagement, slashing red tape, utilizing the latest project delivery methods, and more cleaning of neglected corridors, we are quickly producing the public spaces New Yorkers want and need. Among the hallmarks of the plan are preserving the popular outdoor dining program; tearing down unsightly sidewalk sheds; planting thousands of trees; opening more restrooms; redesigning curb lanes; and opening school playgrounds after-hours. Together, we are making New York City public spaces the most inviting, accessible, and people-centered they have ever been.”

“New public bathrooms and fewer longstanding sidewalk sheds are the kind of public realm improvements that everyone can get behind,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “Improving the public realm will help make communities and our streetscapes cleaner, healthier, safer, more accessible and more enjoyable for every New Yorker, every visitor, and every community member.”

“Street Lab works with communities across New York City to activate and improve public spaces, and I love this sustained focus by the administration on public space and its potential to improve the lives of New Yorkers," said Leslie Davol, co-founder and executive director, Street Lab. “In particular, it is exciting to see local groups and residents becoming more involved in the activation and care of neighborhood public spaces, and this is a critical step forward towards a safer, healthier, more connected future for New York City neighborhoods.” 

“As an organization committed to enhancing human life through horticulture, we recognize the vital role of maintaining and beautifying public spaces to elevate our streetscapes for the enjoyment of all communities.” said Sara Hobel, executive director, Horticultural Society of New York. “In partnership with the DOT, The Hort is proud to continue investing in the public realm, harnessing the power of plants to bring people together.  

“Walking around the city, it’s easy to see that New York’s public space is on the upswing. This report gives us exciting, inspiring, tangible proof. Ya-Ting Liu and the Adams administration understand the game-changing potential of public space and their bold action is re-shaping how parks, plazas, and streets serve New Yorkers” said Jackson Chabot, director of advocacy and organizing, Open Plans. “Their focus on more people-centered spaces, support in underserved neighborhoods, and cutting red tape helps to democratize the space outside our doors and strengthen our communities. We look forward to continuing to work with this dynamic team and we can’t wait to see what they do next.”  

“The Municipal Art Society has long advocated for comprehensive public realm leadership and is proud to support the chief public realm officer’s work to improve how public spaces that enhance the health and well-being of all New Yorkers are built and maintained,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president, Municipal Arts Society. “From improving the experience of these places to enabling them to be delivered and activated with more ease, MAS applauds Mayor Adams for taking the bold step of appointing a chief public realm officer and releasing this report in service of creating a more resilient and equitable city.” 

"The appointment of the city’s first-ever chief public realm officer has helped New York City prioritize public space and enact historic policy wins that have transformed the livability of the five boroughs," said Matthew Clarke, executive director, Design Trust for Public Space. "Thriving and lively public spaces depend upon forward thinking ideas and strategies. This report sets an important vision for public space as a driver of a healthy New York, and includes essential ideas about cutting bureaucratic red tape, expanding resources, and increasing access to new public spaces in every corner of the city." 

“AIA New York applauds the release of New York City’s first ever public realm report,” said Jesse Lazar, executive director, AIA New York. “This report is a crucial step for New York leadership to keep itself accountable for creating a more vibrant and equitable public realm, which is essential to New York’s continued economic recovery and goals to improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers.” 

“Urban Design Forum is grateful that Mayor Adams and Ya-Ting Liu have articulated a new vision for our city’s public realm,” said Daniel McPhee, executive director, Urban Design Forum. “We’re glad to see several of our goals reflected in the plan, from building public restrooms to expanding our urban forest to easing burdens on local nonprofits that activate and maintain public space. We’re ready to hit the streets to support community organizations to bring their visions for our streets, parks, and plazas to life.”

“Regional Plan Association congratulates the Adams administration on the release of this report. The democratization the public realm for all users is an important component of regional sustainability and economic development,” said Tiffany-Ann Taylor, vice president of transportation, Regional Plan Association. “We proudly support the work of the city's first chief public realm officer, Ya-Ting Liu, as she continues to set an example as a global leader on this topic. RPA looks forward to continued collaboration with the city in this space.” 

“The New York City BID Association appreciates the Adams administration’s continuing work to support and celebrate the importance of the public realm,” said Erin Piscopink and Bob Benfatto, co-chairs, New York City BID Association. “As key partners to the city in building and maintaining unique, vibrant neighborhoods, we applaud this report and its emphasis on cutting red tape to unleash the creative energy of BIDs and their local stakeholders.” 

"In Downtown Brooklyn, we know firsthand how a flourishing public realm can create a neighborhood that is a vibrant and accessible place for people to meet, relax, dine, bike and more,” said Regina Myer, president, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. "From the recent opening of our newest park, Abolitionist Place, to our Shared Streets initiative that prioritizes people over cars, Downtown Brooklyn is transforming into a pedestrian-centered haven - in step with the city's renewed effort to enliven the public realm across the five boroughs. The Realm of Possibility highlights the magnitude of these efforts, and we applaud the city and its first-ever chief public realm officer, Ya-Ting Liu, for leading the charge on bolstering New York's public spaces for all to enjoy." 

“The release of the city's first public realm report marks a transformative milestone for New York City and Long Island City in particular,” said Laura Rothrock, president, Long Island City Partnership. "By highlighting 15 initiatives, this report showcases a dedicated effort to elevate our public spaces, making them more accessible, lively, and inclusive. For Long Island City, with its rapid growth and diverse community, these improvements are crucial. Enhanced public spaces will foster stronger community ties, support local businesses, and enhance the overall quality of life. We applaud the Adams administration and Chief Public Realm Officer Ya-Ting Liu for their visionary leadership in enhancing the urban experience for all New Yorkers and efforts that ultimately support a vibrant future for Long Island City.” 

“Attractive, well-maintained and regularly activated public spaces provide central business districts with a sense of community,” said Fred Cerullo, president and CEO, Grand Central Partnership. “By releasing ‘Realm of Possibility: 15 Ways NYC is Improving Public Space for New Yorkers,’ the Adams administration has published a common-sense blueprint to increase opportunities for more public realm initiatives around the five boroughs by fast-tracking the approval process for public spaces and improving cooperation with public realm partners.”   

“The Times Square Alliance applauds the Adams administration on the release of ‘Realm of Possibility’ and their recognition of the value of business improvement districts as partners in creating viable public spaces,” said Tom Harris, president, Times Square Alliance.  “As one of those partners here in Times Square, we have long advocated for a chief public realm officer to streamline the bureaucratic processes and improve public space for the greater good. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Ya-Ting Liu and her team.”   

“Together, the work of Mayor Adams and Chief Public Realm Officer Ya-Ting Liu has been instrumental in supporting BIDs in maintaining and improving public spaces,” said Dan Biederman, President of 34th Street Partnership. “Their initiative has significantly enhanced the city’s focus on quality of life in the public realm, and we look forward to seeing the continued benefits of their collaborative efforts.” 

“When we share something as cherished and limited as public space it really does take a village to unlock the dynamic social and economic potential within these places,” said James Mettham, president, Flatiron NoMad Partnership. “In New York City, this village of public and private partners benefits immensely from a mayoral administration and a chief public realm officer committed to collaboration and a belief that our shared places should be elevated and celebrated through creativity and investment.  The Flatiron NoMad Partnership applauds today’s important public realm announcements and looks forward to leading and showcasing these initiatives across Flatiron and Nomad’s vibrant streets, sidewalks, parks, and plazas.”   

"The release of New York City's inaugural public realm report marks a significant milestone in our city's commitment to creating vibrant and inclusive public spaces that New Yorkers deserve," said Jeffrey LeFrancois, executive director, Meatpacking District Management Association. "High quality public space is good for people, and it's good for business, too. The recent opening of the Meatpacking District's Gansevoort Landing exemplifies that, and its execution highlights the need for strong partnerships between the city and business improvement districts."

"Advancing a unified vision for activating public spaces throughout the five boroughs is essential to support the continued growth and vitality of small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Tim Laughlin, president, Lower East Side Partnership. "We are excited to partner with the city to ensure that public spaces can continue to drive the post pandemic economic recovery while simultaneously improving quality of life and providing community amenities for all New Yorkers.”  

“For 15 years, the Hudson Square BID has partnered with City Hall to transform our streets, once known solely for the cars clogging them on the way to the Holland Tunnel, into vibrant, safe, and inviting spaces for people,” said Samara Karasyk, president and CEO, Hudson Square BID. “I am encouraged by the efforts outlined in this report that will make it easier for organizations like ours to use public spaces in new and dynamic ways for our communities. We are eager to continue working with City Hall and Chief Public Realm Officer Liu to create world-class public spaces that are accessible to all New Yorkers." 

"Trust for Public Land is excited to collaborate with NYC on this historic opportunity for our public spaces. By transforming empty tarmac schoolyards into colorful, active play spaces through our NYC Playgrounds Program, and converting unused rail lines into parks like the Queensway for walking and biking, we are bringing communities together,” said Tamar Renaud, New York state director and associate vice president, Trust for Public Land. “These efforts increase walkability and community connectivity, while helping residents better connect with nature, mitigating the urban heat island effect and improving climate resiliency. This work exemplifies our commitment to creating vibrant, accessible public spaces that transform urban life and elevate the quality of life for all New Yorkers. TPL is proud to see New York City take such an action-oriented approach to improving public spaces and thrilled to collaborate further." 

"Public spaces are crucial to the vibrancy and vitality of the Upper West Side and Columbus Avenue,” said Nicole Paynter, executive director, Columbus Avenue BID. “The Columbus Avenue BID has long been dedicated to enhancing and activating the public realm. In collaboration with the city and the chief public realm officer, we have introduced innovative projects to our district, most notably the DOT Smart Curbs Pilot, which is reimagining curb space in our neighborhood. Through our Columbus Avenue Open Streets program and the upcoming introduction of a new Street Seat as part of the Smart Curbs Pilot, we have created new public areas where our community can gather, rest, play, and enjoy New York City. Through this work, we see firsthand the need for public space and the significant benefits it brings to those living, working, and visiting our neighborhood. We commend the Adams administration and the chief public realm officer for their active efforts to improve and innovate in this area, as demonstrated by the release of the city’s first public realm report."

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