NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP, today announced that he is stepping down as commissioner late spring / early summer 2021. Silver has served as Parks Commissioner since May 2014 – the fourth longest serving NYC Parks Commissioner. An internationally recognized, award-winning, visionary planner, Silver has brought the New York City park system into the 21st Century through design and capital process reform delivering more than 800 capital projects representing a $1.85 billion de Blasio Administration park investment, equitably benefitting New Yorkers of all means, ages and abilities.
“Parks have offered a solace for so many New Yorkers during the darkest days of the pandemic,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “And no one has been a better steward for our parks than Mitchell Silver. He has overseen the improvement of parks across the five boroughs and made them a welcoming place for everyone. All New Yorkers are better off for his service.”
“Commissioner Silver has been a tremendous asset to this administration and has made parks throughout NYC so much more accessible, welcoming, and wonderful,” said Deputy Mayor Vicki Been. “Mitchell’s deep commitment to a more equitable park system resulted in programs like Community Parks Initiative and Parks Without Borders, which have increased access to high-quality open spaces for underserved neighborhoods. His commitment also extended to his workforce, where he’s had a keen focus on programs like the Parks Opportunity Program, which trains low-income New Yorkers for jobs in landscaping and maintenance and gives them a long-term skill and a path to permanent employment. His vision for equity recently led to the creation of Juneteenth Grove and the ongoing renaming of many park spaces to celebrate diverse New Yorkers. His drive to make our parks better will benefit New Yorkers for years to come.”
Commissioner Silver stated: “I thank Mayor de Blasio for giving me the privilege to help transform NYC Parks and our parks system; making them more equitable, inclusive and resilient over the past 7 years. I am grateful to have worked with the amazing NYC Parks leadership team, as well as all the dedicated Parks staff who keep our parks safe, clean and accessible, especially through this global pandemic. Serving as commissioner has been the highest honor of my career. I also thank my colleagues in government, conservancy partners and volunteers for making this job the best experience of my life.”
During Silver’s seven-year tenure leading NYC Parks for the de Blasio Administration, he advanced a more equitable and inclusive parks system, incorporating a data-driven approach to resource allocation benefiting underserved communities across the city. Initiatives included:
Community Parks Initiative (CPI) – Funded by Mayor de Blasio in October 2014, CPI is a multi-faceted, $318 million investment in 67 local parks that are located in New York City’s densely populated and growing neighborhoods with higher-than-average concentrations of poverty. CPI is NYC Parks’ first major equity initiative and part of the Mayor’s OneNYC: The Plan for a Strong and Just City.
Anchor Parks – The Anchor Parks initiative saw a $150 million in City funding for major improvements at five large neighborhood parks: Astoria Park (QNS), Highbridge Park (MN), Betsy Head Park (BK), St. Mary’s Park (BX), and Freshkills Park (SI). With a focus on a state of good repair, each was selected based on historical underinvestment, high surrounding population and potential for park development—breathing new life into neighborhoods across the city.
Parks Without Borders – This new design approach focuses on the edges and entrances of parks—lowering fences, creating new entrances, etc.—creating a more seamless realm between parks and neighborhoods. Announced in November 2015 with $50 million in Mayoral funding, eight showcase projects were nominated by New Yorkers to be redesigned and constructed, in addition to another 100+ projects receiving immediate design improvements, and now all projects are approached from this design philosophy.
Silver streamlined the agency’s capital process and instituted a new park design philosophy, completing more than 800 capital projects, delivering new and reconstructed parks to communities across the city.
Parks addressed inefficiencies in its capital process—reducing timeline by 6-8 months:
Implemented monthly Commissioner-level Red Zone meetings to quickly resolve how to move forward with issue laden projects
Increased use of standard design templates and reduced the number of internal design meetings
Reduced change orders by 50% to 78% each year following 2014.
Prioritized transparency with launch of agency’s Capital Tracker
With a capital staff of nearly 500—including 100 landscape architects that design 70% of the projects in-house—the agency is currently managing 549 active capital projects: 135 are in construction; 276 are in procurement and 138 are in design.
The 843 projects completed as of January 2021 represent $1.85 billion invested in parks over the past seven years. The 843 projects are the second highest number completed since Robert Moses’ 26-year reign as Parks Commissioner. The agency has reconstructed or newly built 256 playgrounds and sports courts; 142 paths & plazas; 55 comfort stations; 47 athletic fields; and 27 piers, waterfronts and retaining walls (and much more).
The de Blasio administration inherited 130 stalled projects from the previous administration. Under Silver’s direction, 101 have been completed, 15 are in active construction, 14 canceled, and 1 is paused.
Since the beginning of this administration, the agency has taken on more projects and completed them faster—nearly 84% completed on budget and 88% on time.
Using principles and guidelines that address environmental challenges and emphasize planning, placemaking and experience building for all New Yorkers, Silver has brought New York City park design into the 21st Century.
- During this Administration, NYC Parks’ design principles have addressed:
- Diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA)
- Resiliency and sustainability
- Planning and placemaking
- Universal design
- The agency has established the following design guidelines:
- Native Species Planting Guide – 3rd edition (2019)
- Design and Planning for Flood Resiliency (2017)
Furthering NYC Parks’ commitment to DEI&A, in 2020 Silver built upon the agency’s commitment responsive to the 2020 social movement sparked by George Floyd’s death.
Tenure accomplishments include:
- Elevated the EEO Officer role to an Assistant Commissioner level position in 2016 to address equity and diversity within the Parks workforce
- Lifted a 60-year moratorium that paved the way for the first monument depicting real women to be installed in Central Park: Monumental Women
- Approved first Central Park monument depicting real women: Monumental Women
- Consistently met or exceeded goals for MWBE contracts. Parks’ MWBE utilization has ranked second in MMR three year’s running (FY ’18-’20)—averaging 30%; and Q1 of FY ’21, 39%
- In 2020, Parks’ efforts include:
- Supportive of the Agency’s more than 6,000 staff, launched a series of “Reflections On” listening sessions to help address staff impacts known and unknown
Parks has advanced its commitment to ensuring a diverse workforce and fairness around recruitment and promotional opportunities within
- Introspectively, the Agency acknowledged there is always room for improvement and launched an internal committee to review park names with plans to rename a tranche for Black American men and women—the first 10 were announced on Black Solidarity Day (Nov. 2, 2020); more will be announced mid-2021
Mitchell J. Silver served as Chief Planning and Development Officer and Planning Director for the City of Raleigh, North Carolina prior to his position with NYC Parks Department, which began in 2014.
Mr. Silver will join the leadership team at McAdams, a multi-disciplinary civil engineering, land planning and landscape architecture firm headquartered in the Research Triangle in North Carolina, as a Principal of the firm. He will work closely with the President and executive leadership team to provide directional leadership by contributing vision and strategic objectives; serve as the firms’ ambassador in regional and national organizations and at industry events as it relates to urban planning, land use, parks and recreation and emerging trends; provide advisory services to communities and clients; attract and develop talent to create a truly diverse and inclusive work environment. Silver will also support the company’s philanthropy efforts to help the environment and communities in need.