Parks and open space are an ongoing priority in Jersey City, New Jersey. We understand the value that parks bring to a city, its economy and, most importantly, its residents. What we didn’t fully realize was that by integrating park priorities with other key city priorities, such as youth development, stormwater management, and Vision Zero, we could increase impact and foster stronger partnerships. This deepening of our team’s vision was a key takeaway from our experience this past June at the Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) Leadership Academy in Denver, Colorado.
Jersey City sent a team to the leadership academy because we wanted to enhance residents, and particularly youths, connection to nature and natural elements through our parks. We came away with the realization that we could not only integrate nature into our parks but also into our schoolyards, libraries, internship programs and so much more.
We left the leadership academy with three main strategies:
- Green Schoolyards: The Office of Innovation is working closely with the Mayor’s Office and the Board of Education to assess schoolyards for opportunities to break up concrete and rebuild with more natural designs. These green schoolyards will support outdoor enrichment for school communities and their neighbors without the need to purchase additional parcels.
- Green Career Exposure: Adding green internships to the city’s current internship program allows us to connect youth to nature, provide career opportunities and help instill a sense of environmentalism and stewardship in our young people.
- Libraries as Nature Connectors: Aligning our priority of building quality green spaces and nature-filled parks with our public library system is a perfect way to maximize two of the city’s most valuable resources. By creating lending opportunities for outdoor exploration, we believe that we will be offering stewardship avenues to youth who might not otherwise have this kind of access.
At the conference, we saw these strategies in practice and were able to ask questions about everything from implementation to fundraising, outreach and data collection. The leadership teams at the National League of Cities and the Children and Nature Network was able to demonstrate how these strategies could move forward in Jersey City, and that insight was invaluable to our vision. Since our return, we have been working intensely on the initiative we’re calling Project Green Time.
The Project Green Time team sits in the Office of Innovation but is truly a city-wide collaboration across departments, organizations, and businesses. We drafted a project plan and identified goals. We partnered with the Jersey City Public Schools to pilot our first green schoolyard and identified a high need location whose children and families will benefit most from a nature-filled green space.
These kinds of multi-stakeholder collaborations will be key to the success of Project Green Time. Discussions around the value of partnerships were highly regarded at the academy – and it was especially productive to a workshop with the ten participating cities. It was great to bounce ideas off cities who have similar challenges and to hear how others are finding success. We learned a lot from the network of cities, and we are grateful for the opportunity provided by the leadership academy.
Beyond the tangible tools and strategies that we brought home from the conference, perhaps the most exciting takeaway was the increased passion for this initiative. Learning more about the impacts of creating quality nature-filled spaces for children has truly captured my attention.
As a parent in a city leadership role, I often have personal connections and enthusiasm for initiatives that will have a long-lasting impact on youth and families. Project Green Time is sure to bring forward natural resources that will have a clear and direct impact for communities across the city.
We’re thrilled by this momentum, and we’re just getting started. Because we started by identifying city assets and aligned with current mayoral priorities, we are confident that Project Green Time will bring great value to Jersey City.
About the Author: Melissa Kozakiewicz is the Director of the Office of Innovation for the City of Jersey City. Beyond Project Green Time, her initiatives include smart cities projects, sustainability, small business services, and economic development, and grants & fundraising.