CityLand Profile: Lynn Kelly of New Yorkers for Parks

Lynn Kelly. Image credit: New Yorkers for Parks.

New York City holds a special place in Lynn Kelly’s life. Ms. Kelly grew up in Old Town, Staten Island, has resided in Brooklyn’s Park Slope and now in Gowanus, and attended New York University in Greenwich Village. In reflecting on her life and career, Ms. Kelly said that “New York City has been the one thread through everything.” Ms. Kelly has dedicated her career to improving the City one job at a time. Currently, Ms. Kelly serves as the Executive Director at New Yorkers for Parks, an independent advocacy organization championing quality parks and open spaces for all New Yorkers in all City neighborhoods.

Ms. Kelly traced the start of her long career to her sophomore year in high school. While attending Saint Joseph Hill Academy in Staten Island, she met Sister M. Raimonde Bartus. Sister Raimonde took Ms. Kelly under her wing and signed her up for the speech and debate team, which Sister Raimonde coached. Sister Raimonde encouraged Ms. Kelly to participate in extemporaneous speaking, a competition where competitors are given 30 minutes of preparation time, followed by a seven-minute speech on topics like international and domestic policy and social or scientific issues. Sister Raimonde’s guidance and coaching honed Kelly’s natural public speaking and advocacy skills. Ms. Kelly credits Sister Raimonde as influential in her development as a person and a professional by impacting how Ms. Kelly thinks, how she expresses herself through public speaking, and her ability to opine on policy issues. Sister Raimonde also had an influence in Ms. Kelly’s college major. Ms. Kelly developed an interest in how cities work, architecture, and the arts when she studied abroad for six months in Vienna, Austria during high school. She credits Sister Raimonde for encouraging her to be part of the study abroad program and ultimately leading her to study cities and metropolitan regions.

Ms. Kelly graduated from New York University with a degree in Metropolitan Studies. She says that attending New York University and staying in New York City was her first choice. She was attracted to NYU’s location in Greenwich Village and its cultural history and diversity.

Ms. Kelly’s passion for art, culture, and architecture caused her to choose to work at the Art Commission of the City of New York, the Coney Island Development Corporation, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and most recently as the CEO of Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. Ms. Kelly sees herself as an advocate for the City’s landscape, landmarks, and urban development. In her positions, Ms. Kelly has used her public speaking and advocacy skills to ensure the City maintains its history and culture and provide its citizens with the best from open spaces and landmarks like Coney Island’s boardwalk.

During her time as President of the Coney Island Development Corporation from 2007 to 2010 and at the New York Economic Development Corporation from 2001 to 2010, Ms. Kelly worked on projects that have helped to maintain the architectural history of Coney Island. Ms. Kelly said about the recent landmarking of the Coney Island boardwalk was justified because of the boardwalk’s important place in the history of New York City. Generations of New Yorkers have gathered at and enjoyed the boardwalk and open space on Coney Island. Ms. Kelly maintains close ties to Coney Island through her membership on the board of Coney Island USA, a not-for-profit arts organization that operates a multi-arts center in a landmark building on Surf Avenue in the heart of Coney Island. CityLand earlier interviewed Kelly in 2008 on the future of Coney Island. To read our previous coverage, click here.

Ms. Kelly now heads New Yorkers for Parks, a 100-year-old advocacy and research organization that advocates for quality open spaces in all New York City neighborhoods and creates tools that inform and empower New Yorkers to improve their parks and communities. In explaining the organization’s mission Kelly said: “As a tagline, we’ve always said ‘Great parks make a great city,’ but I’ve added to it that I think great people make great parks because fundamentally at our core [New Yorkers for Parks has] to be based on communities and people.” New Yorkers for Parks is now moving into a new phase of community engagement and ensuring that parks and open spaces will be considered critical infrastructure.

Ms. Kelly has led New Yorkers for Parks to undertake a new project called the Public Realm Bill of Rights for New York City. The project establishes five Articles, or rights, which Ms. Kelly describes to be the bedrock of what New Yorkers should be entitled with respects to parks and open spaces. The Articles provide rights for New Yorkers to live within minutes of a park, garden, or green space and have well-maintained and quality parks and open spaces through public funding that promote public health and ecological benefits for the city and its residents.

Ms. Kelly is spearheading several programs through the Open Space Dialogues series, funded by The Rockefeller Foundation. The Open Space Dialogues are a series of panel discussions featuring experts from various industries who discuss the value, development, design, and delivery of open space in the City. The goal of the Open Space Dialogues series is to create a new set of metrics for open spaces and build an audience to encourage action for the improvement of open spaces throughout the City.

Throughout her career, Ms. Kelly has worked to improve the quality of life and maintain the spirit, essence, and history of the City. She has taken the skills learned first as a young high school student to advocate for open spaces, landmarks, and the architectural landscape of the City.


By: Dorichel Rodriguez (Dorichel is the CityLaw Fellow and a graduate of New York Law School, class of 2017.)

New Yorkers for Parks will be holding an Open Space Dialogues session today at New York Law School starting at 6pm. To live stream, click here.

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