Public Service Spotlight
Executive Director, New Yorkers for Parks
Christian DiPalermo is the Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P), New York's only city-wide independent advocacy organization for all parks across the five boroughs. He manages a full-time staff of ten - and several interns, who work to ensure the city takes good care of the 29,000 acres of parks, playgrounds and beaches that exist in New York. As Executive Director of the organization, DiPalermo oversees NY4P's research and government affairs departments as well as development and fundraising efforts. He leads the organization in partnering with many different coalitions across the city to promote and protect parks and to encourage a higher level of park service in every community.
DiPalermo has a rich background working in local, state and federal government, law and government affairs. He began his career as a legislative aid for a New York State Senator. He then attended Wagner, receiving his MPA in 1992, and later went on to law school. Afterwards he worked for Congresswoman Nita Lowey before becoming Director of Government Affairs for the YMCA of Greater New York. After a brief stint in the private sector, he served as Director of Operations for a city-wide campaign in New York called PARKS 2001. That job transitioned to Director of Advocacy at NY4P, a position that he held until becoming the organization's Executive Director.
DiPalermo enjoys leading NY4P, explaining that the job gives him a truly city-wide experience. "I get out to all five boroughs," he says, "and it's really a different world in each one." DiPalermo wears many hats as Executive Director and he notes that raising money is the biggest challenge, "especially now, when we're entering what is practically an economic depression," he says. "But it is also an exciting time for those interested in public policy," he goes on. "With a new administration coming into Washington, it's almost like wiping the slate clean for how government can affect local communities." DiPalermo is enthusiastic about the infrastructure stimulus plan that Obama is promoting and NY4P is making the case that funds for parks should be included in the package. DiPalermo explains that it could be much like the WPA during the New Deal, noting that "[New York State ‘Master Builder'] Robert Moses created 20,000 acres of parks" during that time. In New York City, "we're hoping to get funding to build waterfront parks and to rebuild neighborhood parks," he says. "We think of infrastructure as roads, bridges, and parks."
In addition to advocating for stimulus funding, DiPalermo has some big goals for NY4P. He hopes to eventually expand the organization's $1.5 million budget to $2 - $2.5 million dollars and add direct services to its research and advocacy efforts. To do so, DiPalermo will steer the organization in developing a strategic plan over the next six months, charting the course for steady growth over the next five years.
Professionally, DiPalermo hopes to continue to grow as well. "You keep looking for the challenges," he says, adding, "I also enjoy coming back to academic issues" - which may be why he continues to remain connected to Wagner. He worked with Professor Charles Brecher on a joint project last year between NY4P and the Citizens' Budget Commission, and two Wagner interns that he's hired are now full-time staff members at NY4P. "Wagner's connection to the city is one of its biggest strengths," he says. "You feel part of the city as a student [there] and you are exposed to all of the positive - and negative - aspects of city government." He notes that not only is it a great place to learn about New York City but also to make contacts in local government and the city at large. For DiPalermo, the network he started at Wagner has continued to grow more robust after graduating. "I can't go to an event outside my office without meeting another Wagner grad," he says. A strong network across the city is surely an asset to him as the leader of an advocacy organization that works to ensure greener, safer, and cleaner parks for all New Yorkers. And as he works to get parks on city, state, and federal lawmakers' agendas and galvanize local organizations around the effort, surely all New Yorkers benefit.