Nick Molinari

- 2005

Chief of Planning and Parklands
NYC Parks Department's Planning Division
Nick Molinari

Tell us about your current public service work. Can you briefly describe your employment organization and position responsibilities, as well as any relevant volunteer or entrepreneurial activities?

The NYC Parks Department's Planning Division coordinates land use policy, new park development initiatives and environmental assessment/impact reviews for the Parks Department. It also files grant applications for funding to support Agency priorities. Among these are open space acquisitions, increased recreation amenities, improved waterfront access, an expanded citywide greenway network and enhanced stewardship of natural resources. As Director of Planning, I report directly to the Assistant Commissioner of Planning & Parklands and supervise, train, and evaluate a team of full time staff, seasonal staff and interns. On a daily basis, I work closely with and report back to high level City administration and elected officials on the progress of various open space initiatives. Together with my staff, we manage and track a large portfolio of park planning projects and coordinate land use policy, new park development initiatives, grant funding opportunities, and environmental reviews for the Agency.

Please summarize your professional and academic background. What has been a highlight?

I have an undergraduate degree in Natural Resource Management from Cornell University and a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning from NYU Wagner. In addition to having worked in local government, I have also worked in the not-for-profit sector with the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, Partnership for Parks, Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment, New Yorkers for Parks, and the Center for Architecture.

What led you to pursue a master’s degree in Urban Planning? Why did you decide to study at Wagner?

In June 2002, I attended a symposium at the NYU Law School celebrating the life and accomplishments of William Whyte. It was this symposium where I first learned about NYU Wagner's Urban Planning Program. It was this symposium which inspired me to pursue my master's degree in Urban Planning from NYU Wagner. Mr. Whyte was an urban planner who worked the New York City Planning Commission and wrote numerous books. He is well known for recording and documenting observations about how people on the street interact with each other and within public spaces. His observations have helped shape open space design since the 1960’s and he helped revitalize many of our City’s great urban spaces such as Bryant Park in Manhattan. Learning more about him at this symposium inspired me to pursue my master's degree in Urban Planning from NYU Wagner and work on improving the City's public spaces.

In your current position, how do you use the knowledge and skills that you gained at Wagner? Which skills do you use most frequently?

On a day to day basis, I conduct public outreach and represent the Agency at project meetings, determining courses of action to resolve community problems and needs, and propose alternative solutions to Agency management, City Hall and the community. All of the courses I took at NYU have proven to be very helpful in my day-to-day work. I use the management skills I gained at NYU Wagner on a daily basis and also rely heavily on the information I learned in Land Use Law and GIS regularly.

Reflecting on your academic experience, what Wagner courses, professors, and/or projects had the greatest influence on your professional development? How?

In addition to my coursework, I found NYU Wagner's unique mix of full-time and adjunct faculty to be very beneficial. On a daily basis NYU Wagner students have the opportunity to interact with leaders in City government and adjunct faculty the public and private sector. I greatly enjoyed my Capstone experience working with professors Mitchell Moss and Carter Craft on waterfront development. In addition, I also found Professor Sarah Ludwig's Community Wealth course to be one of the most eye-opening (and most difficult) courses at Wagner. These courses required critical thinking and independent research which is quite similar to the work that I now do on a daily basis.

Reflecting on your time outside of the classroom (social events, orientations, trainings, etc.), can you describe one or two key moments at Wagner that impacted your passion for public service?

While at NYU Wagner, I was very involved with both UPSA (Urban Planning Student Association) and WEPA (Wagner Environmental Policy & Action). These extracurricular groups provided me with a great deal of experience organizing events and socializing and interacting with other planning students and professionals. I also was heavily involved as a student member of the American Planning Association, volunteering for some of the APA committees, conferences and events.

Are there any programs, opportunities or other aspects of the Wagner experience that you wish you had leveraged during your time as a student?

I was able to adequately leverage my opportunities at NYU Wagner. To make the most of their experience while at Wagner, students should get to know their professors and adjunct faculty. Students should also really make an effort to get to know the NYU Wagner staff at the Puck Building, particularly the staff of Career Services who are very willing and able to assist students on their career paths.

How are you involved with the Wagner community as an alumnus (i.e. attending events, mentoring students, maintaining connections with other alumni, recruiting at Wagner, etc.)?

Following graduation, I was actively involved with the Wagner Alumni Association (WAA) serving on the Board of Directors from 2005-2009. Recently, my job takes up a lot of my time, but I still try and remain active in the NYU Wagner community. I see and speak with my fellow Wagner alumni regularly. Practically every meeting I attend has one or two of my former NYU Wagner classmates in attendance.

Prospective students have expressed interest in learning how alumni funded their living expenses and education during their time as a Wagner student. If you feel comfortable, can you please tell us how you made it work?

Throughout my time at NYU Wagner I had a 'survival job.' I worked part-time in a medical library. Although this line of work was not really planning related, it paid pretty well and allowed me to take on other more challenging planning related internships, many of which were very rewarding (but not so well paying). I also received scholarship funding and financial assistance from NYU Wagner and applied for and received a number of outside scholarships which all helped fund my living expenses and education.