Investing in Park Infrastructure

Co-Hosted by AECOM, New York Building Congress, New Yorkers for Parks and The Trust for Public Land

9:00am - 10:30am EST
January 27, 2021
9:00am - 10:30am

Infrastructure is a priority for New York State and the federal government. Proposed federal policies will emphasize shovel-ready projects. Parks are increasingly recognized as critical infrastructure for public health, resilience, and community revitalization. Investment in park infrastructure generates jobs as well as environmental benefits. Our first panel will identify public policies that foster economic development. The second panel will focus on large-scale capital projects that emphasize parks and open space.



Mitchell L. Moss, Director, NYU Rudin Center for Transportation


Panel One: The Economic Impact of Park Infrastructure

Melissa Abramson, Senior Manager of Local Brand Engagement and Impact, REI

Vincent Albanese, Director of Policy & Public Affairs, NYS Laborers’ Organizing Fund & PAC 

Adam Ganser, Executive Director, New Yorkers for Parks

Carter Strickland, New York State Director, The Trust for Public Land

Moderator: Carlo Scissura, President & CEO, New York Building Congress


Panel Two: Parks and Big Capital Project Initiatives

Amy L. Freitag, Executive Director, J.M. Kaplan Fund, and former Deputy Commissioner for Capital Projects, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation

Mauricio Garcia, Chief Program & Engagement Officer, Friends of the High Line 

Heather M. Morgan, RLA, Sustainability & Risk Management Lead for Metro New York, AECOM, and former National Sustainability Lead, US Army Corps of Engineers

Moderator: Mitchell L. Moss


Meet Our Panelists:

Melissa Abramson, Senior Manager of Local Brand Engagement and Impact, REI

Melissa Abramson is the Senior Manager of Local Brand Engagement and Impact for REI, the country’s largest consumer cooperative.  Forming strong partnerships with local non-profits, government, and land agencies has been the cornerstone of her work, in an effort to promote conservation and equitable access to nature for all, both in the greater New York area along with the nation.

As an avid outdoor enthusiast, she has dedicated her life, both personal and professional to adventure, exploration, education and stewardship.  She has worked in Brazil, Costa Rica and the Pacific Northwest, designing adventure-based Leadership Education programs for both youth and adults. After receiving her Master Degree in Economics and Social Policy and Planning from the London School of Economics, she planted roots in New York City to create a direct pathway for urban dwellers to access nature and ultimately taking a vested interest in protecting and preserving public green spaces. 

Most recently, she has founded the New York Outdoor Recreation Coalition, providing a unified voice of outdoor enthusiasts for New York’s diverse user groups across the industry.

Vincent Albanese , Director of Policy & Public Affairs, NYS Laborers’ Organizing Fund & PAC 

Vincent Albanese worked as a Laborer for ten years before transitioning into Policy and Public Affairs with the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA). In 2000, Mr. Albanese proudly received his union book and worked on various projects in the New York City area. In 2011, he joined the New York State Laborers’ as a field coordinator and then as a lobbyist in 2014, helping to advance critical legislation that advocate for safe, middle-class careers for construction workers in NYS. 

In 2017, Mr. Albanese began working for the New York State Laborers’ PAC and became the Director of Public Policy and Public Affairs for the New York State Laborers’ Organizing Fund. In this role, Mr. Albanese engages in lobbying, public relations, and strategic campaigns for the Laborers’. Most recently Vincent has been focused on a variety of energy advocacy issues from reforming the NYS Article 10 process for wind and solar to pushing for an expansion of port infrastructure to support offshore wind development. He is also a board member of the Just Transition Working Group as enacted with the passing of the CLCPA. Mr. Albanese has a 2 year-old son named Rocco and a 1 year-old son named Sebastian. He is also a graduate of the University of Scranton, class of 2005. 

Amy Freitag, Executive Director, J.M. Kaplan Fund

Amy Freitag is Executive Director of The J.M. Kaplan Fund and has led the Fund’s grantmaking since 2014. Her tenure has included three rounds of The J.M.K. Innovation Prize (which she conceived in 2014), grants in criminal justice reform, climate, democracy, and conservation of some of the world’s most important places including Civil Rights era sites in Alabama’s Blackbelt.

Previously, Amy served as the Executive Director of the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) where she led the private effort to plant one million new trees (MillionTreesNYC). Prior to her work at NYRP, Amy served as the U.S. Program Director for World Monuments Fund and as Deputy Commissioner for Capital Projects in the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Amy served on the NYC Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers, and currently sits on the boards of Philanthropy New York, the New York Preservation Archive Project, and the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation.

Amy hails from Akron, Ohio and now lives with her family in Montclair, New Jersey. She holds an A.B. from Smith College and master’s degrees in Landscape Architecture and Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania.

Adam Ganser, Executive Director, New Yorkers for Parks

Adam Ganser is the executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, a century old not for profit focusing on parks and open space research, advocacy, development and engagement. 

Prior to NY4P, Adam was vice president of planning and design for the High Line where he oversaw the preservation, design, and development of the third section of the High Line and led the High Line’s partnership with two mayoral administrations. Adam was also instrumental in creating and developing the High Line Network, a national consortium of infrastructure reuse public space projects. 

Adam received a Master of Science in Real Estate Development from Columbia University, a Master of Architecture from Yale University, and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. 

Maurico Garcia, Chief Program & Engagement Officer, Friends of the High Line 

Mauricio Garcia is the Chief Program and Engagement Officer at Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit organization and a public park on the West Side of Manhattan devoted to reimagining public spaces to create connected, healthy neighborhoods and cities. Mauricio leads the High Line’s programming and community engagement efforts that position the High Line as an active and responsive civic connector. 

Prior to the High Line, Mauricio Garcia served as the Deputy Director of Cities of Service, a nonprofit organization that helps mayors and other city leaders build stronger cities by engaging their best resource, their citizens. He was responsible for leading Cities of Service’s support to its network of over 280 cities, including strategy and design, training, and technical assistance.  

Mauricio also served as Director of New York Programs at Seedco, where he oversaw a suite of programs that helped individuals develop skills, gain employment, advance in their careers, and access benefits and services. Mauricio's other professional experiences include leading financial empowerment services at The Financial Clinic, overseeing a national network of AmeriCorps members at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and delivering business services to aspiring entrepreneurs at the Business Outreach Center Network. 

Mauricio is an advisor with The GovLab’s City Challenges project and Interise’s Acceleate Latinx business accelerator. Locally, he sits on the board of directors of Teens for Food Justice. 

Mauricio received a master’s degree in public administration from the City University of New York’s Baruch College and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Oakland University. He is also a graduate of the Coro Leadership New York program. 

Heather Morgan, RLA, Sustainability & Risk Management Lead for Metro New York, AECOM 

Heather oversees Sustainability and Risk Management in the Water and Marine groups at AECOM. She brings nearly 20 years of experience in flood risk management, infrastructure planning, landscape architecture, and landscape archaeology for projects focused on sustainability through adaptation. Heather previously worked at the US Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters as the Civil Works Sustainability Lead and National Sustainability Program Manager. She assessed existing and proposed water resource projects across all missions to create a national sustainability strategy that addressed urgent, short-, and long-term risks. Heather currently serves as the lead for the Battery Park City Authority’s (BPCA) South Battery Park City Resiliency Project, overseeing integrated flood risk and public space design, stakeholder/community engagement, and FEMA certification/accreditation for the western edge of Lower Manhattan. She also serves as the Flood Advisor for the BPCA’s North Battery Park City Resiliency Project. Previously, Heather was the Design and Community Engagement Lead for the Rebuild By Design -- Hudson River project. 

Carlo A. Scissura, Esq., President & CEO, New York Building Congress

Carlo Scissura is the President & CEO of the New York Building Congress, a position he has held since January 2017. 

The New York Building Congress is a broad-based membership association committed to promoting the growth and success of the construction industry in New York City and its environs. The organization – which includes members from across the building community – provides a unique forum to advance an industry-wide agenda focusing on economic and infrastructure investment, job creation, and professional exchange. 

Carlo and his team have spurred tremendous growth at the Building Congress.  With record membership, increased visibility across the five boroughs and the entire region, and a focus on securing infrastructure investment from the city, state and federal levels of government, the Building Congress is stronger and more influential than ever. 

Prior to joining the Building Congress, Carlo was President & CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. Under Carlo’s leadership, the Chamber became one of New York’s largest business advocacy and economic development organizations, and its membership grew by more than 200 percent to over 2,200 members. During this historic period of growth, the Chamber’s efforts were widely recognized as creating national models for business development, outreach and technical assistance, and regional branding. 

Carlo served both as Chief of Staff and General Counsel to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz for nearly five years before leading the Brooklyn Chamber. During his tenure, he restructured operations at Borough Hall and served as senior advisor to the Borough President. He focused on driving the borough’s economic development agenda, working closely with the Mayor’s Office, City Council, and Economic Development Corporation (EDC), and served on the Boards of EDC, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation and Brooklyn Public Library. 

A graduate of both Pace University and Pace Law School, Carlo owned a thriving solo practice law firm in Dyker Heights prior to joining the Borough President’s Office. He previously served on the staffs of State Senator Vincent Gentile and Assemblyman Peter Abbate. 

Carlo is the President of the Federation of Italian-American Organizations, where he has spearheaded the building of the new Italian Cultural and Community Center in Brooklyn.  He is a member of the Boards of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp., The New York City Regional Economic Development Council, ACE Mentorship, Salvadori Center and the Friends of the BQX. Carlo is a former member of Community Board 11 in Brooklyn and the District 20 School Board and Community Education Council. Carlo was the Chair of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway redevelopment panel, tasked with evaluating options for the replacement of the aging highway from the Atlantic Avenue interchange to Sands Street in Brooklyn. Carlo has also received numerous honors and awards for his work. 

Born and raised in Bensonhurst, Carlo is a lifelong Brooklyn resident. He currently lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with his daughter, Teresa Rose. 

Carter Strickland, New York State Director, The Trust for Public Land

Serving as New York State Director for The Trust for Public Land (TPL) since 2017, Carter Strickland leads a team that protects open space and builds parks and playgrounds around New York. Under his leadership, The Trust for Public Land has tripled its development of parks within New York City; diversified its public funding sources; recruited board members and increased board engagement and philanthropy; and developed a programmatic, five-year strategic plan; launched a 175-mile trail across Long Island; and protected key landscapes around the Appalachian Trail and Long Path, a 357-mile New Jersey-New York long-distance hiking trail. 

Over a 25-year environmental career, Carter Strickland has protected the environment in the public, private and non-profit sectors. As an attorney he prosecuted polluters and defended environmental laws at the New York Attorney General’s office and represented environmental groups at the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic in New Jersey, where his cases included victories at the New Jersey Supreme Court for citizens’ rights to have access to beaches and public trust lands and for landowners to protect wetlands against condemnation under eminent domain.  

As part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sustainability team, and later as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the largest municipally-owned water agency in the country, Mr. Strickland created campaigns with multiple stakeholders that resulted in the $2.4 billion NYC Green Infrastructure program, the NYC Clean Heat initiative, and the NYC Wastewater Resiliency Plan. He developed and implemented strategic planning, structural and cost-savings reforms at the 5,700-person DEP, led the agency’s response to Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, and oversaw programs related to infrastructure planning and construction, water quality, air quality, climate change, land use, ecological restoration, and energy.  

Later at HDR, a top 10 national architecture and environmental engineering firm, Carter developed the sustainability and water practice, where his projects included a resilient energy program for key sectors in the Hunts Points neighborhood of the Bronx; a study to reduce greenhouse gases from the NYC building sector; and senior advice and counsel for cities, water and wastewater utilities, and clients concerned about sustainability.  

Mr. Strickland taught environmental and law use law at Fordham and Rutgers Law Schools and he currently teaches graduate courses on sustainability management and infrastructure development at Columbia University and New York University. Born and raised in Central New York and in the 1000 Islands region of the St. Lawrence River, Carter Strickland has lived in Brooklyn for the past 20 years where he, his wife, and two children spend as much time as they can hiking, skiing, fishing, and hunting in the Adirondacks, Catskills, and Hudson and Delaware River regions. 


AECOM & Rebuild By Design: Economic Impacts of the Environmental Bond Act

NYBC & NY4P: Building the Future of New York - Parks and Open Space

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