Lessons Learned from NYC Parks & Recreation

Diana (left) and colleagues with new Recycling bins in Anne Loftus Playground

Interning at the NYC Parks Department left me with three take-home gifts: new connections, perspective, and an eco-friendly bag made of recyclable materials. To sum up what I learned from my five month internship would take me a while, but I’ll highlight what I found to be most important.

Sharing goals with colleagues is a recipe for success. Before I started at BCEP, I was one of the few employees of a boutique hotel who cared about “going green.” Aside from encouraging office-wide recycling, I fought hard to convince the Human Resources Dep’t to implement simple policies that would make everyday actions more sustainable. While an enjoyable experience, everyday felt like a challenge since I was trying to convince people to see what I saw. At Parks, I was lucky enough to work on a team of like-minded individuals full of knowledge who shared my passion and positive energy.

Persistence is the key to productivity. Working for the city government requires speaking to several people before any final decisions can be made, no matter how small. This can get frustrating rather quickly, but staying patient and persistent tells people how serious you are about whatever task is at hand, and that you will remain involved no matter how long it may take.

Accept every invite you receive and attend every optional event there is. As an intern, I wanted to prove my purpose and the more I networked with others and asked questions about projects they were involved in, the more respect I gained. Often my calendar reflected several overlapping events, but I always committed to a different type of event in order to gain as much experience as I could. The events I attended ranged from public workshops to private inter-borough meetings, press events, and public forums.

Teaching how to cultivate the soil at a MillionTreesNYC workshop in Queens, NY

Framing and reframing the same issue to target a particular audience worked wonders. We learned about it in Monique’s policy classes, and while she stressed it over and over to us, I didn’t realize how effective this piece of advice would be to me. I was a part of several projects that involved convincing corporate businessmen to adopt (commit to taking care of) street trees outside their offices or motivating inner city teenagers and freshmen at NYU to step up and become stewards of their neighborhoods, and promoting the expansion of public space recycling in other agencies and parks city-wide. The bottom line included the same environmental policy, but individuals responded differently if they knew it would bring in more business, provide career opportunities, or save money on garbage bags.

All in all, my experience with Parks was a rewarding one. The staff surprised me with a “Goodbye party” complete with thank you cards, eco-friendly clothing/bags, and red velvet cupcakes from Crumbs…mmm. I am still in touch with my previous employers, and my supervisor recently informed me that we had our Northern Manhattan Recycling Report published on the NYCDPR’s website and presented at several meetings.

About Diana Benlevy