An important component of being an environmentalist is helping people connect with nature who are otherwise not keen about the ecological beauty in and near their surroundings. Particularly in urban settings, residents can easily fall out of touch with the natural environment that is often sparsely preserved in densely populated regions. In most urban areas, parks or waterfronts account for a large portion of outdoor interaction for many city dwellers.
An effective environmental leader can help encourage appreciation for and help to connect these people to park areas and and waterfronts. For decades, environmentalist Tom Fox has strongly affected the transformation of New York City’s coastal and open space areas through leadership in project development and through supporting both private and public sector coordination.
In 1981, Tom was the first executive director of the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition (NOSC), a Manhattan-based advocacy organization created to expand and enhance open spaces in NYC through research, planning and advocacy. The NOSC played an integral role in the development of both the Hudson River and Brooklyn Bridge Parks, accounting for over 630 acres and 6 continuous miles of bike paths and walkways near the river.
In addition, the Coalition was prominent in the design and planning phases of the Brooklyn/Queens Greenway, a 40-mile long pedestrian and cycling route that connects parks between Brooklyn and Queens, NY.
Later in 1990, as the founding President of the Hudson River Park Conservancy, Tom was directly involved in the early planning stages of Manhattan’s, at the time, decrepit west side waterfront. The project transformed the City’s waterfront, making it safer, more scenic, and more valuable.
In 2001, to connect travellers with access to different parts of the newly constructed waterfront, Tom cofounded the New York City Water Taxi. The ferry style transportation service connects riders to 15 different waterfront locations and transports over 4,100 riders daily. The service also provides tours of the NYC waterfront and Manhattan’s landmarks.
Through his many achievements, Tom has proven his environmentally based leadership by supporting, guiding, and heading major projects to improve open spaces and waterfront accessibility for all New Yorkers. To learn more about raising environmental interest and access, I spoke with Mr. Fox about what it takes to be an effective leader and innovator.
Own your Opinion
An important aspect of leadership that has been vital to him in his career is his genuine belief that his individual opinion is important to the other parties involved in the planning process. I think this is something many young professionals often forget and which unfortunately can infringe on the overall potential of a project where insight from all points of view is useful. Additionally, Tom indicated that the company of like-minded people is important to the effectiveness of any leader. A leader cannot lead if there is no one who agrees with him/her and is willing act in a unified manner. It is easy to be a tip of a spear, but only if there is a spear.
Collect Support through Communication
Mr. Fox also discussed his ability to communicate specifics of project plans and benefits to entities with different interests. He stated:
“Public participation is difficult. Though there are many tools available to organize, it is important to Speak in their language. Show them the value of what you are trying to execute in their frame of reference. In other words, make it a win for the other guy.”
Tips for Personal Growth & Career Development
As a graduate student entering the workforce I asked Mr. Fox about ways I can grow both professionally and personally. He provided three tips that I think are broadly applicable:
- “Don’t be afraid to lose, learn and move along”
- “Don’t take things too seriously”
- “Do what makes you happy–it is what you’ll do best”
Mr. Fox then added, “Life should not be a journey to the grave in a nice body. Do it bold and take risks.”
Finally, when I asked if Mr. Fox viewed himself as a leader, he modestly declined and indicated that in doing what you prefer to do, and doing it well, you will be able to lead those around in an effective and necessary way.
Speaking with Tom Fox was because it allowed me to better understand what leadership is. It became clear that a leader need not actively view herself as a leader or have followers to be effective. Instead a leader is someone who is merely doing what they are most interested in in support of a goal or vision that is shared by many.