The essential role of city parks has come into sharper focus during the pandemic, especially for public health and well-being. The need to have a place for socially distanced exercise, fresh air, and solace is more important than ever. Today the Central Park Conservancy’s Institute for Urban Parks announces a call for applications to help parks in New York City and around the country better serve their communities through its Partnerships Lab. Through this program, the Institute works with a cohort of park organizations, agencies, and professionals to collectively tackle issues facing public greenspaces.

“The first year of the Partnerships Lab has been a terrific success. The Institute for Urban Parks has had the honor of working with park partnerships around New York City and across the country,” says Maura Lout, executive director for the Institute for Urban Parks. “Watching these groups grow and accomplish their strategic goals has been both instructive and inspiring. We look forward to seeing which organizations will join the 2021 cohort.”

The Partnerships Lab was developed to help other urban park nonprofits and agencies build capacity to plan, develop, and maintain great public spaces through leveraging the resources and expertise of the Conservancy.

Last year, the Partnerships Lab distributed $150,000 in grant funding and collaborated with 125 urban park professionals representing eight urban park organizations, three located in New York City and five across the United states:

2019–2020 New York City Partnerships Lab Partners:

  • Alliance for Flushing Meadows Corona Park
  • Gowanus Canal Conservancy
  • Van Cortlandt Park Alliance

2019–2020 National Partnerships Lab Partners:

  • Parks & People Foundation (Baltimore, Md.)
  • Forest Park Conservancy (Portland, Ore.)
  • Public Space Planning Unit (Detroit, Mich.)
  • Balboa Park Conservancy (San Diego, Calif.)
  • Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation (Austin, Tex.)

Selected Partnerships Lab participants will receive:

  • One-on-one time with an Institute director
  • A customized, multi-day urban park cohort retreat
  • Resources including advising, technical expertise, virtual group learning, and individual coaching sessions
  • Capacity-building grant funding
  • Access to a broad network of urban park peers

Collaboration is foundational to success

Demonstrating the power of the work, the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance (VCPA), a public-private partnership formed in 2019 through the merger of two long-standing community organizations, needed to establish predictable and stable income. Their application focused on developing a strategic and engaged board of directors that could support the organization’s growth and fundraising efforts. Working with VCPA, the Institute created a board development plan and established a roadmap to move the plan forward.

“The Institute team provided invaluable guidance on present-day challenges and worked with us to develop and implement a roadmap for the future. I am ever grateful,” said Stephanie Ehrlich, executive director, VCPA, NYC Parks.

Through the Partnerships Lab experience, VCPA and the Institute worked hand-in-hand to clarify obstacles, articulate goals, and develop strategies for implementation.

“Applying for the Partnerships Lab was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.”

The impact of the program is felt beyond New York. For San Diego’s Balboa Park Conservancy, the Partnerships Lab was transformational. “By combining exceptional content and facilitation with peer engagement, the Lab helped us become more effective and connected urban park leaders,” said Sarah Beckman, director of external relations at the Balboa Park Conservancy. “Our project was given the expertise and depth it required, by a team that was clearly invested in a shared vision of success. We continue to leverage our partnership with the Central Park Conservancy to build organizational excellence and for the greater good of Balboa Park.”

The program’s collaborative nine-month process allows each selected partner the opportunity to work closely with the Institute to reflect on current challenges and future visions, evaluate long-term organizational goals, and develop strategies to innovate or strengthen their abilities to support parks and public spaces.

Organizations interested in learning more about the Partnerships Lab and the application process are invited to join our upcoming information session on Wednesday, December 2, 2:00–2:45 pm ET. Read about last year’s partner organizations. For those unable to attend the information session, please send questions to either Sarah Tracy, Director of National Programs or Grey Elam Director of New York City Programs.

The application period ends on January 15, 2021. Selections will be announced in the spring.

Apply today at

Support for the Partnerships Lab at the national level is provided by The JPB Foundation. Support for the Partnerships Lab at the New York City level is provided by The Prospect Hill Foundation, Inc. Support for the Institute for Urban Parks is provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies, Mr. & Mrs. Russell L. Carson, Charina Endowment Fund, The Jerome L. Greene Foundation, Nadine & Michael Grobstein, The JPB Foundation, Ralph & Ricky Lauren, Ira & Susan Millstein, Donald A. Pels Charitable Trust, Sarah Peter, and The Prospect Hill Foundation, Inc.

About the Central Park Conservancy

The Central Park Conservancy is a private, not-for-profit organization that manages Central Park and is responsible for raising the Park’s annual operating budget. The Conservancy’s staff of more than 300 is responsible for all aspects of the Park’s stewardship, from day-to-day maintenance and operations to continued restoration and rebuilding projects. Additionally, the Conservancy operates the Park’s visitor centers, provides public programs, and serves as a resource for other NYC parks and for public-private partnerships around the world. For more information, please visit

About the Institute for Urban Parks

The Central Park Conservancy Institute for Urban Parks, founded in 2013, draws on the Conservancy’s history and expertise as a leader in the field of urban park management and public-private park partnerships to empower, inform, connect, and celebrate the individuals and organizations that care for urban parks so that all urban park organizations have the knowledge, leadership, connections, and capacity to create, maintain, and support great public spaces.

Central Park, New York