New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has gone out of state in the appointment of his new parks commissioner, picking Raleigh, N.C. chief planning director Mitchell Silver. “No one is more qualified to usher in a new era of expanded access and sustainability than Mitchell Silver,” the mayor said in a Friday press release.
Silver, who made Next City’s 2012 Disruption Index for his decision to officially adopt rather than condemn a guerrilla wayfinding effort in Raleigh, is no stranger to New York. He went to high school in Brooklyn, received his master’s in urban planning from Hunter College, and worked in the planning department in the late 1980s. He also served as president of the American Planning Association from 2011 to 2013.
What can New Yorkers expect the planning director of a medium-sized, car-centric Southern city to do with 29,000 acres of parkland and 1,900 parks?
Silver’s first goal, which he addressed at Friday’s conference, falls in line with de Blasio’s “Tale of Two Cities” campaign platform: He wants to tackle inequality in city parks. “After meeting with the mayor, hearing his vision for New York and his desire to have a park system that was equitable, innovative, healthy and safe,” Silver said, “he had me at ‘hello.’”
But Silver is not just a Yes Man, and had espoused the necessity for equity in cities well before he showed up on de Blasio’s radar. At a centenary congress of the International Federation of Housing and Planning in London last year, Silver gave a speech focused on his planning pillars.
“I use the three E’s — the environment, economy and equity — and equity is the one that’s given lip service, marginalized,” he said. “It’s now being called the ‘quality of life.’ That’s not the same as equity.”
As The Guardian put it after Silver’s speech: “Planning, he insists, is about delivering equity for people in secure neighborhoods.”
As for his work in Raleigh? He’s largely credited with ushering in urbanism in a city with a long history of embracing the trappings of a suburban lifestyle. “I think his legacy will be felt for many, many years to come,” City Councilmember Bonner Gaylord told the Raleigh News & Observer. “Some of the changes that he navigated was a transition from a focus on primarily suburban development patterns to allowing more urban development. He certainly brought ideas gleaned from much larger cities.”
This is a big win for parks in the outer boroughs and shows that de Blasio’s push for equity, at least so far, doesn’t only amount to campaign promises. I, for one, hope Silver’s first order of business is to quit ticketing runners in city parks.
The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Deadspin, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among others.