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When a group of New Yorkers founded the Central Park Conservancy (centralparknyc.org) in 1980, the 120-year-old green space was in rough shape. The Great Lawn and other fields were undermaintained and worn from overuse, many of the park’s statues and monuments were in disrepair, and its iconic fountains had dried up. But the Conservancy has restored much of Central Park’s glory and is now responsible for its day-to-day maintenance. Aesthetic improvements are just one aspect of the nonprofit’s work; less-visible projects, such as soil- and water-quality testing and installing new drainage and irrigation systems, are also a large part of its purview. To pay for the upkeep, the Conservancy, which employs 346 full-time and seasonal staffers, raises more than 85 percent of the park’s $42.4 million annual budget. The group is able to take a long-term approach to care and maintenance, says Stephen Wilkinson, one of 12 landscape architects charged with conceiving and implementing improvements. “We get to see exactly how our designs work. We have this weird living laboratory that most designers don’t have,” he says. “New Yorkers are vocal people and give feedback. The expectation is that we will provide them with something they are going to love, and I think we do.” We went behind the scenes—and into the field—to see how the organization maintains this beloved space.
Wanna work here?
The Central Park Conservancy is currently hiring several positions, including landscape architect, graphic-design manager, volunteer-program associate, development coordinator and gardener. Applicants should have an appreciation for the park and a desire to preserve it for future generations. The group also hires high-school students for 25 paid summer internship positions and welcomes volunteers on an as-needed basis. The park’s approximately 450 volunteers assist in jobs that include administrative tasks, gardening and leading guided tours. Open positions are listed on the Conservancy’s website.
Career advice from the Central Park Conservancy crew
“You have to be creative, because the solution to a challenge might not be the same thing twice. Every time we design something, it’s unique because the park, users, neighborhoods and materials change.”—Stephen Wilkinson, landscape architect
“[Development] is a great position for anyone who likes working with people. My day, every day, is talking with people. For anyone that has great communication skills, it’s a pretty transferable skill from job to job. Really it’s [about] being passionate about something and being able to share that with someone and convince them to get on board.”—Hannah Parker, associate director of community engagement
“The best advice I could give would be to think twice and make sure this is what you really want to do. There are still days where I’m actually afraid when I’m up there. It’s one of those things that if you don’t really like it, you can’t convince yourself you’re going to like it.”—Francisco Davila, arborist
“If someone really wants to get into [environmental work] in New York City, I would say volunteer, become an intern and really experience what’s out there. That’s the only way you’re going to learn what’s available to you and what the city has to offer as far as green space and nature.”—Tina Nelson, Soil, Water & Ecology Laboratory coordinator