"I want to talk about the idea of parks and open spaces. Those two words are often thought of as being separate, but in my world ... are very interchangeable. As the dean [of the College of Arts and Architecture, Barbara Korner,] said, our public open spaces where we congregate, where we gather today and every day, are one of the few democratic spaces left in our society — "democratic" with a small "d" — meaning that anybody can meet there at any time, from any socio-economic class, any place wherever they find themselves in life's journey. It's the communal space, it's largely often the free space. So as a parks and recreation professional, I take it as a huge honor, but also a huge responsibility, to make sure those places are well maintained, sustainable and safe."
— Mark Focht, deputy commissioner and chief operating officer of New York City Parks and Recreation.
Focht, a 1983 Penn State landscape architecture alumnus, presented "Landscape Architecture and the Public Realm" at the Penn State Forum on Feb. 8 at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center.
Under New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city is in the midst of transforming its parks into spaces that are friendlier, more communal and sustainable.
Focht discussed the concept of equity as it applies to his office's approach to stewarding New York's park system: "My definition of equity as it relates to public spaces: all people, regardless of their place in society, have a right to safe and easy access to high quality, attractive, safe, clean, sustainable and resilient public spaces, which reflect their communities, values and needs. ... This to me is equity and public space. This is how we need to look at public space and understand those communal spaces we all gather in. "
He continued, "The reason why we're doing this is to create a more equitable and inclusive park system with a seamless public realm. That's everything we're doing every day."