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Checkin’ in with: North Brooklyn park czar Ed Janoff

Village Green Preservation Society: Ed Janoff got his open-space chops working at Bryant Park and heading the Department of Transportation’s pedestrian plaza program, and now he’s putting them to use as head of the Open Space Alliance.
Community Newspaper Group / Danielle Furfaro

Ed Janoff wants the people of Brooklyn to have a bed of grass to lay on. This spring, Janoff took over the Open Space Alliance, the leader of parks in North Brooklyn. The 34-year-old has a long history working on New York City’s greenspaces, first, as a manager at the Bryant Park Corporation, where he helped redesign one of the world’s most-beloved bathrooms. Then he headed up the city’s nascent public plaza program at the Department of Transportation. Now, the Brooklyn Heights native is planning to parlay his experience into creating more open space for the people of Williamsburg and Greeenpoint.

Danielle Furfaro: You started your career at Bryant Park. What are some of the skills you learned there?

Ed Janoff: I spent five years in charge of maintenance there. I was the head of a team of inspectors. We also did research and development. I’m really proud of the renovation of the bathroom. Bryant Park now has one of the best public restrooms in the world. We went around to all the nicest hotels, like the Regis, for inspiration and built something elegant. It’s got a full-time attendant. I also focused on computerized data. We made a database that showed exactly how many of the park lights were operational. Also, I was the only male ice skater there, so I did a lot of the quality assurance. I hope to bring some of that knowledge to the McCarren Park ice rink.

DF: How did you end up at the Department of Transportation?

EJ: I heard they had a plaza program and I wanted to be a part of it. Bryant Park is a laboratory for public space management and I wanted to bring that knowledge over to the city. A lot of the people I worked with worked under [urban space pioneer] Holly Whyte, so I come from that school of open space management. My role was to ensure that the plazas were well-managed and well-programmed. Because I come from Bryant Park, I knew how a non-profit would manage such a space. The local organizations needed to have opportunities to generate venue to maintain the plaza, things like kiosks, markets, public events, and sponsorships.

DF: What do you plan to do for North Brooklyn parks?

EJ: The basic idea of the Open Space Alliance is sort of a hybrid between the conservatory model and public-private. We’re trying to have a conservancy for an entire neighborhood. There’s 150,000 people here, which is like the size of Salt Lake City. We’ve got a portfolio of 100 park properties, 34 of which are significant parks and playgrounds. We’re forming partnerships with all these local groups to come up with programming. We’re not heavy-handed like the Central Park Conservancy. Right now, we’re working on a strategic plan — what resources are available, what can we do with those resources over next three, five, or 10 years. We’re going to gather in a whole bunch of ideas, crunch a bunch of numbers and spit out what we think we can accomplish.

DF: What’s up with the ice rink? It is really going to happen this year?

EJ: It’s kind of a big, risky venture for us. We don’t know if it will generate revenue for us. I’m not looking at it like a cash cow. I’ll be happy if we break even.

DF: Last question: why do you do this?

EJ: I really love being a parkie. Growing up in New York City and using all of the park facilities made me proud. The parks department has a proud tradition of providing beautiful public spaces for the densest city in America.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.

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