Building Healthy Communities

Grantee Name

Randall's Island Park Alliance

Funding Area

Building Healthy Communities

Publication Date

November 2019

Grant Amount

$174,603

Grant Date:

April 2017 - March 2019

Randall’s Island lies directly between East Harlem and the South Bronx—two communities that have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and asthma than the rest of New York City.

Both communities also fall below the citywide mean for regular physical activity. Randall’s Island is in close geographic proximity to both neighborhoods, and offers sports fields, car-free paths for biking, walking, running, and visits to urban farms. Yet there had been minimal formal community programming to connect residents to these resources. In addition, there were perceived barriers that kept community members from accessing it, such as safety and not feeling like the island was for them. In response to community feedback, the Randall’s Island Park Alliance (RIPA) created its first public programs department.

Building on this momentum, NYSHealth awarded RIPA a grant in 2017 to increase East Harlem and South Bronx residents’ use of the park, with an emphasis on increasing physical activity and nutrition education opportunities.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

  • Expanded weekend programming on Randall’s Island by 40%. In 2016, there were 114 activities offered on the island; by the end of 2018, that number increased to 160. In 2019, more than 170 programmed events were scheduled.
  • Increased seasonal yoga and aerobics classes by 78%.
  • Increased average daily weekend visitors to the Urban Farm Exploration Days by 20%.
  • Raised local resident participation in free public programming by 36%. In 2016, RIPA served 2,220 students, 85% of whom came from schools in East Harlem and the South Bronx. The 2018 program season saw a 36% increase, serving more than 3,000 students, 94% of whom are from East Harlem and the South Bronx.
  • Expanded outreach to residents in East Harlem and the South Bronx; in 2018, RIPA held 33 outreach events and interacted with more than 3,800 people.

Overall program participation between 2016 and 2018 was up 76%. RIPA is optimistic that its final numbers will in fact exceed its original grant goals.

RIPA was successful in improving community engagement in the neighboring communities of East Harlem and the South Bronx. Outreach strategies included new signage to welcome local residents and more information tables at popular events. Year-end surveys to community partners provided useful feedback and informed changes to programming, including expanding popular weekend Urban Farm Exploration Days and movie nights and reducing low-attended Friday evening walking tours.

Some barriers remain. Perceptions of safety, for example, continue to be an issue that impedes East Harlem and South Bronx residents from visiting the island. For example, the entrance to the 103rd Street Footbridge is intimidating and isolated. Wayfinding signage has been installed, and in 2019 RIPA installed permanent signage at the 103rd Street Footbridge, Randall’s Island Connector, and at Icahn Stadium. This signage includes space for the most current park maps and displays of upcoming programs, which will help continue to grow the foot traffic from East Harlem onto the island.

RIPA also improved its ability to collect and use data to inform programs and outreach, including installing counters that measure pedestrian traffic at major entrances to the park. For example, during summer 2018, more than 3,000 people crossed into the park via the 103rd Street Footbridge per day, compared with 700 via the Randall’s Island Connector. This information and other data will inform scheduling and location of popular programs going forward.

Co-Funding and Additional Funds Leveraged: RIPA secured $60,000 in additional programming support from the New York Community Trust.