Building Healthy Communities

Grantee Name

Randall's Island Park Alliance

Funding Area

Building Healthy Communities

Publication Date

November 2019

Grant Amount


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. Although Randall’s Island, which is in close geographic proximity to both neighborhoods, offers sports fields, car-free paths for biking, walking, running, and visits to urban farms, 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, which initially saw some increases in park usage.

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%, slightly below its original goal of 50%. 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 100%: attendance grew to 11 participants per session and 385 total participants over 40 classes—an increase of more than 78% since 2016. In 2019, 47 sessions have been scheduled for the May–September season. Increased attendance has been achieved in large part as a result of a strong social media presence in the target neighborhoods by local instructors
  • Increased average daily weekend visitors to the Urban Farm Exploration Days by 20%, just below its original goal of 25%.
  • 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.

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.

Although it fell slightly short of its original goal to get more residents visiting the island on the weekends, RIPA learned that by shifting resources away from less well-attended programs and toward more popular ones, it was able to increase the overall number of visitors. Overall program participation across programming between 2016 and 2018 was up 76%. RIPA is optimistic that its final numbers for 2019 will in fact exceed its original grant goals.

Perceptions of safety issues, 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 data and use that to inform programs and outreach, including installing counters that measure pedestrian traffic at major entrances to the park. For example, during the summer of 2018, more than 3,000 people crossed into the park via the 103rd St 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: Over the course of this grant, RIPA secured $60,000 in additional funding to support its programming from the New York Community Trust.