NYC Parks

How NYC parks emerged from their lawless days

May 4, 2012: 11:34 AM ET

NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe discusses how the city's 29,000 acres of parkland have changed over the years, right alongside New York itself.

Adrian Benepe

NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe

FORTUNE -- There's a countdown clock in the room next to Adrian Benepe's office, ticking off the days until the end of the Bloomberg Administration. When the clock hits zero, it will probably also mark the end of Benepe's run as commissioner of New York City's Department of Parks & Recreation, a position he calls the best job in New York.

Benepe is a rare species -- a New York-bred naturalist. He grew up in New York City parks, and then climbed the ladder at Parks & Recreation.

New York City's parks are in a league of their own, he says. For one, they're involved in massive public-private partnerships. The city's two flagship parks – Brooklyn's Prospect Park and Manhattan's Central Park -- are maintained by conservancies. Benepe has to manage those relationships along with everything else that goes on in the 29,000 acres of New York City parkland.

MORE: Stuck in middle management? Five ways out.

He recently spoke to Fortune about the emergence of New York City parks from the system's previously lawless days and how they led him to the Queen of England. An edited transcript is below.

Fortune: We have these beautiful parks now, but they weren't always this way, right?

Adrian Benepe: I grew up in the parks of New York City. As a teenager, I got a summer job at the Parks Department. For two weeks, I worked at a swimming pool on the Lower East Side between Avenues C and D on 10th Street. Then they moved me over to East River Park across the FDR Drive. More

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