As our home and the formative focus of our grant making, New York City has been central to The J.M. Kaplan Fund since 1945. From breakthrough advocacy for the city’s homeless population to catalytic support for the High Line as a powerful public space, the Fund has championed causes and coalitions that have made New York one of the world’s most socially and environmentally innovative places.
In 2015, the Fund took a fresh look at its New York City giving in an effort we called The Gotham Project. We spoke with a diverse and extraordinary group of civic leaders, ecologists, philanthropists, planners, activists, and residents. We were profoundly inspired by their commitment to our neighbors most in need. After reflecting on what we learned, we identified two primary areas of focus: youth justice and urban open space. While we continue to explore additional program areas, these two will receive the majority of our New York City support in 2015 and 2016.
New York has become a test case for criminal justice reform, having drawn widespread attention for jailing teenage inmates on violence-plagued Rikers Island. We’ve set out to help dismantle this broken system and show that a new way of responding to crime is possible. Kaplan’s Youth Justice Program focuses grant-making on innovations targeted to divert, re-route, and support the success of youth and young adults. First, we harness local resources to divert youth from justice system contact, including support for community-driven efforts such as the Brownsville Community Justice Center in Brooklyn and Community Connections for Youth in the Bronx. Second, we seek to transform incarcerative environments to promote positive change, supporting projects such as the Horticultural Society of New York’s GreenHouse program on Rikers Island. Finally, we focus on creating meaningful pathways from prison to life at home through initiatives that help young people re-integrate with family, develop life skills, and succeed in school and employment.
Urban Open Space
Just as the Kaplan Fund was instrumental in creating partnerships to reclaim and restore New York’s parks in the 1980s, today we are eager to show public and private interests that urban open space—whether sidewalk tree pit, modest pocket park, or multipurpose greenway—is integral to New Yorkers’ health and well-being. The Fund’s Urban Open Space Program advances open space as a visible and valued community asset. We seek to identify these assets and set nature goals with partners including The Nature Conservancy, New Yorkers for Parks, The New York Restoration Project, and the Natural Areas Conservancy. We will also ensure that vital pieces of this open space network are provided with careful planning and access design—places such as North Brother Island, which affords its South Bronx neighbors an extraordinary wild place to explore and protect. By connecting citizens with these natural spaces at their doorstep, we can activate urban nature to achieve critical public health, climate-change resilience, and social equity goals.
Photographer Jillian Jorgensen, of AM New York, provides us with the rare opportunity to view North Brother Island up close.
The future of North Brother Island has been an increasingly popular point of discussion.