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YP Spotlights of the Month

October: Research

We are honoring ABNY YPs contributing to research that helps inform public policy in New York.
Congratulations to our October Spotlights of the Month, Lucy Robson and Nick E. Smith!

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Lucy Robson

Director of Research & Policy, New Yorkers for Parks
How did you get to where you are today?

I have been drawn to open spaces and narratives since childhood, when my happiest hours were spent in a hammock reading library books with dripping, sticky ice pops. My work today melds data with advocacy for parks and open spaces, trying to answer the question, “What information and tools do New Yorkers need to tell stories that create change for their open spaces and their neighborhoods?” Choosing a graduate education in Urban Planning here in New York City was the biggest single decision I made that led me to my current work. It opened my eyes to the structural forces at play that create the inequitable realities many New Yorkers experience. It provided me with the opportunity to take on internships with public and private organizations working on innovative urban proposals. And it gave me the knowledge and vocabulary of public policy, and the social, economic, and cultural contextual grounding to do public outreach with New Yorkers. I believe that quantitative data is not sufficient for decision-making in New York, and for that reason my work is largely focused on the trust-based community outreach that gives my team the qualitative information about parks, open spaces, and neighborhoods which is critical for understanding and progress.

What are you most proud of?

The small team at New Yorkers for Parks created and rallied the Play Fair Coalition this past spring, and the Mayor and City Council added $43M to the NYC Parks budget for maintenance and operations. We put data about 30-plus years of City spending on park maintenance into conversation with a citywide network of park advocates. The funding ensures that all City parks, and all New Yorkers, feel the impact of an increased level of investment in the day-to-day, vital, maintenance of parks and open spaces. We did this work alongside our co-founding partners, the New York League of Conservation Voters and DC37, the Parks workers’ union. However, unlike other major citywide budget and policy campaigns, we did not have communications or PR consultants. We had spent years building trust with advocates by providing reliable data-driven reports, tools for advocacy, and a channel for their priorities and concerns. It was incredibly rewarding to see that our years of careful and dedicated work had paid off for New Yorkers across the city.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?

Firstly, any work experience is good work experience for a small nonprofit, in my opinion. For example, a retail job gives you the building blocks to speak with constituents, representing your organization. Childcare positions are incubators for problem-solving and adaptability skills. Our team of 10 has a record of success because we are flexible and communicative. Second, I pass on the best piece of advice I received from a mentor: bring concrete solutions to the table. When you identify a problem, also identify two options for your next step. Third, there is no substitute for a site visit. When the burning questions of your work are grounded in a specific neighborhood or place, get some boots-on-the-ground knowledge of that place: it will make you look at your data and your options differently.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I’ve lived here for 8 years. Was it when I realized I had 7 MetroCards in my wallet? When I grew tomatoes on a window ledge? When I first rode my bicycle to work? No, it was when I knew to avoid the empty subway cars.

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Nick E. Smith

First Deputy Public Advocate for Policy, Office of the New York City Public Advocate
How did you get to where you are today?

I was fortunate. I knew that I wanted to be a policy maker at 15 years old. My political awareness started in 2000, when I saw Florida government officials systematically disenfranchised thousands of mostly black and brown voters in an attempt to prevent them from voting for their choice of Presidential candidate. Since then, I’ve aligned myself with individuals and organizations that were aligned with my progressive philosophy. One never knows where opportunity presents itself, so a few skills I’ve used to get here is to simply be open to what the universe brings one’s way, remain determined, and don’t take “no” for an answer.

What are you most proud of?

Professionally, I am most proud that I’ve helped move the needle on policy at state and local levels. I was co-author of several state laws and more than 40 city laws (including a state law banning the marketing/sale of e-cigarettes to minors and city laws ending discrimination against those with criminal records, victims of domestic violence, tenants, veterans and small business owners).

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?

The unwritten rule of politics is that young people must “wait their turn.” You don’t. It is your turn. Young people have been behind some of the most significant social movements in our country. Follow your passion and never let anytime stop you from fulfilling them. Yes, that is cliché, but it’s also reality.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I realized I was a New Yorker two days into my first trip out of the city many years ago. I got bored within three days and kept checking my return flight. I couldn’t wait to get back. This place, even with its many challenges, has an energy that is unmatched.

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