Get to Know Morgan Monaco
January 18, 2023
Morgan Monaco, the new Prospect Park Alliance President and Park Administrator has a long history in the parks world and a storied record of leadership in support of her community. Most recently, Monaco served as Executive Director of the Red Hook Initiative, a youth and community development nonprofit impacting the 6,500 residents of the Red Hook Houses, Brooklyn’s largest public housing development. Earlier in her career, Monaco served two tenures at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, first as Director of the MillionTreesNYC Initiative and later as Director of Stewardship for Forestry, Horticulture and Natural Resources. Monaco began her career at StoryCorps, a national oral history project designed to build connections between people and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs.
Monaco currently lives in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn and her family is an avid user of Prospect Park. As she begins the new role and leads Brooklyn’s Backyard into its next chapter, we chatted with Monaco about her vision for the future of the park, favorite spots and more.
What are you most looking forward to as you begin your role?
I am most looking forward to learning more about everything the Prospect Park team, both NYC Parks and Alliance staff, does to maintain and sustain Brooklyn’s Backyard. There’s so much that goes on “behind the scenes” that may not be apparent to the average park visitor, and I’m excited to learn in-depth how the park operates throughout the year. I am also particularly excited about joining the team at this moment in time. There has never been more interest in and use of the park, and I’m excited to talk to our community about why Prospect Park is special for them, and how the park has taken on new meaning during the pandemic.
With a background in environmental sustainability and social justice, how do you think Prospect Park can be a both thought and action leader in these areas?
I think it’s important to start from a place of seeing sustainability and social justice as symbiotic. Sustainability is not just a luxury that gets added on top, but is deeply integrated into the work we do as a society to promote equity and social justice. I see access to open space as one of the core pillars, among others such as education, housing, health and safety, that help transition people from surviving to thriving.
Over the past two years in particular, we’ve seen how important the park has been for our health and wellbeing. I want to work with our talented team, as well as our community, to continue to lean into that and think about more opportunities for New Yorkers to access health services in the park. There is widespread evidence of the positive health impacts that come from being in nature, and I’m interested in building upon that to establish connections between our green space and access to health care and social services.
You’ve had a long history with parks and green space in the area. What does it mean to you to be returning to this field?
I’m incredibly honored to be coming back to the parks world, especially during this moment in time when New Yorkers have a renewed appreciation for the value of open spaces. I grew up in New York City’s parks and this work is incredibly personal for me.
Since leaving the parks world, I’ve had a kid, which has added a new dimension to how I use open space. As a parent, it’s so important for my son to grow up in Prospect Park and have a connection to nature as part of his experience growing up in New York City. I am also grateful for how much more awareness there is about climate change and the ways in which individual actions have an impact on our global environment. I look forward to being back in a community with people who inherently understand that core value and are committed to being part of the solution.
How do you define success for the Alliance?
I think success can be defined in small and big ways. As an organization, it’s important to me that we have clear organization-wide goals that everyone can feel a connection to and support from their vantage point. Those goals should be informed by individual goals for each area of focus in our work, such as maintaining a certain level of excellence for our forest restoration work, or reaching a certain number of young people through our environmental education programs.
At the end of the day, it is most important to me that we have a clear focus for the year and work toward reaching our goals. I see my role as helping to be a galvanizing force that holds all of the goals together and helps to chart out a new strategic plan for Prospect Park’s next chapter. I look forward to working with our team and with park users to develop our new strategic plan.
What is a favorite memory you’ve made in Prospect Park?
This is such a hard question! I’ve had so many important memories in Prospect Park that it’s hard to choose just one. I got engaged on the steps of the Picnic House, my son learned how to ride his scooter right by Vanderbilt Playground, we’ve made snow angels and snow people…so many amazing things happened in my life in Prospect Park. I would say there isn’t just one memory but rather decades of wonder and love for such a beautiful and sacred space.