Open Letter: Madelyn Wils’ hard work over decades made life better for New Yorkers

The executive director of the Hudson River Park Friends, the non-profit organization that supports the park, asked if I would run this letter to the editor as a tribute to Tribecan Madelyn Wils, who just left her role at the Hudson River Park Trust. It included a piece of neighborhood history that is a great example of how things are often done in this town.

My chance first meeting with Madelyn Wils – probably 25 years ago at least – was, as I would later learn, emblematic of her style and character: no nonsense, goal-oriented, and looking out for what good she could do for New Yorkers by improving the public realm. In that instance it was about taking a long-vacant city-owned lot and turning it into a playground for PS 234. She could find the money if I could figure out how to get the city to agree to let the school use the property. We both succeeded.

I was in the deputy mayor’s office at the time, and someone told her I might be able to help. It turned out the two agencies that had dibs on the property each thought it belonged to the other, so we took advantage of that fact and got them both to agree to let the school put a temporary playground there for a minimum of five years. Madelyn was able to secure the funding from local Councilwoman Katherine Freed. Eventually the playground was made permanent and has improved the quality of life for every kid who has gone through the school since.

Our paths continued to cross throughout the years. Her at the Hudson River Park Advisory Council, me at City Hall; her as chair of Community Board 1, me as president of the Hudson River Park Trust; her as president of the Hudson River Park Trust, me as executive director of Hudson River Park Friends.

Ten years ago when I left the Trust, hers was the only name that came to mind to take over its leadership. Why? Because I knew how hard it was. Those characteristics that I sensed during our first encounter were exactly what Hudson River Park would need to get finished. Now, nearly ten years later, she’s made sure that the dream of a completed park will come true. Within the next two to three years, we will see a completed Tribeca area, a new Gansevoort Peninsula, a public art installation by David Hammons across from the Whitney, the openings of Piers 57 and 55 (Little Island), and a new Pier 97 in Clinton.

Getting things done in New York City isn’t easy; getting big things done is nearly impossible. The fact that the park’s completion is on the horizon is a testament to Madelyn Wils’ hard work, tenacity and unwillingness to take her eye off the ball.

Connie Fishman, Executive Director
Hudson River Park Friends



  1. Very Well said!