Essential Humanism: Profiles of Courage in a Pandemic Part IV: Andrew Newman, Senior Correspondence Liaison for the Brooklyn Borough Commissioner’s Office

Photo by Nirmal Rajendharkumar on Unsplash

Tell us about your job. What are some of the ways it’s changed during the pandemic?

My job involves building and maintaining local parks and caring for the larger “urban forest,” such as street trees and vegetation in landscaped and natural areas of parks. Specifically, public messaging, responding to constituent requests and complaints, soliciting feedback on park improvements, liaising with many different levels of government, and working with volunteer groups. NYC Parks are critical at this time. We’ve had to close playgrounds, sports courts, dog runs, and other areas to maintain social distancing, but we’re working hard to make sure that parks are there for people who need them.

How do you feel about being an “essential” part of the workforce? 

I’m glad I can keep serving the people of New York City, but since my current role allows me to work from home during most of the week, I have not been exposed to the same field conditions as many of our other maintenance, enforcement, and parks ambassadors on the frontline.

Are you required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) while at work? Is it provided to you?

Yes, but only when dealing directly with the public. I’ve been provided with masks, face coverings, and sanitizer.

What’s something your employer is doing well during the pandemic? 

Staggering employees working in the office and working from home early on was a great idea to ensure proper social distancing and ease the burden on mass transit. NYC Parks has been diligent about updating public messaging to reflect current rules and regulations and has been providing awesome online resources both for park staff and park patrons, including several virtual tours of parks and natural areas and exercise and meditation instruction videos!

How does being an essential worker affect your family? What are their reactions?

I’m the only person in my household who currently still reports to work at my office. Luckily, I live only a short walk away. Since we’ve restricted public access to our office facilities, social distancing is easier, which I think lessens concerns my family may have about exposure.

How can the public make your job easier and/or safer?

What a wonderful question! The number one thing the public can do is to understand the reasoning behind park, playground, basketball court, pool, etc. closures and recognize how essential these temporary restrictions are. The entire purpose of these public facilities is to improve livelihood, provide resources for exercise and relaxation, and ensure access to our natural world. These decisions are made with very serious consideration.

And please, when you are moving around in the park and inevitably coming into contact with others, remember to wear a face covering to protect yourself and others.

What kind of positive change do you hope comes out of the pandemic—for you, for society at large?

I really hope we come out of the pandemic with a greater understanding of the need for public health measures, accessible and affordable healthcare, and a greater adherence to following needed directives. I also hope we can work to build more parks in lower-income communities that are starved for these resources; the pandemic has made it strikingly clear how important open space is.

Does a religious faith inform your values? 

As an ethical humanist, I absolutely believe my faith informs my values. And at a time when a global pandemic threatens the health and livelihood of so many of us, we all have a bigger shared responsibility, in my opinion, to make things better.

Do people you interact with on the job express religious beliefs to you or in other ways express their values?

Yes, absolutely. I have colleagues who are very active in their congregations. We also interact with diverse religious communities—from getting feedback on new playgrounds used by Yeshiva students who are part of the Hasidic Jewish tradition to engaging Christian and Muslim volunteers in cleaning parks to providing space for traditional Chinese Qi Gong exercises and meditation, we touch every aspect of faith in New York City.

What do you miss the most about your pre-pandemic life?

I really miss chatting with the many friends I’ve made at local stores, bars, and restaurants. We have so fewer opportunities now to meet new people and catch up with our neighbors while enjoying a nice frosty pint.