Recycled Entry: NYC Parks Department- No Oversight? Out of Control

I’ve been out of town but Washington Square Park Blog will resume with new entries tomorrow.

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Originally published on March 3rd, 2008.

When we hear the word ‘parks,’ we think of people picnicking on manicured lawns… We envision those overseeing City parks out there riding around on golf carts checking on malfunctioning water fountains (except when they are mowing down and killing seagulls and pigeons but that’s another story – unfortunately a true one).

In NYC, a much more deviant version exists within our Parks Department. Under Mayor Bloomberg, Parks are looked at as playgrounds for the corporate elite, vehicles for privatization, and places to further an agenda for a sanitized version of New York in which the gritty, the bohemian, the diverse is airbrushed away.

Some examples of what has transpired under Mayor Bloomberg’s administration with his Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe:

*Union Square Park Reduction of Public Space and Tree Destruction – Recent plans put forth by Commissioner Benepe include reducing the popular Green Market and chopping down 14 trees to make room for a high end restaurant. (In an Oedipal note, it should also be noted that Benepe’s father founded the GreenMarket.)

*Denial of Health Concerns of Artificial Turf – Ten years ago, Adrian Benepe began pushing artificial turf to replace grass and has placed it in 77 fields in Parks and Recreation areas across the city. While health and environmental concerns have increasingly been brought to light, Benepe insists it is safe. (In Newark, NJ, the city government declared one of its synthetic turf fields to be a “public health hazard” after three times the approved level of lead was found in the dust there.)

*Randall’s Island Privatization Proposed – Instead of making this a unique public space for the benefit of all, Benepe and Bloomberg were hoping to privatize this 273 acre park and give the majority of its access to 20 private schools within New York City.

*Yankee Stadium Deal leads to Destruction of two Parks in the Bronx — In the Bronx (which desperately needs parks) destruction of parts of McCombs Parks and John Mullaly Park as well as death to 300-400 trees in a deal to build Yankee Stadium.

*Ripping Up Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park for Water Filtration Plant – The City had been attempting for ten years to put in a water filtration plant in this spot. Despite having an alternative, more favorable location to turn to, Mayor Bloomberg was able to buy favor with State legislature and rip up nine acres of Van Cortlandt Park disrupting the park usage for this under-served neighborhood, giving nothing back in return.

*Brooklyn Bridge Park Private housing – Bloomberg argues that this park needs to be “self-sustaining” (i.e., make money) and plans are moving forward for private real estate interests and hotels to be built within this Park.

*Washington Square Park — Plans include: Reduction of 23 % of the public space, manicured lawns and “plazas” which destroy the historic nature of this Park as a political and social gathering spot, “aligning” the famous fountain with the Arch (despite the fact that noted original architect Stanford White purposefully placed the two unaligned over a century ago), corporate naming rights of the fountain being given to the Tisch Family, cutting down of 11 trees thus far, and more!

We have to wonder where is the oversight? Where is our City Council?
The Parks Department being a City agency that reports to the Mayor, the City Council takes mostly a ‘hands off’ approach.

I’ll venture into the ineffectiveness and apparent duplicity of City Council Member Alan Gerson in relation to what is happening at Washington Square Park in another post. However, as the City Council Member who represents the Washington Square area and is also a member of the Parks & Recreation Committee, he could initiate hearings on the Parks Department and the issues above.

Contact City Council Member Alan Gerson at #212/788-7722 or gerson at council.nyc.ny.us

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New Posts Resume Tuesday, April 15th.