You really have to read between the lines when New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe speaks about plans he wishes to implement in our city parks.
Last week, the New York Times printed Commissioner Benepe’s letter in response to the excellent Op-Ed that Robert Kennedy Jr. and NYC Comptroller William Thompson Jr. wrote defending the natural beauty of Ridgewood Reservoir which lies on the Queens-Brooklyn border.
Ridgewood Reservoir, at one time the source of the water supply for the City of Brooklyn, had been abandoned. Natural vegetation arose in the spot and it has become a wildlife habitat. It abuts Highland Park and the two are considered aligned. Commissioner Benepe wishes to destroy the natural habitat that has come to life there, tear down and pave over a large swath, and replace it with landscaped areas and artificial turf fields.
Printed below is Commissioner Benepe’s letter and some points in response. Note: Commissioner Benepe’s method is typically not to respond to the main criticisms but to reiterate his selling points. Save Ridgewood Reservoir had some good counterpoints to his letter also which I’ve interspersed below.
- To the Editor:
- One of the key goals of PlaNYC, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s far-reaching plan to fight global warming and create a more livable city, is to ensure that every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park or open space.
Counterpoint: Parks Department cuts down thousands of City’s Mature Trees, Vegetation
If this was accurate, then why has the New York City Parks Department, under Commissioner Benepe and Mayor Bloomberg, not preserved the mature trees in city parks? Instead, as they plan with Ridgewood Reservoir, they have been cutting down significant numbers (thousands) of mature trees in parks in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens solely because they are in the way of their redesign plans.
Save Ridgewood Reservoir commented: A study showed the cooling effect of trees and other vegetation, an effect that would be severely diminished if Commissioner Benepe cut down the trees and other plants within any of the reservoir’s basins. In fact, an association of manufacturers of artificial recreational surfaces acknowledges that artificial turf surface temperatures can be as much as 30 degrees hotter than natural turf. In his haste to replace the city park’s natural surface fields with artificial material, Commissioner Benepe is clearly working against his boss’s stated goal.
- Highland Park in Queens is one of eight large underdeveloped parks where we are expanding access to help achieve this goal.
Counterpoint: Parks are not “underdeveloped” but are undermaintained
The New York City Parks Department’s has a pattern: Forego necessary repairs and maintenance within a city park for a long period of time. The community inevitably becomes desperate for something to be done. At that point, the Parks Department swoops in with a plan for a total (typically unwelcome) redesign of that park. (See: Washington Square Park.)
For an underfunded City Agency, the Parks Department ought to focus on maintenance and repair instead of elaborate reconstructions. However, that’s not quite as splashy.
As Save Ridgewood Reservoir stated, “Highland Park is not underdeveloped, it’s under maintained. … Instead of fixing the obvious problems and improving an existing park, the city would rather spend $40 million on creating another park.
- As with all of these projects, the city holds listening sessions with community residents to incorporate their input into the design.
Counterpoint: City’s “listening sessions” do not result in “input” from community being incorporated into design
Anyone who has experienced a Parks Department “listening session” soon realizes that the Parks Department “listening sessions” are held at the point that the Parks Department has already conjured up and blueprinted their plans.
- Many options have been discussed, including one with athletic fields in a small area of the 50-acre Ridgewood Reservoir, an area that is composed primarily of invasive trees and vines that threaten the park’s ecological balance.
Counterpoint: Parks’ “ecological balances” threatened by NYC Parks Department
Save Ridgewood Reservoir rebuts this: “Invasive species are in every park in NYC and, in some parks, are controlled by long-term management plans. I guess that concept hasn’t occurred to the commissioner. The only thing that threatens this ‘park’s ecological balance’ is the removal of trees so that artificial turf fields can be installed.”
- As we begin the design process, we look forward to continued collaboration with the community and with all interested New Yorkers in order to build the best possible park.
- Adrian Benepe, Commissioner, Department of Parks and Recreation
Counterpoint: Parks Department’s “Collaboration” with communities non-existent
At Washington Square Park, Manhattan Community Board 2 ultimately – but quietly – rescinded its approval of the Parks Department’s plans (after approving them twice). Unfortunately, Commissioner Benepe still uses the initial “approval” as a selling point for his and Mayor Bloomberg’s “plans” for the park. At the heart of it, the community at large never approved of the redesign plans for this park. Their ideas and input were not implemented into the design except in ways that were minimal at best.
Save Ridgewood Reservoir states: “Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir fall within Queens Community Board 5 and Brooklyn Community Board 5. Both boards recently voted to oppose development within the basins and support the mission of the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance.”