Union Square Park Healthy & Mature Trees Coming Down… by Order of NYC Parks Department

unionsquareconstruction051908Received word from another blogger, Jessica Alfieri (who took the picture above), that the fourteen to fifteen healthy, mature trees at Union Square Park are getting the ax. These amazing trees have been part of this park for many years. She writes that one of the “big ones” came down last week (one of the great Siberian Elms I presume) and “six or seven little ones” came down yesterday. Those trees were to the left of the Pavilion in the foreground of the photo. There are still a few standing (not for long tho’).

Shouldn’t we be protecting our trees somehow … from our own government’s follies?

Saturday, May 17th was “It’s My Park Day” in NYC hosted by the NYC Parks Department at parks across our city. It typically involves planting of things and clean up. (I always refer to it as It’s Our Park Day.) I was involved with a Park Day Eco*Fair which had many components to it (activist groups, Freecycle FreeMeet, urban gardening, music, and more) at J.J. Byrne Park in Park Slope on Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue.

A woman who then identified herself as a landscape architect came by the Recycle This! table where I was standing. Displayed were some of the flyers about what’s happening at Washington Square Park as well as a flyer about public space/privatization/tree destruction under Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC Parks Department. This woman was avidly perusing the flyer. She looked up and said, “I have to question what you’ve written here about the trees coming down and privatization.” She continued, “I am a landscape architect and I’ve done work for the Parks Department and we’re not allowed to touch the trees. We are instructed to work with what’s there.” I told her I wished that that was how the New York City Parks Department had been proceeding but it’s not so.

(The flyer she was examining outlines the tree destruction at Union Square Park, Washington Square Park, Yankee Stadium/Macombs and Mullaly Parks, East River Park, Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir and Randall’s Island.)

I explained to her what was happening at Union Square Park as the most recent example – about the court order that ultimately allowed the removal of the trees, per the city’s instructions, to make room for an expanded playground and potential restaurant. She seemed very surprised. I wonder if the Brooklyn Parks Department (which this woman had worked with) is much more sensitive to preserving trees? It would be interesting to know.

This would make a great City Council initiative — legislation that the Parks Department must work with the existing trees – work them into their design plans – and only as a very very last resort remove any when doing reconstruction, redesign or the like.

** To see a photo of the healthy trees at Union Square Park that are being chopped down presently, click here. **

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10 thoughts on “Union Square Park Healthy & Mature Trees Coming Down… by Order of NYC Parks Department”

  1. I’d like to see a timeline compiled of all the wonderful things that Adrian Benepe has accomplished since being installed as parks commissioner. It would probably read like a criminal file from the NYPD.

  2. it is unfathomable what is happening at the north end of union square. mature trees removed and a purpose-built market building being isolated (as opposed to abandoned) and used for some purpose other than what it was built for…when a healthy and happy Greenmarket exists four days out of seven, in it’s shadow. why remove the stone retaining walls that are typical the park? why pull down flowering hawthorns, shady elms, fruit trees? why not return the building to it’s reason for being built, a year round and elegant shelter for Greenmarket vendors? what is the motivation that is driving the current re-make of the park? isn’t a park itself playground enough? save the park, promote the market.

  3. I am sorry to disagree but in this case I think it is worth it to loose some trees and then replant new ones. the playgrounds were in really bad shape. This renovation is a big improvement. And for the record, Bloomberg has done a great job as Mayor.

  4. Yeah, Boston Bloomie has done a great job…turning the city into a Sex and the City theme park. Enjoy your Manolos, BA!

  5. yes, parks should be working with existing trees. with all this chatter about sustainability and greening of public space, we should be working to save resources we have! to cut them down would be to follow the logic of loggers in the amazon. development of built environments always take precedence? that’s being downright irresponsible, to say the least, in this day and age.

  6. BA, it’s about not just “improving” the parks, they are trying to completely alter the character of these parks. We all want our parks to be taken care of, but have you read any of the past posts and looked into any of the “renovation” plans, as well as the history as to how they came about? You really should because it isn’t an issue of repairing them or not repairing them. The city is desperate to completely redesign the park and isn’t talking to the community at all about what we want for our park. When the community was polled about Washington Square Park, people wanted the park repaired, not completely redesigned. The community board rescinded its original approval of the Washington Square Park redesign plans because of how the city was proceeding in a shady, and frankly, illegal, way with what they want. They are desperate to seize this opportunity to completely obliterate the parks as they are today and turn them into whatever will make their wallets fatter. We all want the parks improved — enhancing what we all love about them and taking care of what needs to be fixed, not Bloomberg’s version of “improvement”, which is removing everything that is off beat, spontaneous, and unique about these parks, turning them into something “sanitized”– alien to the innate character of these parks. That isn’t an “improvement”. Its destruction.


  8. BA… The Parks Department is more than equipped to be able to have an architect design a plan that works WITH those trees that are there. Why didn’t they? The cutting down of trees from Yankee Stadium – 2 entire parks DESTROYED in the Bronx – to Randalls Island to Washington Square Park mostly centers around the issue of privatization and gentrification. The Union Square Partnership (the BID, Danny Meyer Co-chair) spent $4 million on the plan at Union Sq Park. What about the community’s wishes? They want a new playground. They want their trees. That couldn’t have been figured out how to do both?

    The Parks Department unfortunately lets the Parks fall into disrepair so then it seems like any change is a good one.

    Mayor Bloomberg has done a great PR job of hyping his “million trees” incentive. Do we think about how calculated that effort is? It sounds great, doesn’t it? Does it make any sense? No. It’s all p.r. The media, for the most part, has just bought the whole thing and all the illusions around him – although there’s a bit more scrutiny lately. Hopefully you caught his aversion to being questioned via the whole use-of-the-word “maintain” press conference controversy.

    This applies to tl’s comment as well.

    Thanks for checking out the site.

    (WSP blogger)

  9. This reeks of the battle forty-six years ago between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. Note also that they are widening the road at the top of the park to accommodate more cars. To combat this situation it is up to citizens of the city to emphasize that New York is a car free city — that planning must assume this as a default, and that the vision of Robert Moses is completely overturned, eradicated and razed from the landscape. Congestion pricing must go through, and that means campaigning against Sheldon Silver this fall. Rich automobile owners in the outer boroughs must be brought to heel by vigorous, grass-roots political action.



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