The reservoir's historic structures & ecosystems are an opportunity to create a unique environmental education center for our children & their future.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Benepe's Op-Ed response

NYC Department of Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe responded to the recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times. After reading it, I wondered what would motivate this man to make misleading or untrue statements. William Thompson Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. supported our group's position using common sense. The commissioner's rebuttal seemed to ignore proven facts about the benefits of urban forests, but also lacked good economic judgement. Below is his Op-Ed piece (in red), interspersed with my comments (in black):

June 3, 2008
Plans for a Park in Queens

To the Editor:

Re “A Wilderness, Lost in the City,” by William C. Thompson Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (Op-Ed, May 29):

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.

In an early post, I linked to a study on New York City and the "Heat Island Effect". It was clearly visible in satellite imagery used by the scientists in the report, that the Ridgewood Reservoir was one of the coolest inland areas within the five borough. The 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. at reservoir. 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.

Below is a satellite image from Google Earth. The red circle is .5 miles from the closest edge of the running track that surrounds the reservoir basins (the average person can walk about .4 miles in 10 minutes). Does it look to you like there are few recreational opportunities in that area? The facilities appear to be concentrated on the southwest side of the reservoir basins. That is because, rather than residential areas, the other sides are large cemeteries.

Highland Park in Queens is one of eight large underdeveloped parks where we are expanding access to help achieve this goal.

Highland Park is not underdeveloped, it's under maintained. Eric Goetz was a previous manager of Highland Park. In 2001 he submitted a report to his supervisors regarding the conditions in the park and reservoir, as well as, suggestions for improving the conditions. It has been 7 years since that report and many of the issues that he described still exist. Instead of fixing the obvious problems and improving an existing park, the city would rather spend $40 million on creating another park. If their track record is an indication of what can be expected, they won't maintain the new park either.

As with all of these projects, the city holds listening sessions with community residents to incorporate their input into the design. 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.

The listening sessions were reported here and here. Any discussions about designs that involved breaching the reservoir's retaining wall to install active recreation were one-sided. The parks department came up with the ideas, not the communities.

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.

Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir fall within Queens Community Board 5 and Brooklyn Community Board 5. Both boards recently voted to opposed development within the basins and support the mission of the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance.

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