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

Saturday, August 29, 2009

New Parks Blog

A new blog called "A Walk in the Park" is a great information resource that helps keep communities up to date on the Department of Parks & Recreation's planning and other activities. Here is the description from their blog header:

"A news and information resource dedicated to transparency, accountability, community-based planning & consultation, and the health and public safety of visitors and employees in New York City's public park and recreation system."

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Support from Riverkeeper

The organization "Riverkeeper" supports our efforts to protect the reservoir basins as a nature sanctuary. From their website:

Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park, Queens

As noted in PlaNYC 2030, New York City is proposing to turn the largest of three basins in the 50-acre, Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park, Queens, which has become an urban forest and fresh water wetland, into a 60-acre recreation site. Riverkeeper opposes plans to alter these wetland areas for several reasons.

Ridgewood Reservoir absorbs stormwater that would otherwise enter the city’s already over burdened sewage system. Replacing woodlands with recreational fields will exacerbate flooding and the urban heat island effect, and destroy an important habitat for many bird and plant species. The additional fields and recreational areas at Ridgewood Reservoir would not be needed if resources were devoted to improving facilities at existing recreational areas, such as Highland Park.

Past efforts to fill in wetlands and turn them into ball fields, such as Strack Pond in Queens, have failed, raising the question of the overall feasibility of such an undertaking. Any proposed changes to the Ridgewood Reservoir should be subject to SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) and CEQR (City Environmental Quality Review) processes.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More about Artificial Turf

The New York Daily News has just published another article on the dangers of artificial recreational surfaces. Note how parks commissioner Benepe describes using a watering system to reduce the heat. Didn't he previously claim as a benefit to using artificial recreational surfaces the fact that you don't need to water it? I'm guessing that he also never smelled the burning tire-like odor that fills the air around these fields on hot days.

Macombs park turf too hot for them to handle! Critic's thermometer hits 150 degrees

By Bill Egbert
Tuesday, August 18th 2009, 5:50 AM

Think it's hot running on a 90-degree day? Try running on a 150-degree track.

That's what joggers at the new Macombs Dam Park have to contend with on the interim running track painted on the still-unfinished artificial turf field.

During last week's sweltering temps, the turf reached temperatures in excess of 150 degrees, according to an infrared thermometer wielded by Geoff Croft, head of NYC Park Advocates and a longtime critic of the city's efforts to replace the parkland given to the Yankees for their new stadium.

For comparison, Croft measured the temperature of a patch of natural grass near the park on the same day and found it to be only 84 degrees.

Temperatures don't have to get into the 90s for the turf to overheat. Croft recorded similar readings of higher than 147 degrees on cloudy days when the air temperature never got higher than the low 80s.

"We understand that this is the one drawback of these turf fields," said city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, "and we're doing all we can to address it."

The city spent an extra $160,000 to use a green-colored crumb rubber fill, which stays cooler than cheaper fill made of recycled tires. The new park will also feature three misting devices designed to cool parkgoers at the push of a button.

Local residents who were used to running in the old Macombs Dam Park surrounded by tall shade trees can feel the difference.

"It feels really hot on my feet," said Enrique Martinez, 16, who runs every day on the interim track.

"The worst part," Enrique said, "is that when you want to rest, you can't lie down in the grass or you'll overheat."

When the park is complete next April, however, it will feature several natural grass berms around the field and 166 shade trees planted around the park.

Two boys practicing soccer at one end of the unfinished field agreed with Enrique.

"It's burning hot," said Joseph Cardozo, taking a break to rest in the limited shade of a construction fence. "I can feel the heat on my legs."

"You get easily dehydrated," said Eduardo Yanez, 15. "You have to stop more often and get some shade."

They fondly recalled playing on the real-grass field of their old park, dug up for the Yankees' new $1.5 billion stadium nearby.

"The old park was cooler," said Jospeh, "and more crowded, too. There were more people to play with."

The final design includes a large shade structure over a grandstand, as well as a new Olympic-quality running track wrapping around the soccer field.

Commissioner Benepe needs to get with the program. Mayor Bloomberg is trying to reduce the "Urban Heat Island Effect" in New York City and by Benepe replacing grass fields with artificial recreational surfaces he is actually increasing the temperature in NYC. It also doesn't help that Mr. Benepe seems to enjoy cutting down trees.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Parks Department Presentation

On March 16, 2009, the Department of Parks & Recreation held the first of its second round of community meetings regarding the future of Ridgewood Reservoir. Queens Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski kindly provided us with a copy of the presentation. As you step through the slides pay special attention to the site hydrology, site ecology and survey results.

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The Selling of New York Parks

The following article appeared in New York Magazine last month:

The Selling of New York’s Parks
via Daily Intel by Erica Orden on 7/28/09

Just like condo developments and celebrity-chef restaurant empires, New York’s public-parks system expanded rapidly during the boom years. Prospect Park unleashed plans for a new $60 million complex, Washington Square Park began a thorough face-lift, and the High Line found the substantial funding it needed to transform from an abandoned railway into one of the city’s most hyped destinations. The catch is that the funding for these initiatives has become less public. And as the downturn continues, more compromises could be made to continue to pay for these privatized parks.

When New York began relying on public-private parks partnerships following the fiscal crisis of the seventies, the idea was that private philanthropic groups would pick up the slack. And they did. Groups like the Central Park Conservancy, the Prospect Park Alliance, and the Bryant Park Corporation rose to respond to that crisis. But the city’s newest parks, paid for and operated largely by nonpublic dollars, are girded tightly by their private patrons.

The High Line was invented as a park by Friends of the High Line, which raised $44 million in donations and helped select the design. Celebrity endorsements (Edward Norton, Diane Von Furstenberg), caps on visitor attendance, adjacent real-estate development, and a dense police presence compared to other parks have all contributed to the appearance of something less than fully public. Elsewhere, the Parks Department has met with a local interest group called Coalition for a Better Washington Square Park, which offered to hire its own security and maintenance forces for the newly renovated green. Parks turned them down but did “discuss the designs of the next phase of renovation.” And in order to build the $350 million Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation, a public agency, is using the private developers of luxury condos like One Brooklyn Bridge Park to pay for the maintenance of its public front yard (never mind what’ll happen if the condos don’t sell).

Expect more of the same. “What’s happening on a basic level is that the city does not feel that parks are its responsibility anymore,” says Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates. “But every community deserves to have healthy parks, not just ones that have wealthy benefactors.”

Earlier this month, the city awarded a no-bid contract to Friends of the High Line to run all concession stands on and below the park for the next ten years. The Prospect Park Alliance plans to sell naming rights to two new rinks to be built as part of its Lakeside Center development, and the sale of such rights has been proposed for McCarren Park Pool. The Tisch family marked its name on the Washington Square Park fountain after donating $2.5 million for its renovation. In coming months, the Parks Department is considering selling ten-year naming rights to existing ballparks and skating rinks, with the money going to the city’s general fund.

“Even with the budget cuts, the Parks Department is in decent shape, but you never know what might happen in the future,” says Parks commissioner Adrian Benepe. “In the past, there have been times when, in very bad fiscal times, the Parks Department was badly cut. And so if we can lock in some funding to make sure that things stay whole, that might not be a bad thing.”

But more and more private control — you can purchase time in a “public” basketball court for a fashion show, as happened in May with designer Joseph Abboud in Greenwich Village, or pay to park a branded exhibition in Central Park, as Chanel did last fall — has become the norm. The question is how much more that means. “While privatization has brought some very good management techniques, like at Bryant Park, the nice thing about it so far is that we don’t have ‘Exxon Bryant Park,’ ” says Christian DiPalermo, the executive director of New Yorkers for Parks. Well, not yet.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Another Parks Department Debacle

The following exposé just appeared in the NY Post. Just imagine how much money the city could waste at the Ridgewood Reservoir:

Sky 'High' Costs
Tax-Seeking New Park Already NY'S Priciest

By Rich Calder

Operators of High Line Park are spending money like drunken sailors to maintain the brand-new hot spot -- even while trying to push a controversial new tax on neighborhood property owners so the managers can spend even more, a Post investigation found.

Park officials say the former Manhattan railway-turned-aerial-esplanade will now cost up to $4.5 million a year to maintain -- surpassing Midtown's Bryant Park as the city's most expensive green space per acre to operate, records show.

The 6.7-acre park - a huge economic boost for the Meatpacking District since partially opening in June - is expected to get $522,388 to $671,641 an acre for yearly maintenance and operations, based on its preliminary spending plan.

That's even more than Bryant Park, which spends $479,166 per acre. The average city park gets $9,555 an acre.

With the city already kicking in nearly $1 million in taxpayer funds for the new park's annual operations, the nonprofit group Friends of the High Line was supposed to fork over the rest of the money.

Instead, the group --whose daily operations are run by politically connected officials padding their pockets with six-figure salaries -- is pitching a 37-block "High Line Improvement District."

Its board of directors includes boldface names like actors Ed Norton and Kevin Bacon, designer Diane von Furstenberg and her media mogul husband Barry Diller, and actress Kyra Sedgwick.

The plan, endorsed by the Bloomberg administration last week, would levy local businesses and residents to raise another $1 million of the $4.5 million needed.

"It's a pay-for-play deal that sets a terrible precedent," said Geoffrey Croft of the watchdog group New York City Park Advocates, adding the park's budget is already "inflated with fat."

The city has 11 parks enforcement patrol officers working the High Line's 2.8 acres now open.

In comparison, only five PEP officers are assigned to cover all 6,970 acres of Bronx parkland and eight handle Queens' 7,300 acres, the city parks employee union says.

The High Line also has 20 laborers paid through its nonprofit group - including nine gardeners - and another 10 workers will be hired once the park is completed in 2011, officials said. Bryant Park, a much larger crown jewel in the city parks system at 9.6 acres, only uses five gardeners among its staff.

Meanwhile, Friends of the High Line's management staff features four people earning more than $100,000, including its co-founder Robert Hammond, who earned $280,000 last year and was the college roommate of former Council Speaker Gifford Miller.

Hammond defended the new tax proposal, saying the extra funds are needed to keep the park looking magnificent because crowds "are much larger than anticipated," and the park has quickly become of "one of the" most densely visited public spaces citywide.

More than a half million people have visited the park its first two months.

He blamed the massive maintenance costs on this "high volume combined with the challenges of operating an intensely planted public space on an elevated structure with limited access" while also having to enforce occupancy/public safety codes other parks don't have to deal with.

Friends of the High Line, which designed and operates the city-owned park, says it has raised $44 million, with $12.5 million already offsetting the project's construction costs, which are expected to exceed $172 million.

The group has no plans to use the rest of the money raised to supplement the funds it wants from the community. Instead, it says it wants to put some of the money into an endowment like Central Park does so the funds can be invested on behalf of the High Line.

Hammond said his group would only look to submit a formal application to the city for the improvement district if it believes the community is behind the tax following a public review process.

The annual fee for the owner of a 1,000-square-foot property would range anywhere from $30 to $90.

While Hammond says he believes most of the 5,000 or so property owners affected will support the idea because the park has already helped boost local property values in a slumping economy, some peeved residents last week kicked off a petition drive to collect signatures in opposition.

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