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

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Children's Garden Event

The Junior Garden Club at Highland Park Children's Garden

Jamaica Avenue between Ashford and Warwick Streets

Spring Sessions starts Saturday, May 2, 2009

10:30 - 12:30

Ages 7 - 13, children must be in 2nd grade or above.

FREE lessons on gardening - each session will have hands on activities.

Register on May 2, 9:30 -10:30. Parents must be present.

5 sessions to June 6 (none on 5/23)

Dress appropriately to garden.

Group size limited to 25.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Upcoming Event

We just received the following information about a great, free event coming up. I highly recommend anyone interested in community activism (and not just regarding Ridgewood Reservoir) to attend.

Register now for the 2009 Livable Neighborhoods Training

More information here

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Parks Department Community Meeting

On March 30th, the Department of Parks & Recreation held the second of a new round of community meetings. This meeting was billed as a "working meeting" to collect community input for the second phase of the Ridgewood Reservoir PlaNYC 2030 capital project to develop the reservoir property. There wasn't anything new or unique about this team-oriented session, in fact, it was nearly identical to the 2007 "Listening Sessions".

As community leaders and residents entered the cafeteria of IS 302 in Ridgewood, a name badge and team color was assigned each person. Like the 2007 meetings, a large topographic map of the Ridgewood Reservoir basins covered each of the color-coded team tables. We were also supplied stencil cut-outs of various active recreational facilities, i.e., baseball fields, track fields, football fields, etc. Each table had a DoPR facilitator who steered the "creative" process. The ultimate goal of each team was to create their vision of a developed reservoir. After a pre-determined amount of time, a representative from each team would present their design to the room.

The members of the team in which I participated, which included the Latin American Soccer Association, made it clear from the start that we were not interested in placing active recreational facilities within the basins. By the end of the event, it was certain that the majority of the people participating felt the same way. Six out of eight teams were opposed to destroying the unique habitats within the basins and preferred to see it used for environmental education and passive recreation. A protected nature sanctuary was clearly what most people had in mind. A team dominated by members of the Bushwick Baseball Associated placed fields in basin 3. However, their spokesperson also said that if the department of parks fixed up and maintained the current fields in Highland Park, it would not be necessary to build within the reservoir. This begged the question, if fields were built in the basins, would they ultimately face the same lack of maintenance and neglect as the current fields?

Many people I spoke with after the session came away with the impression that the community's desires and opinions did not matter. Is the outcome of this process a foregone conclusion? A lot of money has already been spent organizing the listening sessions for 2007 and, now, 2009. Moneys have also been paid to the design team to survey park patrons at Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir. Each time the results were the same - people do not want to destroy the natural habitats they want Highland Park fixed up and the reservoirs kept as a nature preserve. However, even with that information in hand, the first plan submitted to the City Comptroller (which was rejected) called for filling in the largest basin with 27,000 large truckloads of fill. Does the majority opinion no longer count in New York City? Where is the democratic process? Why is it that the vast majority of the community called for preservation, the two community boards voted unanimously for preservation, yet the design team did exactly the opposite?

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Friday, April 10, 2009

DoPR March 16th Meeting Summary

The Department of Parks & Recreation has responded to City Comptroller Thompson's demand to create three new plans for Ridgewood Reservoir by organizing a new round of community input sessions. I was contacted by parks with the dates; March 16th, March 30th, May 2nd.

Here is a summary of the March 16th meeting, which was held in the parks department's Oak Ridge offices. The meeting was described as being the introduction of Phase 1 of the project which would only address safety and accessibility issues around the perimeter of the reservoir basins. The 7 million dollars being released by the comptroller would not be used for any work within the basins.

Over 100 residents and community leaders attended. Their requisite PowerPoint slide presentation contained the historical information that has been used for all meetings since June 2007. There wasn't anything new added. Members of the design team presented different sections of the slideshow. One surprise was the section entitled "Topography and Ecology". Chris Syrett from the design team reviewed the results of the Draft Ecological Assessment as performed by Round Mountain Ecological, LLC. He couldn't have been more forthcoming with the data and reiterated what we posted on the blog long ago - the reservoir site represents "unique and important habitats that are rare in NYC".

There was a small degree of antagonism from the assembled audience towards the design team in that they either didn't trust the Department of Parks & Recreation's level of honesty with regard to Phase 1 of the project and/or that the city is not willing to spend any of the money on Highland Park.

It seemed clear that the purpose of the meeting was only to discuss the first phase of this project. That would involve safety and accessibility issues around the perimeter of the reservoir. Fencing, lighting and repair of the stairways were the only items that the DoPR were intending to discuss. When questioned about the type of fencing that they are designing for the perimeter of the basins they replied that it would be in keeping with the historical nature of the site. It is still unclear if either of the through paths will have 24/7 access. Some members of the community, understandably, dwelt on issues more specific to Highland Park and Ridgewood Reservoir as a whole unit, including money to improve Upper and Lower Highland Park.

Many people seemed a little irritated when the microphone was turned over to Bishop Benke, ostensibly, to ask a question. Unfortunately, he used the opportunity to commandeer the room and, as one person in the audience put it, deliver an "advertisement" for his church and its "40,000 members". The upshot of his message was that all his parishioners want more ballfields and preferably inside the basins. I'm not sure why Benke is so set on pushing for such an unreasonable use of funding when he clearly understands that Highland Park has been underfunded and under-maintained for decades. Also, he seems to have done a 180 degree shift in his attitude from his stance on this date:

"During that meeting Recreation and education at the reservoir were the central themes of a renovation plan developed by a team consisting of Bishop David Banke [sic], pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church of Cypress Hills, Roy Sawyer, community liaison for Assemblyman Towns and Sam and Ana Franqui of the Highlanders East New York United Front."

"According to Bishop Banke, the team was focused on recreating Ridgewood Reservoir as an educational and passive recreation center for residents in Brooklyn and Queens. One main component of the plan, as he described to participants, would be the formation of an environmental center at the easternmost basin ideal for students who can venture to the park on field trips to study wildlife and plant growth in the chamber."

"While reserving the middle basin as a man-made lake with fish, the bishop explained, the westernmost basin would be created into a botanical garden with greenhouses and a picnic area for students and parkgoers to gather. Banke also suggested that a new observation deck could be built in the southern section of the chamber to allow visitors to see sections of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Jamaica Bay from one of the highest points on Long Island."

A better use of his "40,000 member" leverage would be to campaign for more funding to fix up Highland Park.

Melissa Hick's, also from the design team, presented the results of surveys. Apparently, the team had gone out to the park and reservoir and surveyed people about what they thought SHOULD be done with the reservoir, as well as, what facilities should NOT be constructed. I wasn't surprised by the results because many of the people in this alliance have done less scientific surveys of people at the reservoir. 100% of those surveyed thought it should be used for nature. I don't remember the exact numbers, but significantly less than 50% thought active recreation facilities should be built. We will attempt to acquire that information as the data is important to share with everyone.

Documentary producer Bambi Bogert got permission from the DoPR press office to videotape the event. While I was speaking with her after the meeting, Queens Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski approached us. I heard her tell the commissioner that she would like to set up an appointment to interview her. The final project should be very interesting.

In general, I was pleased with the meeting. People asked a lot of very good questions and made it clear to the department of parks that the communities are watching the process very closely.

Later today I will post a summary of the second meeting, which was billed as a "working meeting".

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

There will be a meeting of the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance this Thursday, April, 9th starting at 7PM. The meeting will be held at the Ridgewood Democratic Club at 6070 Putnam Ave. All are welcome.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Letter from the Heart

I have a lot of updates to catch up on, but I'd like to start with something special. A young woman sent a letter to us a few days ago. It was a "thank you" note, as well as, the wonderful memories of a child's discoveries in a special wildness along the Brooklyn and Queens border. She was clearly affected in a positive way by her explorations in nature at the Ridgewood Reservoir. How could those experiences be denied to today's and tomorrow's children?

Date: March 30, 2009 1:08:23 AM EDT
Subject: To this amazing site

If you could just bear with me while I echo my thanks for this amazing site and movement you have brought.

I stumbled upon your site tonight. I am currently 413 miles away from my home, Bushwick, NY. I am one of those few Bushwick kids that got out and "made it." I'm not so young to dwell in disparities or so old to dwell in nostalgia. I write this to thank you from the heart of my childhood memories and most deepest emotions. I started playing in Highland Park when I moved there with my family at 5 years old. My father always had a conglomeration of childhood mischievousness and outdoor need that lead to our yearly migration to the northeastern-most parts of Bushwick.

My parents warned my brothers and friends to never enter the steps across the street from the parks. Back then this area was riddled with enough Law & Order plot-lines to supply many seasons worth of material. As I grew bolder I snuck off and discovered these lands for myself. It was incredibly stupid and dangerous to let a prepubescent girl explore these dark areas of Bushwick before when it was brooklyn-brewery-politicos-and-victorian-corsets Bushwick. And no one would believe the things I saw. The birds, the flowers, the smells, the old wrought iron fences, the slightly newer yet equally as old chain link fences, the pump houses, the swamps, the brick wall enclosures. I had no idea what this space was. I had no idea what the adjacent bridges were as well.

Enough convincing prompted my family into towing their old video camera with them. We took "Jacques Cousteau" nature videos. In between my cousin's scraped knees and dramatic reflections of mother bird feedings, we ate ham and cheese sandwiches. I put unnamed flowers into my hair. I was a fearsome little sprite after my trips around the reservoir. Twigs, bird feathers, bugs, slugs, scrapes and flowers all over.

You come down from the place, geographically and emotionally. What few moments I get to be home I take the opportunity to do my rounds--to speak--of the place. I check for the same sites, new additions, new sounds, new smells. If I have enough time I can witness the "flattening of time." That is, the speed in which birth, life and death takes place in this pressure cooker of nature. These observations, I feel in my own hopelessly optimistic heart, produce a peace where there appears to be none. Where in all the places of NYC did I expect to find Nature's recourse, if not in the place that needed it the most?

I am eager to join your cause, to be informed. The only piece of Nature I was exposed to as little kid was not the carefully manicured fields of Central Park or even Highland Park's unruly grassy manes, but in the reservoir. Nature: unbridled, reclaimed, fearsome, wild, and so content to be its own!

Thank you.

Zoila Rojas

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