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

Monday, April 13, 2009

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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