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

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Parks Department Final Design

After nearly 2 years of community input, budget cuts and political wrangling, the Department of Parks & Recreation has submitted a final "Phase 1" design plan for the Ridgewood Reservoir to the Design Commission. Phase 1 only calls for improvements to the lighting and pathways surrounding the reservoir basins. It is clear from viewing the Powerpoint slideshow and listening to reaction from Queens Community Board 5 that the parks department pretty much ignored most of the community's input. I've converted the slideshow to a PDF file that can be downloaded here.

There are several areas of contention regarding the design, the most obvious being the height of the perimeter fences.

Since the start of the input process the parks department, namely Queens Commissioner Lewandowski and Park Administrator Kuha, have claimed that safety was their primary concern. Many of us commend them on their efforts to have openings in the existing 7' high chainlink fence repaired regularly and helping to increase patrols in the area. Homeless encampments in the basins, makeshift paintball areas and other illegal activities have been eliminated in the forested wetlands within the basins. In June, when the organization "World Science Festival" requested permission to host a bioblitz in the basins it was denied on grounds that it was too dangerous for people to scale down the basin embankments or walk around in the interiors. So why has Commission Lewandowski and Ms. Kuha given approval to a design that calls for removing the 7' high fence and replacing it with a 4' high fence? Was all their talk about safety just designed to keep people away from the reservoirs and create a negative image of the area? I suppose if you want to destroy "unique natural habitats" without any opposition the first thing you would want to do is make people think that it is a danger to the public. Does the parks department actually believe that people aren't going to jump over the fence to access the "dangerous" basins? And if anyone has difficulty climbing the fence, the proposed lighting design has the lampposts inline with the fences making for a convenient stepladder. Besides the obvious negative impact this will have on basins 1 and 3, there have been dozens of news articles posted over the decades about people drowning in the reservoir (basin 2 is a lake).

In Prospect Park an area call the Ravine was restored over an 8 year period. Tens of millions of dollars were spent on plantings, erosion control and other landscape repairs & improvements. When it was opened to the public, a 4' fence had been installed to prevent people from destroying the restored forest and waterway. Here is what happened; Fences were (and continue to be) climbed over or broken outright. In less than a year, much of the beautiful restoration was reversed. Understory plantings have been destroyed, the forest floor is badly eroded, compacted trails crisscross much of the forest, there are homeless encampments, parties, people having sex and the tons of trash. You can view some images of the destruction here. If Commissioner Lewandowski goes ahead with the plan for a low fence, she can expect the same or worse, since it is difficult for law enforcement to patrol the basin interiors.

There are also issues with the lighting plan. The design calls for nearly tripling the number of lampposts surrounding the basins. Another safety issue? Not likely as Highland Park and Ridgewood Reservoir have very low crime. In fact, according to NYPD statistics, it is much safer than Prospect Park. I don't think any other city park has lighting spaced so close. Another waste of money is the fact that the design calls for placing the lighting on the inside of the path and, rather than burying a single electrical line along the inside of the path, running it along the outside edge, with each lighting fixture then needing to have a separate lead splitting off from the outside of the path. Vincent Arcuri, the president of Queens Community Board 5, is a licensed electrician and pointed out this waste of money. Again, community voices were ignored.

The access path between basins 1 and 2 will not be available for public use. The path between basins 2 and 3, however, will be cleaned up and observation points created. This pathway will only be opened during specific hours and secured behind a short length of 7' fencing. There will be some seating added here. No additional seating or exercise stations (requested by the community) will be installed around the perimeter of the basins. Another design issue that was contested by the community board was the removal of a flight of stairs and access at the northeast corner of basin 1 near the Jackie Robinson Parkway service road. In this design feature anyone coming to the park from the area of Cypress Avenue and Cypress Hills Street wouldn't have an access point. It was in this area that many suggested Access-a-Ride vehicles or school buses pick-ups and drop offs. The department of parks wants, instead, to use this area only as an electronic card access point only for NYPD and park maintenance vehicles.

It is unclear to me whether the Department of Parks & Recreation had a design already in mind when they began the process of public input or if the parks commissioner just overruled any designs that included community recommendations. Either way, there is little question that the democratic process for this project has been seriously compromised. The community boards are preparing a joint statement and letter to the City Comptroller which I will post here shortly.

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David M. Quintana said...

Are you sure that the basins no longer have homeless encampments..?

Rob Jett said...

Basin #3 does now have at least one homeless person living in it. I wrote to Commissioner Lewandowski about it. I was told by QCB5 that parks doesn't plan on fixing any of the holes in the fences!