Expanding parks is not supposed to be this difficult.
“This is the worst situation I’ve ever encountered in terms of [dealings with] the community,” said Carol Greitzer, a former councilwoman from the West Village who helped start a group called 250+ Friends of New York Parks. It opposes many of the Bloomberg administration’s park plans. “They come up with a plan. Maybe—maybe—if you’re lucky, you can tweak it slightly, but that’s about all you can do.”
The examples of such contention over fresh parkland are myriad as of late, raising questions of government priority and private sector meddling over a basic concept that ordinarily isn’t so controversial—who, after all, is against more parks?
In Union Square Park, opponents have so far succeeded in halting construction, with a lawsuit, of a possible seasonal restaurant. The concept of a park-based restaurant in an area lined by them has frustrated some in the community, as the idea is being pushed by the area’s business-improvement district.
Lawsuits or political opposition have also hobbled plans for new ball fields on Randall’s Island; a redo of Washington Square Park; and the future of a key pier in Hudson River Park, with opponents of the projects complaining that the city’s decisions lack meaningful public input.
Much of the contention springs from public-private partnerships undertaken by the Bloomberg administration to develop or to change the parks. The administration has countered that such partnerships often spur the very changes that would otherwise never occur.
Still, the distrust and the anger mounts.
“There’s more trouble now with the community groups in this last four years than there was before,” said Henry Stern, the former city parks commissioner under Mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani. “There is a pattern of resistance.”
THE INCREASED RESISTENCE stems in part from the sheer number of projects the city has undertaken, particularly with the environmental PlaNYC initiative announced last year.
The Parks and Recreation Department, led by Commissioner Adrian Benepe, is working on dozens of creations and expansions around the city, spanning from a new, 2,200-acre Fresh Kills Park in Staten Island to creating a parkland-lined shore along the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfronts.