[Hpn] urbanoutdoors: Urban Outdoors #57

dave.lutz@treebranch.com dave.lutz@treebranch.com
Thu, 15 Jun 2000 12:25:08 -0500


U r b a n   O u t d o o r s          
                                     
No. 57 - June 15, 2000 
1999 Winner, NYC American Planning Assoc. Award for Journalism

IS WEP WINDING DOWN FOR PARKS?
As Council passes the city budget for 2001, park supporters have 
little to be optimistic about. To quote the Mayor's narrative, the 
following items still remain:
-"reducing seasonal spending...while continuing to improve park 
condition ratings"
-"reducing seasonal playground associates while continuing to provide 
recreational services..."
-"reducing headcount through attrition with a fifty percent 
replacement of seasonal employees"
A small part-time employee increase over the Mayor's request was 
added to budget by Council. Council "member items" will make a bleak 
picture a bit brighter.

Now, we have reports of a smaller WEP (welfare worker) presence in 
the parks. Whether due to competition for people with other agencies, 
or a reduction of the welfare roles in a good economy, fewer people 
are turning out for mandatory duty cleaning and maintaining the 
parks. In addition, District Council 37, the City employees union, is 
still in court, as it is illegal to replace city workers with welfare 
workers. The city claims the WEP workers are "supplementary". 
Cyberpark correspondents are saying that parks are not getting as 
much care as last year and local people fear a return to the days of 
parks-in-shambles if they are not properly staffed. 

"OPEN SEASON ON PARKLAND"
In a decision that further narrows the legal definition of alienation 
of parkland, Judge Gershon has ruled that the construction of a giant 
water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park would not require 
legislative approval because the roof would be used for recreational 
activities. Thus NYC is in the interesting position of not allowing 
construction on private land outside of Central Park because it would 
cast a shadow on the park, but allowing the building of a huge 
chemical filtration plant under a Bronx park. "The decision will 
allow an open season on parkland," said Dart Westphal of Bronx 
Council for Environmental Quality, "next they will build fire houses 
under local parks."

The situation in the Bronx is not without its ambiguities. Van 
Cortlandt is a great landscape park that has been repeatedly violated 
by highways and some questionably inappropriate recreational 
buildings. The golf course is leased to a private company as a 
pay-to-play facility, but it provides a particularly picturesque 
landscape, which would be compromised by the filtration plant. 
Chemicals used at the plant could present environmental hazards. Some 
environmentalists question the need for the plant, urging protection 
of watershed lands instead of chemical treatment of water. The 
litigants, in an effort to protect the park from further 
encroachment, will appeal their case.

A SOFTER LANDING FOR BROOKLYN BRIDGE
The reconstruction of the Manhattan landing of the Brooklyn Bridge 
nears completion and the bike and pedestrian lanes are about to be 
switched, giving tourist access to the closer skyline views on the 
south side of the foot-trail. But the best news is the Manhattan-side 
street narrowing, making access to City Hall Park easier, and 
providing a landscaped pedestrian entrance plaza to the bridge. 
Construction of a new fountain and expanded park areas near the 
courthouses to the north of the bridge entrance further "green" the 
area. The changes ease the transition from the spider-webbed open sky 
of the landmark bridge to the interior spaces of the urban 
streetscape, creating an inviting new front hallway for Manhattan 
through the civic center. Go down and take a look.

Brooklyn-side reconstruction is still in the talking stage, but 
approaches to the bridge have been greened as a result of a nearby 
hotel development and through the GreenStreets program. The bare 
traffic medians have been turned into glorious landscaped boulevard 
islands. The Brooklyn Bridge Park planners have paid special 
attention to the land abutting the bridge and have drawn a 
magnificent pedestrian corridor leading to their park, which 
hopefully will be implemented even before the park is built.     

THE PARKS FEE THAT WON'T GO AWAY
Brooklyn residents were again picketing the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens 
(BBG) last month, protesting the imposition of a mandatory admissions 
fee more than two years ago. Unlike visitors to the Brooklyn Museum 
next door, garden patrons cannot pay what they can afford, but must 
pay $3 to enter.  While some other NYC public gardens also have fees, 
and BBG now allows free admission on Saturday mornings, only BBG has 
seen sustained protest about the park privatization. Perhaps the 
reason for the attention is Brooklyn's absolute scarcity of parkland. 
Brooklyn's 1.7 acres of parkland per thousand residents is less than 
half that of other cities and that number includes asphalt parks and 
highway medians. 

"We have gathered 5,000 signatures on petitions addressed to the 
Mayor and City Council. The garden's City funding has stayed steady 
at about $3,000,000 per year and thus cannot justify the mandatory 
fees." according to Rachel Treichler, of the BBG No Fee Coalition  
"1999 attendance of 720,000 is significantly less than 810,000 in 
1995.  A smaller percentage of those visiting the garden come from 
the poorer adjacent neighborhoods than in the past."        

PIRACY OR SQUATTER EVICTION ON THE HUDSON RIVER?
On May 8th, the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) seized and destroyed a 
vessel anchored south of Pier 25. The colorfully painted vessel 
(really a collection of hand made floating objects) had, for the last 
few years, served as a rent-free residence for a well-known musical 
family who had floated to the location. The park is now threatening 
to seize other boats anchored in the lower Hudson. Controlling access 
to the waters of NY Harbor can be a tricky business. Common law, 
dating back to Roman times, treats navigable water as a public trust. 
However, governmental entities have controlled access to NYC waters 
up to the pierhead line for maritime uses. The limits of HRPT's 
ability to control access has not been tested, but apparently they 
are casting a line in the water.

Bob Roistacher, of NYC Community Sail fears he is next. "HRPT has 
demanded that I leave my mooring just north of Pier 63, or the Trust 
will take action against me. I have a sloop at anchor there. The pier 
leaseholder allows me use of a dock he makes available to the 
community for public access to the water. NYC Community Sailing 
Association brings young people and adults onto the water in 
sailboats."

COPS CAUGHT OUT ON NYC CYCLING DEATHS
City officials last week admitted that the NYPD had done no analysis 
of culpability in fatal bike-auto crashes, effectively disowning 
police statements attributing three-quarters of 1998-1999 fatalities 
to cyclist error. Fatalities soared to a record 35 in the city last 
year, drawing attention to engineering and enforcement policies that 
privilege drivers over pedestrians and cyclists. 

The acknowledgment came in a NY Times story on a report by the 
advocacy group Right Of Way. That report, entitled The Only Good 
Cyclist: NYC Bicycle Fatalities - Who's Responsible?, documented that 
driver error was the principal cause in at least 57% of recent 
bicyclist fatalities in NYC, and was a contributing cause in at least 
78%. 

The group found drivers culpable in four main ways: unsafe or 
aggressive passing (23%-28% of cases); turning into a cyclist's path 
(15%); speeding (14%); and running a red light (10%). "Victim-blaming 
becomes a rationale for doing nothing to protect cyclists from 
drivers," report co-author Charles Komanoff told the Times. The Only 
Good Cyclist is available at www.rightofway.org, along with RoW's 
1999 landmark book on NYC pedestrian deaths, Killed By Automobile. 
(Edited from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign's weekly. Write 
"subscribe" to tstc@tstc.org)

NEW CYCLING INFRASTUCTURE FOR NYC
New bike lanes on Prospect Avenue in the Bronx, and on the Manhattan 
landing of the Brooklyn Bridge again add to the number of miles of 
safer traveling for cyclists. Seven hundred new bicycle racks placed 
all around the city are making parking easier. The continuing 
development of the greenway system is allowing cyclists and walkers 
to actually enjoy the experience of getting there. Anti-crime 
enforcement has reduced the chance of bike theft, and consequently 
there is a noticeable increase of on-street parking overnight in the 
neighborhoods. The Greenstreets program makes the appearance of the 
streets less hostile for walkers and cyclists. Quietly, the small 
staff of bicycle professionals at Department of Transportation (DOT), 
Parks, City Planning and other agencies is working to change the 
image of this city from "bicycle hell" to well..."better". 

"I am excited to see the NYC Bicycle Master Plan taking shape around 
the City." Notes John Benfatti of DOT, " The Plan, released in 1997 
identifies a comprehensive network of greenways and on-street bicycle 
lanes.  As more are implemented, bicycling becomes a more viable mode 
of transportation." While advocates from Right of Way, Transportation 
Alternatives, and TimesUp continue to be very impatient because 
cycling in the city is often a harrowing experience, the outlines of 
kindler, gentler street system are falling into place. The results 
may be the most significant environmental achievement of the Guiliani 
administration.    

THREE DOT JOURNALISM IS DEAD...
The Army Corp of Engineers have issued long fought for permits 
allowing plans for actually building important over-water parts of 
Hudson River Park to move forward. Opponents are expected to go to 
court to demand another study of fish...

With the reduction in the number of parking spaces in the latest 
draft of the plans for Brooklyn Bridge Park the most serious 
community concerns about negative environmental consequences should 
be mostly mollified. However, park plans still ignore the obvious 
mass-transit link from Montague Street, which could be solved as 
simply as building an outdoor elevator...

Seven acres of waterfront property in Williamsburg, Brooklyn have 
been purchased by the State to lease long-term to New York University 
for use as athletic playing fields, the Daily News reports. The State 
bought a portion of the old Eastern District Terminal Market site for 
$9.3 million. It will now sign a long-term lease with NYU, which will 
build both a mostly private playing field and a promenade area open 
to the public year-round....

Development of a Brooklyn Botanic Garden sized golf driving range at 
Drier Offerman Park in public space deprived Bensonhurst is stalled 
because the Parks Department's chosen concessionaire has filed for 
bankruptcy protection. Drier Offerman offers outstanding harbor views 
and is one of a number of under-developed city parks for which 
private for-profit investment is being encouraged. Local activists 
prefer a landscaped park with a marina, restaurant, and extensive 
public space for ball fields and environmental education...   

NEW... TREEBRANCH CALENDAR OF EVENTS
"Hey! Check out that calendar on treebranch! 
http://www.treebranch.com. You can post your own event - click the 
date, sign in and post.  Anyone know of any Central Park events?  
Water events?  Street fairs?  Garden parties?  Park cleanups?  Nature 
Walks?  Let's get them up there!" says Owen Foote, on Cyberpark

URBAN OUTDOORS ADVENTURES
Saturday, June 17. Red Hook Day: Parade / Dancing in the Street's 
performance at the Beard Street Piers, Parks Commissioner Henry Stern 
will cut a ribbon on the first new official hand-boat launch in NYC 
in many years. Parade begins at 10:30 at Van Brunt and Hamilton 
Avenue in Brooklyn. The ribbon cutting will take place at 4:30, with 
a celebratory march from Beard Street Piers at the end of the Hook, 
for Valentino Park at the foot of Van Dyke Street. 

Tuesday Evening, June 20 - A Lower East Side "Save the Gardens" walk. 
Visit a number of lower east side gardens, some threatened, some made 
into permanent parks. Jane Weisman, former head of the City's 
GreenThumb program leads the walk. Meet 5:30 El Sol Brilliante 
Garden, W.12 St betw. A&B. Info: 212-352-9330

Saturday July 1 - Brooklyn "Save the Gardens" walk visits community 
gardens in Fort Greene, Boreum Hill, Park Slope and Prospect Heights. 
Meets 10 am at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Lafayette, All 
Trains to Atlantic Ave/ Pacific St. Station. Jon Crow leads. 

Saturday, Jul 8 - Walk Bronx River Parkway south to NYC, 8 miles, 
bring lunch, free, Joint with AMC. John Gallagher leads. Info: 
718-499-9779

Saturday, July 15 - Brooklyn Gingerbread Walk. A Morning walk to 
Prospect Park through Victorian Flatbush, co-sponsored by Coney 
Island Hospital, and the Brooklyn Health Coalition will walk through 
garden back streets and end at the D-train for a quick return.

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356 Seventh Avenue  New York NY 10001  212.352.9330
Fax: 212-352-9338	e-mail: dave.lutz@treebranch.com

URBAN OUTDOORS is the monthly newsletter of Neighborhood Open Space 
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