NYC Parks Department Motto: Stick to the plans, no matter how irrational or unwelcome they are.

AstroLand Park, Coney Island

AstroLand Park, Coney Island

The NYC Parks Department never ceases to amaze. Operates as a pure business model. Promotes privatization ventures without fail. Destroys thousands of mature city trees to put forth splashy expensive redesigns of parks. Pitches “MillionTreesNYC” “initiative” with little planning given as to how to care for and maintain the trees. Lets parks fall into disrepair so communities are desperate for change. Redesigns parks that don’t need redesign. Corporate giveaways of parks in areas where they are most needed (see: Yankees. The Bronx.) and the city pays for the new parks. Reduction in public space. No concern for community mandates or input. Manipulates Community Boards, NY City Council, and other city agencies by lack of transparency and purposefully withholding information and misstating plans.

If Mayor Bloomberg did not view city Parks as corporatizing entities that are exploited for their real estate value to property owners, businesses and tourism, and was looking for someone to care for and cherish our Parkland, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe would be out of a job and working for, say, Chase Manhattan, Madison Square Garden, or, perhaps, Bloomberg LP.

If there isn’t enough confirmation that the Parks Department digs in its heels and won’t abandon its plans no matter what damming evidence is in front of the Commissioner … than take the recent articles about artificial turf, that synthetic substance made from recycled tires that has been placed in 94 parks and ballfields across NYC’s five boroughs thus far.

Today’s Metro NY follows up a story in Saturday’s New York Daily News investigating the high temperatures the artificial turf reaches when a child, adult or animal walks or plays on it.

In Saturday’s (7/5) NY Daily News, Jeff Wilkins and Elizabeth Hays report: “Artificial turf installed in city fields can heat up to a blistering 162 degrees even on a mild summer day, a Daily News investigation has found.” This is twice as high as the temperature of natural grass.

The writers encountered 9 year old Yannick Pena at Macombs Dam Park in the Bronx after he walked on the artificial turf there. He said, “My feet are burning! I had to dump cold water on my shoes just to walk around.”

What would Commissioner Benepe say to that? Commissioner Benepe is, after all, a big advocate of synthetic turf.

Well, Liam Kavanagh, first deputy Parks Commissioner, told the News: “The temperatures can get very high during the heat of the day. But people are smart. They are not going to use a place that is uncomfortable to play on.”

Other than the heat, there are other problems: “Earlier this year, The News reported concerns that the millions of tiny crumbs contain heavy metals like lead and cadmium, as well as volatile organic compounds and other chemicals.”

Deputy Commissioner Kavanagh said the city would begin using a “carpet-style turf” and “plans to stop using the crumb-rubber infill because of excessive heat.”

However, in testing a field at Macombs Dam Park that has the “new turf,” The Daily News found that it also registered “as high as 160 degrees.”

In today’s Metro NY, Patrick Arden reports new signs are now appearing in the NYC parks and ballfields that contain artificial turf. The signs state: “This field can get hot on warm, sunny days. If you experience symptoms of heat-related illness, such as dizziness, weakness, headache, vomiting, or muscle cramps, move to a shaded area. Drink water, rest, and seek medical attention if you do not feel better.

Metro’s investigation backed up the Daily News report, “One day last month, the artificial turf at Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza was 165.5 degrees, while a nearby plot of grass measured just 83 degrees. Waves of heat rose from the field.”

Will the Parks Department follow the logical route and abandon their turf dream of installing these substances in 68 more locations? All evidence points to the contrary.

NYC Parks Department Sticking to Pro-Turf Stance Despite Incomplete Answers from “Review”

The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released its draft report (officially termed a “literature review”) on artificial turf.

The New York Times reports today that the the report “conducted on behalf of the Bloomberg administration says that there is no scientific evidence that synthetic turf fields in New York pose major health hazards for people playing on them.”

The Times piece, written by Timothy Williams, states, “Critics, however, said the study by TRC Companies, an engineering, consulting and construction management company based in Connecticut, would not quell concerns about artificial turf because the analysis was only a review of previous scientific studies and included no original research.

The surface has been used for decades as a playing surface for professional and collegiate athletes, but has proliferated more recently in public parks and schools around the nation as a cost-effective, more durable alternative to grass.

The city’s parks department said that it had installed 77 turf fields since 1997 and that it planned on putting in 23 more.”

NY City Council Members have called for a moratorium on the use of this substance because of health concerns. As the Times notes:

At the heart of the dispute is whether synthetic turf, particularly crumb rubber fields made from recycled tires, places athletes at risk because of the presence of lead and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which have caused cancer and organ damage in animals and may be a cancer risk to people if they are exposed over a long period.

Researchers, however, have not determined conclusively how easily the hydrocarbons — which are also found in toys and other materials — can be absorbed by the human body.

Critics of the fields also say turf creates “heat islands” that can climb as high as 170 degrees because the synthetic surface absorbs sunlight and emits heat. There are also concerns that the fields may exacerbate the risk of serious sports-related injuries.

However, it’s not just athletes who are exposed to this. Bill Crain, a developmental psychologist who works at City College, is one of the leaders exposing these potential problems in our City parks, collaborating with Dr. Jim Zhang. As he reported in his testimony before the City Council, among other concerns, children have been finding the rubber pellets from the parks in their shoes. Crain also researches and writes about the importance of “natural settings” and how they benefit children’s psychological development. (For more information on this, write to him at BillCrain -at- aol.com.)

We also have no idea how this impacts the natural environment and wildlife – squirrels and birds primarily – who interact with this synthetic surface that has been placed in way too many of our city Parks.

Crain, who has not yet seen the report, stated in an email, “The essential research–on the bioavailability of toxicants in the turf (whether they can be absorbed into the body)–has yet to be done to any significant degree. Until we have more research, a moratorium on new installations is a minimum and essential step in the interest of public health.”

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe at Morningside Park Today, Sunday, 2 p.m.

From Joel Kupferman, lawyer extraordinaire:

IRONY – Adrian Benepe, NYC Parks Commissioner, speaking at a ceremony commemorating the halting of Columbia University’s gym construction 40 years ago. (WSPB note: The University’s plans were to take over a large swatch of Morningside Park, and were stopped by protest and action, in court, and in front of the bulldozers.)

PROTEST —- Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who masterminded the destruction of Washington Square Park, by moving and shrinking the fountain plaza, is speaking at a ceremony commemorating the halting of Columbia University’s gym construction 40 years ago. Sponsored by Friends of Morningside Park. This is the last part of Columbia 1968 and the World: A 40th Anniversary Event.

Some background: “This spring marks the 40th anniversary of the 1968 student protests at Columbia University. A group of alumni participants, working with faculty and students, has developed a program for a three-day conference to reexamine those events from a wide range of viewpoints and in the context of what was happening in 1968 in the country and the world.

NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe will speaking at 2:00 PM today at Morningside Park @ West 113th Street.

The Parks Department continues to privatize parks and restrict the use of parks to gather and to protest. (See previous entry.)

Central Park was set off limits by the Parks Department for a huge anti-war rally on the great lawn during the Republican National Convention. See IndyMedia coverage.

The Parks Department continues to install ARTIFICIAL TURF in scores of city parks, including Riverside Park. Despite the fact that this synthetic turf reaches over 160 degrees in the summer (disparately impacting children who cannot leave the city in the summer), contains many toxic elements and compounds, and damages the environment; and that there are NY state and city legislative bills calling for a moratorium on the use of such grass, Commissioner Benepe still claims it is safe to use. Read more at New York Environmental Law & Justice Project.

JUST A LITTLE FOOD FOR THOUGHT while you picnic.

Joel R Kupferman
New York Environmental Law & Justice Project

In the News… Parks in Bronx…NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe: artificial turf is “safe”

Metro NY reporter Patrick Arden’s consistent reporting on the NYC Parks Department is a welcome presence.

In today’s edition of Metro, Arden reports that there’s some news about the Yankee Stadium “replacement parkland” in the Bronx.

On Friday, the Bloomberg administration opened a new artificial-turf ballfield on an old schoolyard here and billed it as “the first Yankee redevelopment park.”

The city had promised to create replacement parks in the South Bronx to make up for the 25 acres of parkland lost to the new Yankee Stadium project.

Unfortunately, as Arden reports, the new Park is one mile away from the previous parks (Macombs and Mullaly Parks) and in a another neighborhood.

(Didn’t Mayor Bloomberg announce as part of “PlaNYC 2030” that everyone in New York City should be within ten minutes of a park? … Unless, I gather, they want to build a corporate ballpark there.)

It seems artificial turf is questionable to everyone except for Parks Commissioner Benepe. The Metro article also states:

Last week, two artificial turf fields were closed by New Jersey health officials after detecting high levels of lead. Lead can cause brain damage and other illnesses.

While the concerns arose from surface coloring and airborne dust, many turf fields use crumbled tire rubber, which has also been found to contain lead.

The city’s Health Department is currently compiling its own report.

“There’s no doubt in my mind it’s safe,” said Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

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To read more, previous entries covered the Yankee Stadium situation in the Bronx (“Play Ball: How New York City Destroyed Two Bronx Parks”) and also the City Council initiative to end use of artificial turf in our city Parks.

Turfs Almost Up for Parks Department

It’s a start. The New York City Council is at last showing some oversight of the Parks Department — around artificial turf. This substance has been placed by NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe in over 130 natural soil and grass fields across the five boroughs. (Thankfully, not at Washington Square Park – thus far.) People have questioned artificial turf being used in place of grass, for a number of reasons beginning with the fact that it sounds like a really bad idea – after all, it’s made from recycled rubber tires. But there are genuine health and environmental concerns.

Bill Crain, a developmental psychologist who works at City College, has been one of the leaders in exposing these potential problems. As he outlined to the City Council in December, when he first went over to Riverside Park to check on the synthetic turf installed in 2006, he was surprised to find the rubber granules so prevalent on the surface of the turf. A boy came over and said to him, “I get them in my shoes and they come out when I take them off at night.”

Yesterday, an article appeared in the New York Daily News, “Council Members push for removal of pulverized tires from city parks,”and outlines a bill that is being proposed by some City Council members which would require the “estimated 30 million pounds” of synthetic turf out of city parks — to be removed within a year and alternatives sought based on “unanswered questions around health concerns.”

When I first wrote about artificial turf, amidst other problems with NYC’s Parks Department, a p.r. person from Atlanta wrote to me letting me know that she did not think I accurately represented the facts — that no state or federal agency has banned or restricted it. (Well, cigarettes were promoted for a long time too without warnings from the government so I don’t know if that’s the strongest argument.) She stated that synthetic turf was great for athletes in the communities because they can now practice year round and even in rain. (!)

So … is the lesson that when you’re young you get to frolick around on your artificial turf rain or shine? … Is it so terrible to learn that sometimes we have to alter our schedules because of mother nature? Probably best when we are also playing amidst “mother nature” and not along potentially harmful synthetic turf — which I hope we will see out of our city Parks soon.

**If you’d like more information on Bill Crain’s research with Dr. Jim Zhang on toxic chemicals in synthetic turf, or Crain’s summary of how natural settings benefit children’s psychological development, you can email him at Billcrain -at- aol.com and he will send it to you.