Update on Ridgewood Reservoir + Taking the Summer Off… Will Keep Washington Square Park “Events & Actions” Updated

So, this blog will be on a hiatus until September. The Upcoming Events & Actions Section will continue to be updated – it’s listed on the right hand side bar of the blog. As always, feel free to write to me at any time at cathryn.be-at-gmail.com or via the Contact Form above.

Photo: Thanks to David Quintana at Lost In The Ozone Blog for the photo of Washington Square Park above from late May 2010. David is involved with the Ridgewood Reservoir efforts and does such great work around that issue to preserve that very unique space. (Another questionable Parks Department plan.)

There’s some information on the latest at the Save Ridgewood Reservoir Blog including a recent Daily News article (6/1/10) which stated: “Parks officials are still deciding how to turn the decommissioned reservoir – which has naturally devolved into a swampy oasis of green on the Brooklyn-Queens border – into a park. Many community activists and elected officials have said they want the spot to remain wild while others said some of the space should be used for recreational fields.”

The Queens-focused The Forum blog tells us that “the state Department of Environmental Conservation is currently investigating whether to classify the property on the Queens-Brooklyn border, which contains three basins, as wetlands. Doing so would complicate the Parks Department’s proposed plans for the site, which range from keeping it entirely natural to building ball fields in one of the basins.”

To learn more about some of the plans for the space and the controversy, see previous Washington Square Park Blog post on Ridgewood Reservoir from May 29, 2008 here.

NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe responds to NY Times’ Op-Ed on Ridgewood Reservoir

You really have to read between the lines when New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe speaks about plans he wishes to implement in our city parks.

Last week, the New York Times printed Commissioner Benepe’s letter in response to the excellent Op-Ed that Robert Kennedy Jr. and NYC Comptroller William Thompson Jr. wrote defending the natural beauty of Ridgewood Reservoir which lies on the Queens-Brooklyn border.

Ridgewood Reservoir, at one time the source of the water supply for the City of Brooklyn, had been abandoned. Natural vegetation arose in the spot and it has become a wildlife habitat. It abuts Highland Park and the two are considered aligned. Commissioner Benepe wishes to destroy the natural habitat that has come to life there, tear down and pave over a large swath, and replace it with landscaped areas and artificial turf fields.

Printed below is Commissioner Benepe’s letter and some points in response. Note: Commissioner Benepe’s method is typically not to respond to the main criticisms but to reiterate his selling points. Save Ridgewood Reservoir had some good counterpoints to his letter also which I’ve interspersed below.

  • To the Editor:
  • One of the key goals of PlaNYC, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s far-reaching plan to fight global warming and create a more livable city, is to ensure that every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park or open space.

Counterpoint: Parks Department cuts down thousands of City’s Mature Trees, Vegetation

If this was accurate, then why has the New York City Parks Department, under Commissioner Benepe and Mayor Bloomberg, not preserved the mature trees in city parks? Instead, as they plan with Ridgewood Reservoir, they have been cutting down significant numbers (thousands) of mature trees in parks in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens solely because they are in the way of their redesign plans.

Save Ridgewood Reservoir commented: A study showed the cooling effect of trees and other vegetation, an effect that would be severely diminished if Commissioner Benepe cut down the trees and other plants within any of the reservoir’s basins. In fact, an association of manufacturers of artificial recreational surfaces acknowledges that artificial turf surface temperatures can be as much as 30 degrees hotter than natural turf. In his haste to replace the city park’s natural surface fields with artificial material, Commissioner Benepe is clearly working against his boss’s stated goal.

  • Highland Park in Queens is one of eight large underdeveloped parks where we are expanding access to help achieve this goal.

Counterpoint: Parks are not “underdeveloped” but are undermaintained

The New York City Parks Department’s has a pattern: Forego necessary repairs and maintenance within a city park for a long period of time. The community inevitably becomes desperate for something to be done. At that point, the Parks Department swoops in with a plan for a total (typically unwelcome) redesign of that park. (See: Washington Square Park.)

For an underfunded City Agency, the Parks Department ought to focus on maintenance and repair instead of elaborate reconstructions. However, that’s not quite as splashy.

As Save Ridgewood Reservoir stated, “Highland Park is not underdeveloped, it’s under maintained. … Instead of fixing the obvious problems and improving an existing park, the city would rather spend $40 million on creating another park.

  • As with all of these projects, the city holds listening sessions with community residents to incorporate their input into the design.

Counterpoint: City’s “listening sessions” do not result in “input” from community being incorporated into design

Anyone who has experienced a Parks Department “listening session” soon realizes that the Parks Department “listening sessions” are held at the point that the Parks Department has already conjured up and blueprinted their plans.

  • Many options have been discussed, including one with athletic fields in a small area of the 50-acre Ridgewood Reservoir, an area that is composed primarily of invasive trees and vines that threaten the park’s ecological balance.

Counterpoint: Parks’ “ecological balances” threatened by NYC Parks Department

Save Ridgewood Reservoir rebuts this: “Invasive species are in every park in NYC and, in some parks, are controlled by long-term management plans. I guess that concept hasn’t occurred to the commissioner. The only thing that threatens this ‘park’s ecological balance’ is the removal of trees so that artificial turf fields can be installed.”

  • As we begin the design process, we look forward to continued collaboration with the community and with all interested New Yorkers in order to build the best possible park.
  • Adrian Benepe, Commissioner, Department of Parks and Recreation
    New York

Counterpoint: Parks Department’s “Collaboration” with communities non-existent

At Washington Square Park, Manhattan Community Board 2 ultimately – but quietly – rescinded its approval of the Parks Department’s plans (after approving them twice). Unfortunately, Commissioner Benepe still uses the initial “approval” as a selling point for his and Mayor Bloomberg’s “plans” for the park. At the heart of it, the community at large never approved of the redesign plans for this park. Their ideas and input were not implemented into the design except in ways that were minimal at best.

Save Ridgewood Reservoir states: “Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir fall within Queens Community Board 5 and Brooklyn Community Board 5. Both boards recently voted to oppose development within the basins and support the mission of the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance.”

Today’s NY Times: Save Ridgewood Reservoir from NYC Parks Department

Ridgewood ReservoirToday’s New York Times features an Op-Ed by NYC Comptroller William Thompson Jr. and Robert Kennedy Jr. calling for the preservation of Ridgewood Reservoir on the Brooklyn-Queens border, “a teeming wildlife preserve,” 20 acres of which the Parks Department wants to cover over with ball fields (artificial turf, no less).

It’s yet another example of the New York City Parks Department’s astounding and caustic attitude against preserving natural and wildlife habitat in our city.

The writers state that “this plan flies in the face of Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s widely hailed environmental blueprint, which bemoans the loss of the city’s natural areas.” Really? I guess they are not familiar with what happened at Yankee Stadium, for starters, where two parks were sacrificed in the Bronx by the Bloomberg Administration. And, I’ve previously outlined the tree destruction that’s occurred at parks across our city.

Ridgewood Reservoir was built in 1858 to provide drinking water to the city of Brooklyn. It wasn’t until the end of the century that Brooklyn merged with the City of Greater New York and then gained access to its water supply system. It was abandoned entirely in 1989 at which point nature took over.

The article continues:

Ridgewood Reservoir on the Brooklyn-Queens border is an oasis where an amazing range of plant and animal species thrive in a verdant landscape of steep hills and narrow valleys amid the city’s paved sidewalks.

But what’s more astounding, the city’s Parks Department could wind up destroying it.

Ridgewood is an accidental wilderness, tucked alongside the Jackie Robinson Parkway. …

As the 50 acres reverted to wetlands, meadows and forests, tens of thousands of plants and trees took root and flourished. Turtles, fish, frogs and millions of insects moved in. Songbirds nested in the glades, transforming the area into a migratory rest stop. According to the National Audubon Society, 137 species of birds use the reservoir, including eight rare species. It is a place as close to unspoiled nature as you’re likely to find anywhere within city limits.

Yet, the New York City Parks Department is considering a $50 million “renovation” project that would cover more than 20 acres of the reservoir with athletic fields and facilities.

Our friends at Save Ridgewood Reservoir led a tour of this spot earlier this month with 70 people and 10 elected officials attending, all stunned at the beauty of this spot and the audacity of the Parks Department to want to pave it over. Let’s hope – and help spread the word – that they don’t accomplish their goal.