February 22, 2011

Contested greenspace in Greenwich Village

On January 7, 2011, the New York Times published "Just 7 Strips of Green, or a Park Worth Fighting For?" about seven small parcels totaling 2.5 acres located in Greenwich Village, four of which New York University would like to purchase to accommodate its expansion plans in the neighborhood. The article listed the owner of the parcels as the NYC Department of Transportation (NYCDOT). We wish the article had provided an actual list of the seven parcels as well as photographs of all the parcels. For example, the online version of the article was accompanied by a single photograph of a section of the Mercer Playground parcel. (Additional photographs of the playground can be seen on the Save Mercer Playground website.) Based on our reading of the article, we developed the image below to illustrate the locations of the seven parcels mentioned in the article as well as parcels mentioned in a Community Board No. 2, Manhattan (CB2) resolution submitted to the NYU 2031 Plan.
We were slightly confused about some of the information provided by the Times. For example, contradicting a statement in the article, the NYC Parks Mercer Playground webpage states that the playground was transferred from NYCDOT to NYC Parks in 1997.
Cherry tree garden on Bleecker Street
The cherry tree garden on Bleecker Street is listed as one of the contested parcels. We assumed the university owned this parcel because the garden is maintained by the NYU Garden Shop (read our article about some of the garden shop's gardens here), but apparently the university would like to acquire the greenspaces on the south side of Bleecker between La Guardia Place and Mercer Street which includes the cherry tree garden as well as two groves of large-stature trees, according to the afore-mentioned CB2 resolution. Maintenance is not always a sign of ownership as is the case with Mercer Street Plaza. The parcel is owned by the City but the plaza space is maintained by the university. Also, the university led the redesign process; the plaza was renovated after the completion of the school's co-generation power plant. (Read more about the plaza renovation here.)
Time Landscape on La Guardia Place (I.M. Pei-designed Silver Towers in background)
LaGuardia Corners Gardens (grocery store and NYU faculty housing in background)
LaGuardia Park on La Guardia Place (future site of Adrienne's Gardem a toddler playground, in mid-ground)
Mercer-Houston Dog Run
 Between the dog run and the entrance to the university gym on Mercer Street is the inactive Children's Playground. The afore-mentioned CB2 resolution stated that unsafe conditions led to the closure of this playground, specifically the sinking of the playground's surface. A 2004 article in The Villager provides more detail about the playground's condition: "when the property was designated as a federal urban-renewal project, the site was backfilled. Shifts in the surface are caused by settling of whatever was used in the backfill" (from an interview with university spokesperson John Beckman). However, we are left wondering why the playground has not been repaired by the property owner NYCDOT, or transferred to a playground-oriented agency like NYC Parks. For background on the university's expansion plan, read The Villager's "N.Y.U. unveils rezoning for its two superblocks" and the university's own NYU 2031: Growth documents.

4 comments:

  1. for your Eat A Street Tree, this late entry. Unhusked green walnuts: pickled, then steeped in syrup. Here's where to buy & try in NYC, but does anyone know how to make?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/03/dining/03walnuts.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=walnuts+manhattan&st=nyt

    Helaine Kaplan Prentice, ASLA
    Center for Community Innovation
    University of California, Berkeley

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  2. Thanks for writing about the endangered city-owned parkland on Greenwich Village's Superblocks.

    All five of the area's elected officials have come out against NYU acquiring and/or building on any of these green spaces. One reason is that the entire Community Board 2 Manhattan area has just 0.4 acres of green space per 1,000 residents - the benchmark is 2.5 acres per 1,000. Another reason is the obvious neglect of the parts that NYU has long been responsible to maintain (part of the 1981 agreement that enabled NYU to build on what had been a children's playing field was upkeep of the now-unusable/dangerous reflecting garden and children's playground on Mercer Street between Houston and Bleecker Streets).

    It is clear that community volunteers have made well-used (except in the dead of winter!), much needed and treasured areas out of what had been, decades ago, unused ground. These vital areas of green should never be turned into buildings with NYU's disingenuous promise that by moving public open spaces from streetside to privatized spaces _within_ a complex of buildings they will somehow be more accessible to the public!

    Again, thanks for bringing this endangered ribbon of green spaces to your readers' attention.

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  3. "Anonymous," you are most welcome. We are always glad to hear from our readers.

    Also, thank you for providing additional reporting; the availability of greenspace in the neighborhood is important data in this discussion.

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  4. Thanks, Georgia, for this information. I did not know that figure on lack of green space within Community Board 2 District. That's pretty incredible! Thanks for the info.

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