Sun, May 29, 2016 - Page 9 News List

New York City seeks to make its parks more inviting spaces

Across the city, chain-link fences built in a more dangerous time are coming down, while neglected parks are being given a major makeover and made more accessible, as part of a US$40 million city plan

By Rich Rojas and Noah Remnick  /  NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

Illustration: Kevin Sheu

For years, chain-link fences 3.6m high have been a fixture of some of New York’s parks, a reflection of a time when the city was a more dangerous place, erected to protect the children playing inside.

However, now, those fences have become barriers, officials say, dividing a park from its neighbors, so at some parks the high fences are to be knocked down.

On Tuesday, the city announced that eight parks are to undergo ambitious face-lifts that are about more than just rehabilitation — it is a plan that represents an evolution, officials said, in New York’s approach to parks by making these public spaces blend better and be more welcoming to their neighborhoods.

City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said that besides lowering or removing fences, the plan also involved installing new benches, greenery and distinctive walkways, as well as treating the sidewalks that border parks as part of the parks themselves.

While the high fences were once seen as a deterrent, Silver said that creating more sight lines along the edges of parks and breathing new life into deserted patches would make them safer.

As part of a citywide plan, US$40 million is to be spent on the eight parks. The parks were chosen in a nomination process that included commentary from neighborhood residents.

Silver said about 690 of New York’s more than 1,700 parks were recommended for an overhaul.

“That’s proof positive of how excited New Yorkers are to increase accessibility and openness in their favorite parks,” he said in a statement.

Those selected were Seward Park on the Lower East Side of Manhattan; Faber Pool and Park on the North Shore of Staten Island; Jackie Robinson Park in northern Manhattan; Van Cortlandt Park and Hugh Grant Circle and Virginia Park in the Bronx; Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens; and Fort Greene and Prospect Parks, both in Brooklyn.

A park’s accessibility to neighborhoods was also a consideration. Overall, city officials have set a long-term goal of having 85 percent of New Yorkers living within walking distance of a park.

In the Parkchester neighborhood in the Bronx, Hugh Grant Circle is not just uninviting, it is also largely off-limits, blocked by a gate that is often locked, said Nilka Martell, a community activist who pressed for the circle to be selected for the city program, called Parks Without Borders.

As she sees it, the park has potential to be a neighborhood hub, used for art installations and community programs and as a complement to a farmer’s market held nearby.

“None of these things would be possible with that fence there,” Martell said. “Lifting the fence creates all these ideas: How can we activate it? How can we use it?”

At Jackie Robinson Park, a narrow strip of parkland that runs from 145th to 155th streets, between Bradhurst and Edgecombe avenues, the fencing around some sections of the park was not a driving concern.

Erin Ratner, a lawyer with three children who has lived across the street from the park for nearly a decade, pointed out the dead branches she worries might snap off the trees, the toilets and water fountains that rarely work and improvements needed on the playgrounds.

“You can tell just from looking that this is not a park that gets a lot of love,” Ratner, 35, said.

Carmel Gayle, 75, has seen her children and now grandchildren enjoy the park during the 43 years she has lived in the area. The park, she said, was already essential to the neighborhood.

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