Lower Manhattan is in bloom in countless ways, many of which will last well beyond the coming and going of summer’s geraniums and impatiens. More than $100 million has been allocated toward projects at more than 20 park sites throughout the downtown area since 2002. Several have been completed, others are in construction or development now, and all are intended to revitalize Lower Manhattan's open spaces and recreational destinations.
Recognizing the critical role parks play in making the city a more beautiful and enjoyable place for residents, workers, and visitors alike, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has embarked upon a comprehensive undertaking to upgrade and rejuvenate Lower Manhattan's green, open, and play areas. The initiative was spurred in part by an allocation in May 2003 of more than $24 million in funding by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC).
"Great cities are defined as much by their parks and open spaces as they are by their architecture," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg when the LMDC allocation was first announced. "The plans [for Lower Manhattan] will create a beautiful and dynamic network of parks and open spaces that will become a worldwide destination and tangible symbol of the rebirth of the downtown area."
As part of the city's Lower Manhattan Open Space Vision Plan, the Parks Department is implementing an extensive series of projects to expand green space, improve waterfront access, and increase the extent of active recreation available to Lower Manhattan's workers, tourists, and growing residential population. As part of Bloomberg’s ambitious vision, the Parks Department, in collaboration with the New York City Departments of Transportation and City Planning, and other agencies, will implement more than $100 million in open space projects. This work is made possible through funding by the LMDC, federal, state, and city governments, foundations and corporations, and with the support of Community Boards 1 and 3, and local elected officials.
The following information outlines the plans and progress for the 20 parks selected for redevelopment by the Parks Department in 2002 as part of the Lower Manhattan Open Space Vision Plan.
Parks Along the East River Waterfront
1) The East River Waterfront, with its promenade -- a favorite summertime strolling venue – has been completely revitalized and incorporates the creation of new public open spaces at Coenties Slip, Old Slip, Peck Slip and Burling Slip. The verdant space of Wall Street Park, a plaza with an inimitable view of Trinity Church to the west, is a $3.1 million project that drew contributions from Deutsche Bank and the LMDC. The park is split in two parts between South and Front Streets and introduced greenery to the industrial streets where no trees or flowers existed previously. The sidewalks have been significantly expanded to allow for greater pedestrian amenities and leisurely lunchtimes, facilitated by the installation of modern, glass-block benches. While the park is already open to the public, there are additional plans to install an attractive, ornamental, glass fountain.
2) Named after the original Dutch landowner Conraet Ten Eyck and his wife Antje, Coenties (Co+Antje) Slip was an artificial inlet (or “slip”) of the East River that was used to dock sailing ships and was filled in in 1835. New York's first City Hall once stood at Coenties Alley and Pearl Street (a former name of Coenties Alley is City Hall Lane). The triangular plaza, funded mostly by the LMDC, cost $925,000 and will be maintained by the Downtown Alliance. The area has been transformed into a permanent public space with bluestone-and-granite paving, benches, flowering trees, and planting beds. Another corporate partner, Goldman Sachs, has provided funding designated for a sculpture at this site.
3) An existing plaza at Old Slip has been enhanced with restored granite curbs, pigmented pavement, new benches, and planting beds. The park's design, which was inspired by the shape of a police badge, is fitting given its location next door to the Police Museum. The renovation also includes new light poles that will better illuminate the historic Police Museum building (100 Old Slip). The building, designed in 1911 by architectural firm Hunt & Hunt, served as the NYPD's First Precinct stationhouse. Old Slip, which was one of many original inlets, is considered to be one of the very earliest boat docks in New Amsterdam. It wasn't until 1934 that Old Slip was filled in as part of construction of the East River Drive (now Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive).
4) Burling Slip is also in the process of being fully redesigned. The wide area at John St. between Front and South Streets was at one point an actual boat slip, but currently serves as a parking lot. The proposed playground is a figure eight, ship-like shape on a raised hard surface with limited groupings of trees, shrubs and other greenery. The object is to keep the area's overall feel of a working slip. The current angled parking will be replaced with parallel parking. The Seaport's cobblestone walkways will extend south to incorporate the playground. Visually, the idea is to maintain the area's flat plane appearance. To pedestrians the playground will look as if it is floating in a field of granite paving stones. Children's play areas include sand and water features to give the space a connection to its waterfront home. Included in the proposal is the unusual concept of play-workers or playground staffers, on hand for training and educational purposes. Workers will be hired and trained by the Dept. of Parks and Recreation and salaries covered by a $2 million grant from the Rockwell Group. Two to four staffers will be on hand during peak spring and summer months while one permanent worker will remain in the park through the colder, winter months.
5) Finally, Peck Slip has a lengthy maritime history, serving as an East River slip used by boats to dock until 1810. In fact, Peck Slip once offered George Washington and his troops protection as they fled from the Battle of Brooklyn. More recently, it was used as a fish market parking lot until the Fulton Fish Market relocated to the Bronx in 2005. Recently, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a design for a park at Peck Slip that strikes a delicate compromise between a lush green park and a stone "piazza" more in keeping with the area's maritime past. The present design plans call for a vaguely boat-shaped plaza that broadens as it approaches South Street. This plaza is smaller than in the original design, and plantings and trees have been expanded on the west. Steel "rib" elements, which some had complained were "uninviting," will now be covered in wood. The rest of the design, including a small pool of water at the plaza's "prow," and granite block laid in a manner meant to evoke a flowing stream, would remain unchanged.
Considerable city funds also will be dedicated to repairing the deteriorated infrastructure along the East River waterfront promenade, as well as to the effort to transform the promenade into a destination following Con Ed's utility reconstruction project.
Playgrounds and Athletic Fields
6) As beneficial as expanded parks and open spaces will undoubtedly prove to be for Lower Manhattanites, people also need places to play. The city's Lower Manhattan Open Space Vision Plan includes, therefore, a number of playgrounds and athletic fields serving downtown neighborhoods and schools. The reconstruction of four existing ballfields has been completed at East River Park. The ballfields, two of natural grass and two of state-of-the-art, artificial turf, were modernized with new landscaping, fencing, irrigation, water supply and lighting systems. These fields serve as a regional destination for Lower Manhattan athletic leagues and schools.
7) With funding from the National Football League (NFL), two new synthetic turf fields were constructed in the Baruch Playground, adjacent to the Baruch Houses. Previously the park contained asphalt ballfields, as well as basketball and handball courts. These have been replaced with synthetic turf creating a major destination for flag football, softball, little league baseball, and soccer.
8) Construction on Governor Al Smith Playground was completed in late 2004. The project, funded by the LMDC, included new play equipment, a new basketball court, a synthetic turf volleyball court, and new plantings and landscaping. Additionally, a new gym floor has already been installed in the recreation center. The park’s namesake, Governor Al Smith, made history in 1918 when he was elected the first Irish Catholic governor of New York. He made history again in 1928 when he was nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate. Governor Al Smith Playground was dedicated in June 1950.
9) Renovation of the Sophie Loeb Playground adjacent to the Manhattan Bridge was completed in 2004 and will provide an improved play space for the Chinatown community. The playground was reconstructed with new pavement, curbs, fences, gates, benches, and plantings. The site now contains a play unit that is shaped like a boat sitting on a safety surface simulating water. A spray shower in the form of three yin-yang patterns was also constructed. The city acquired the land for this playground in 1924. In 1933, the Board of Aldermen named this playground after Loeb, citing her tireless efforts on behalf of the city’s children.
10) Underneath the approach ramps and the west arches of the Brooklyn Bridge lies the Brooklyn Bridge Plaza, where enhanced sports courts, greenery, and seating areas now replace city vehicle parking. The red brick plaza is bordered by Frankfort Street to the south, Pearl Street to the east, Park Row to the west and Police Headquarters Plaza to the north. Green turf-style synthetic carpet covers an 80-by-20-foot activity area, with a 5-foot circle that has a yin-yang symbol where residents can practice tai chi. Along the north end of the plaza there are ping pong tables and courts for volleyball and basketball. Tetherball areas line the opposite side of the park. This reconfiguration of the space has drastically improved connections between the civic district and Chinatown.
11) After decades of being out of operation, the Lillian D. Wald Playground, a.68-acre area, was recently transformed from a vacant lot into an athletic sanctuary for students at the nearby University Neighborhood High School and the surrounding community. Located between Montgomery and Gouverneur Streets on the Lower East Side, the park reopened to the public last year. The playground now has a court game area, which consists of handball, volleyball, and basketball courts and is surrounded by a vibrant landscape of trees, shrubs and spring bulbs. Wald’s accomplishments included establishing the Visiting Nurse Service in 1893, the Henry Street Settlement later that year, and the Outdoor Recreation League in 1898 to sponsor playground construction as a safer alternative to street play. Wald’s goal of improving the life and health of children lives on through the efforts of dedicated and caring community members, organizations, and city officials.
12) Last year, construction was completed at the rejuvenated Sara D. Roosevelt Park, a park that had fallen into disrepair. Improvements included a new synthetic-turf field and a three-lane track. The park’s Canal and Chrystie Street entrance was also reconstructed, and new paths, benches, lighting, and decorative pavement were added. The site’s perimeter fence and wall was also reconstructed. The landscape was updated with an expanded lawn, and new tree, shrub, and perennial plantings to complement the existing large plane trees. The $2.1 million project was funded through an LMDC grant. The 7.85-acre park was named in 1934 after Sara Delano Roosevelt, mother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
13) Healthy neighborhoods thrive even more with green parks and places to relax. At Drumgoole Plaza, the first of the downtown parks projects to be completed in fall of 2003, parking spaces and traffic barriers gave way to planting beds, trees, and benches. The plaza was a collaboration between the Parks Department, the Department of Transportation, and Pace University to create a new sitting area for local residents. The park is named for John Christopher Drumgoole, a hero of the newsboys who thronged the area when Park Row was the headquarters of New York City’s major newspapers (including the New York Times, in the building Pace now occupies at 41 Park Row). Drumgoole joined the priesthood in midlife and worked tirelessly to help homeless youth.
14) The reconstruction of Tribeca Park, between Ericsson Place, Beach Street, and Sixth Avenue, also has been completed, thanks to funds from the LMDC. Some of the improvements installed include new bluestone and granite block pavement in a geometric circular pattern, new shrubs, lighting, and benches. The project was further enhanced by Assembly Member Deborah Glick's allocation of $200,000 to reconstruct the perimeter sidewalk. In 1809, the New York City Common Council agreed to convert the intersection to a park. The following year the city bought the property for $3,950. Over the years the park was expanded and more trees planted. In 1985, the site became known as Tribeca Park.
15) At Washington Market Park, an irrigation system has been installed to preserve long-term enjoyment of the lush lawn. Additionally, the sports courts were resurfaced and turf areas were reconstructed.
16) In the Financial District’s Hanover Square, the $6.5 million British Memorial Garden is presently being built by a private trust conceived to honor the 67 Britons who lost their lives in the World Trade Center disaster and to signify the United Kingdom’s commitment to Lower Manhattan’s revitalization. Among the garden’s features are imported stone from Great Britain, foliage sourced from the Prince of Wales’ Highgrove Estate, and a modern sculpture by British artist Anish Kapoor.
17) In the heart of Chinatown, the Parks Department plans to improve one of the Allen Street Malls and the Pike Street Malls. The malls are expected to be upgraded and improved, creating a green spine through the Lower East Side to link it to the East River Waterfront. The Parks Department will also be making improvements to several smaller neighborhood green spaces, such as Finn Square and the Pearl Street Playground.
18) The broken cobblestones and cracked asphalt at the intersection of Canal, Varick, and Laight Streets are being transformed into a beautiful park, known as CaVaLa Park. A design proposal for the area, used mostly for parking for decades, calls for a fenced-in park with three gated entrances, lined with a perimeter of trees and cut through with a winding path of granite stones. In the center will be a small lawn under the shade of a large tree. Along the north side, the plan is to create a canal -- 120 feet long, 12 feet wide, and eight inches deep -- where recycled water would flow from high to low ground.
19) Further west on Canal Street, there is yet another new park, formally known as Canal Park. Restored in the fall of 2005, nearly 80 years after it was decommissioned as a park, the $2.7 million renovation project was funded entirely by the New York State Department of Transportation. One of the oldest parks in Manhattan, its historical significance and original intent were realized only after residents began researching the history of this mysterious triangle of land. When they started researching, it was used as nothing more than a parking lot for the New York City Department of Sanitation. Further research concluded that the site was established in 1833, and was operated as the Clinton County Market. After nearly 30 years, the public market was torn down and, in 1871, the park was privatized. In 1888, as a result of the Small Parks Act, the city renovated and opened to the public many smaller parks that had previously been locked and inaccessible to the public, including Canal Park. The park itself was removed in the 1920s during the construction of the Holland Tunnel. The new .66-acre Canal Park features the original ornamental fencing, granite bollards, hoof benches, and a distinctly shaped central pathway. Green lawns, evergreen and flowering plants, cobblestone street tree planting strips, distinctive tree guards, and custom cast-iron bollards enhance the landscape. An interpretive granite planter depicting historic images was installed at the tip of the triangular-shaped site.
In addition to an overhaul of the East River Waterfront, many of the larger parks, which serve as important gateways to the communities they serve, have been targeted for improvements.
20) These include Columbus Park, named for Christopher Columbus and bordered by Mulberry, Baxter, Worth, and Bayard Streets, where construction has been completed on the ballfields and landscaped sitting areas. The only element of the park that is not completed is the pavilion, which is presently being revitalized. This park, situated in the heart of one of the oldest residential areas of Manhattan, stands at the crossroads of New York City culture and history. It is adjacent to the infamous "Five Points," a spot made all the more legendary by director Martin Scorcese's film, The Gangs of New York. The park was originally known as Mulberry Bend Park and was planned in the 1880s by Calvert Vaux, the famed co-designer of Central Park. Vaux saw it as an opportunity to bring new life and order into the depressed neighborhood.
The federally funded restoration project reconditioned the northern half of the park into the Chinatown community. The currently closed pavilion will be reconstructed for public community space and to provide much needed public bathrooms. Barrier free access will be provided to all levels of the pavilion through stairs, ramps, and a mechanical lift. The upper pavilion space will be restored with sensitivity to the original look. Bird deterrent will also be installed on the truss-frame structure to deal with the extreme bird problem on the site. The seating areas to the south of the pavilion and the spaces around the pavilion have been reconstructed. An Asian-themed garden has been planted to enhance the existing vegetation, reinforce the gateway link to Chinatown, and act as a transition between the active ballfield area and the pavilion.
21) Another gateway, Battery Park, underwent major reconstruction last year when the paved area known as the Bosque was transformed into a decorative garden designed by renowned landscape artist Piet Oudolf. The project, which also included evening lighting and a new fountain, compliments the work of the Battery Park Conservancy to completely reconstruct Battery Park. An $8.5 million project funded by the LMDC, the Battery Bosque has been transformed into a lush, green space with 57,000 square feet of gardens. The Bosque Gardens are a four-acre "park within a park" and consist of 100,000 plants and flowers. Graced with the city’s best views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty, the project included the repair of cracked asphalt and broken cobblestone; replacement of old and broken benches and picnic tables with new custom-designed furniture; and the creation of new, stabilized crush stone paths, ground surfaces, and a fountain.
22) Bowling Green, the oldest park in the country, was also targeted for improvement as part of the larger parks initiative. The completion of its refurbishing, a total overhaul costing just over $850,000, was celebrated in June 2004. "Bowling Green is New York City's first park and the site of many historical moments," commented Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe at the opening ceremony. The lawn within Bowling Green's oval and surrounding its perimeter was resodded and filled with plant life, both flowering and evergreen. The visual gemstone of the park, however, remains the majestic fountain. Other aspects of Bowling Green's refurbishing included the reconstruction of the perimeter bluestone sidewalks and interior pathways, as well as the restoration of the historic perimeter fence. Elegant, antique-style gas lamps and old-fashioned, vintage-style benches complete the amenities.
But the Park Department is not stopping there. Plans are presently in the works to clean up and revitalize the myriad other parks that dot the downtown neighborhood. These projects include East River Waterfront Access Projects (East River Waterfront Park), and Fulton Corridor Projects (Delury Square Park, Pearl Street Park, and Titanic Park).
All in all, downtown is slowly, but resolutely, becoming a greenhouse of sorts. When complete, the Lower Manhattan Open Space Vision Plan will have filled downtown’s neighborhoods with destination parks as desirable for active play as they are for family leisure-time activities, work respites, quiet time, and meetings.