Thursday, November 19, 2009

Keep The Trees, Lose The Tram Parts - Roosevelt Island Blackwell Park Master Plan Work Suspended Due To Community Opposition!

Aerial View Image Of Blackwell Park From Judith's Gallery

A reader of this post from Southtown wrote:
... my husband and I are concerned about the proposals for Blackwell Park. I especially enjoy the tall trees that block the view of the power plant, and the tot park and basketball courts which bring different members of the community together. My husband plays basketball at the courts. At times we sit behind the Blackwell home and just enjoy the trees and serenity. We are disappointed that this site has been chosen for a possible historic tram center when there is so much space in Southpoint that could be utilized. Or, why not put the tram close to the current visitor's center?

There is little we can do to stop the building of new residencies where the land has already been sold, but I hope that planners are responsible enough to keep island sustainability interests in mind (as far as commercial space, population and transportation needs, etc), and that our park preservation - the trees, game fields, and existing structures - be somewhere in the forefront.

Blackwell House

Blackwell Park Lawn

Blackwell Park Fountain
Blackwell Park Basketball Court Image From Judith's Gallery

Well, the latest news on proposed Blackwell Park Master Plan that was opposed by many members of the Roosevelt Island community is that work on the project has been put on hold and the contract with the landscape architect Lee Weintraub has been suspended.

Image Of Landscape Architect Lee Weintraub Discussing Plans With Community

The reasons for community opposition to the plan are summarized in this letter from the Blackwell Park Task Force to RIOC VP Of Planning and Inter-Governmental Affairs Rosina Abramson.
November 6, 2009
Dear Rosina,

Since the Saturday Walk-through with Lee Weintraub, a Task Force Committee has met several times for many hours over the past two weeks to formulate a response to what was presented and provide feedback on our priorities. The committee has remarkable consensus on virtually all of the recommendations that are presented below.

A) The committee is enthusiastic about the proposed placement and design of the new Tot Lot on the south side of the park. We feel strongly that the park should be a place for pure recreation and play and that it should not have a “science-theme”. We concluded that the best place for the future dismantled tram pieces is the glass enclosure of Motorgate, especially because of the need to continue protecting them from the effect of the elements and since Motorgate is a natural extension of the industrial art motif.

The elements that we most appreciate are
• The consolidation of facilities – so that caregivers can supervise kids of all ages
• Well designed bench locations
• Ambitiious sprinkler plan – we hope you splurge on this, should be great fun
• Ample shade
• Varied elevations

B) The committee is unanimously opposed to relocating trees. Such relocation is costly and unsafe to the trees. This is not to say that we oppose moving one or two trees to fulfill a specific objective, but we believe that the wholesale relocation that was presented at the walk-through was very undesirable and unnecessary.

C) The committee is also almost unanimously opposed to relocating the basketball courts. We are certain that the basketball courts’ present location is optimal. The 40 to 50 trees that ring them are appealing and block some of the view of the power plants. The courts should be resurfaced so that they drain properly and so that drains are not so prone to clogging by leaves and other debris.

D) We applaud the plans to make the park entrance more appealing, and encourage bold efforts in this regard. We all agree that the green fence next to 504 - the former Lillies Blackwell School and the unused area that it encloses should be removed in favor of a more open southwest vista. Benches should be replaced with more appealing and durable ones – such as those in and around Octagon Park or LIC park in Queens below the Pepsi sign.

At the entrance, we also encourage consideration of a pergola, arbor area, trellis or garden, to direct the attention of passersby to the direction of the park.

E) The sloping lawn next to the Blackwell school already has a nice open feel to it, and will become larger once the area inside the fence is integrated into it. The grade extending to the river can be modified by terracing. Terrace walls can be used as natural bench backs.

F) The former “Castle playground” should be considered as the locale for a fitness area for teens and adults.

G) The western border overlooking both basketball courts should be wheelchair accessible. The area between the two courts (the red pergola) can be remodeled but should continue to provide ample seating.

H) The ambience of the park would be enhanced with the addition of appropriate sculptures – perhaps in the area just south of the Blackwell House back deck.

I) Park lighting needs to be upgraded, both at the basketball courts and along the paths and playgrounds, and by any sculptures. Improved lighting around Blackwell House has already made it more attractive at night and has reduced the risk of vandalism.

J) The path of stairs leading from the courts to the back of Blackwell House is attractive and should remain. This area would benefit from a less cluttered appearance. Hedges should be trimmed back. Flowers or a garden should be considered if there is a suitable location either here, or at the Park entrance. All the walkways would be improved by use of wheelchair accessible brick or dense gravel material.

K) The committee feels strongly that significant expenditure around the 504 building should be deferred until its final use is resolved. Clearly, requirements for this area will be different for a library, than it will for, say, a restaurant.

L) The committee wants to see nearby bathroom facilities, but not in the park. Ideally, the new tenants for 504 Main Street or other nearby storefronts would offer facilities.

M) The “Castle” had a quality about it that challenged imaginations and was beloved by generations of kids. We’d like to see something like it replace the play equipment currently in place, possibly a “cityscape” or some other equipment that lends itself to exploration the way the Castle did.

N) Blackwell Park renovation needs to be considered in the context of the Island as a whole. While the Task Force, as per your request, has focused on Blackwell Park, the committee does not believe that it should take priority over other pressing issues such as the repair of rusted promenade railings or rehabilitation of the lighting and grounds at the pier south of the Meditation Steps.

The committee extends a very warm invitation to you and Mr. Weintraub to discuss these recommendations any weekday evening or weekend at either the RIVAA gallery or Rivercross Community room.
Asked to comment on the letter, RIOC President Steve Shane responded:
The letter to Rosina seems to be a wonderful product from the community process underway. Will there be different views from different participants? Absolutely. Ultimately, the democratic process is messy, but when a consensus is achieved, the effort should be worthwhile.
It's very interesting that community feedback was so welcomed and sought by RIOC for Blackwell Park renovations but similar views were ignored and rejected for the proposed Louis Kahn FDR Memorial Boondoggle at Southpoint Park. I guess the reason is that Roosevelt Island community views are valued only to the extent that they do not interfere with the plans of politically powerful Democratic Party allies and fundraisers.


Anonymous said...

I would like to thank the committee for their quick thought-ful comments/recommendations. GREAT JOB.

Anonymous said...

Look what you can get done if you stay polite and stay focused and on point. I think we all know a few people who should take a lesson from the Blackwell Park Task Force on communication.