Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is now officially 897 acres - down from 1,255 acres according to new analysis by the Parks Department. Numerous commercial and government non-park facilities also take up hundreds of additional acres inside the park and many more are planned.
The park is now the fourth largest park in the city - previously it was the third-largest. (Photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on image to enlarge
A funny thing happened while backers and critics of a proposed Major League Soccer stadium were battling over 13 acres of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Three hundred and fifty eight acres of the heavily used park seemed to disappear, according to the New York Times.
Over the last three years, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has been remeasuring every park in the system — from tiny South Oxford Park in Brooklyn to the behemoth Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx — using mapping software and satellite technology, rather than relying on a cartographer whose maps drew on city records dating to the 19th century.
The aim was to learn the size of each of the city’s 1,700 parks down to the thousandth of an acre, said Joshua Laird, a parks official who left the agency this week for the National Park Service. “We recognized for some time that our acreage tallies were fuzzy,” Mr. Laird said.
But along the way, there have been winners and losers. In Manhattan, Fort Washington Park is 24 acres bigger than previously believed, while East River Park shed 11 acres, and the already tiny Thomas Paine Park downtown lost 0.049 acres.
In the Bronx, Soundview Park, where the Bronx River meets the East River, grew by 63 acres. But all of Soundview’s new territory is underwater (the parks department owns out to the pierhead line, a federal delineation).
Over all, the department has picked up acres, on paper at least, and the new total, when completed this fall, should push park acreage over 30,000 for the first time.
But the biggest loser was clearly Flushing Meadows. Previously the third-largest park in the city, it dropped to fourth place after the new analysis put its actual acreage at 897 (897.62 to be precise), down from 1,255 acres. The park, the site of two World’s Fairs and now the subject of a furious debate over whether part of it should be devoted to a new soccer stadium, essentially switched places with Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, with 1,146 acres (a figure that was unchanged). The largest park in the system is still Pelham Bay (2,772, a gain of 7), followed by the Staten Island Greenbelt, a 2,800-acre expanse of contiguous parklands that includes 2,316 acres that the parks department controls. Central Park remains in fifth place, with 843 acres.
Antonios Michelakis, a Geographic Information System specialist with the parks department, has been working his way through the boroughs for the past few years in an effort to pin down each park’s true size, using a spatial referencing tool that incorporates satellite data. He started in the Bronx.
Fort Washington Park in Upper Manhattan added 24 acres, on paper at least. Over all, New York’s parks picked up ground in the reassessment. (Photo: Richard Perry/The New York Times)
To the department’s relief, most revisions involved undercounting. But not so at Flushing Meadows, where, in addition to the stadium proposal, there are also plans to expand the United States Tennis Center. The official paper record for the park, called a property card, was last modified in 1980, when the size was recorded as 1,255 acres. That was a slight revision from the 1950s, when the park’s size was listed as 1,257 acres. Most puzzling was the acreage given on the original title document from July 1936: 1,031 acres.
“We concluded that the park is, in fact, 897 acres,” Mr. Laird said of the investigation by Mr. Michelakis. “Then he went back to find where the mistake occurred and it became part of a vexing mystery. As far as we can tell, the park was never 1,255 acres.”
A major reason for the Flushing Meadows discrepancy was the failure by someone along the way to subtract the acreage of Grand Central Parkway, which ran through the park from the beginning, or the Van Wyck Expressway, Long Island Expressway and Jewel Avenue, which would later eat away at it. Parks officials may never identify the bureaucratic lapse that led to the error.
“We have miles of filing cabinet drawers filled with documents of real estate records dating back to the 19th century,” Mr. Laird said. “With all of the additions and calculations done by hand, errors found their way into those tallies.”
Those old records have their appeal, but precision is not part of it. “There is a certain artistry behind the old hand-drawn maps, and now everything is done on computer,” he said. “It’s a trade-off between beauty and accuracy. But numbers are important.”
New York Times - May 31, 2013 - By Lisa W. Foderaro