Monday, September 9, 2013

Mount Hope Garden Filth - Parks' Capital Division "Dragging Their Feet"

Mount Hope Garden
 Mount Hope Garden - Bronx. From This.....                                         (Photo: NYC Parks)

Filth.   Wecome To The Jungle.  Mount Hope Garden –  Creston Ave. between E. Burnside and E. 179th St., Bronx.  The park has been closed for five years according  to Council Member Fernando Cabrera after the Parks Department's Capital Division failed to do due diligence on a prior renovation. Months after the park's re-opening sink holes developed in sections and it had to be closed.  Despite funding, the park has shamelessly sat idle since.   Besides actually fixing the now long-shuttered park, the Parks Department also refuses to clean it  which has created a health condition in the community.  The large pool of standing water in the center of the park was referred to as a mosquito farm at a press conference on Thursday.   (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)

"We have kids in this area. The children are asking why can't I go to the park, why can't it get fixed.  The reason why it's not getting fixed is because the Parks Department is dragging their feet," said Council Member Fernando Cabrera. 

Despite several requests the Parks Department refused to answer questions. 


By Geoffrey Croft

The smell of urine waifs from Mount Hope Gardens, a small, decrepit vest-pocket garbage-strewn park on Creston Ave off of E. Burnside and E. 179th St. in the Mount Hope section of the Bronx. 

Five-foot  high weeds grow through the playground's safety surfacing. Local residents dump cat food in the park, in part, they say to keep the rats away. 

The former playground and garden has been closed for five years according to Council Member Fernando Cabrera who has been desperately trying to get the Parks Department do its job after allocating a million dollars to fix it. 

Standing in front of the filth around the corner from his City Council District 14 office,  a frustrated Cabrera held a press conference to denounce the Parks Department's handling of capital projects in his and other council districts.         

Cabrera cited the Mount Hope Gardens park project as prime example of the incompetence and lack of accountability. 

"Five years ago it was built and then just a few months later it was shut down because the Parks Department didn't do their job right. They didn't do the borings, they didn't investigate what was underneath," said the council member.

"If this was in Manhattan I guarantee you it wouldn't be in this condition for five years.  Here in the Bronx we deserve better.  Here in the Bronx we expect  better.  This is not a lack of funding, and this is systemic all throughout the city. This not just about my council district,  I'm speaking on behalf of all the council members, some that have waited seven years for their parks to be renovated." 

"We have kids in this area. The children are asking why can't I go to the park, why can't it get fixed.  The reason why it's not getting fixed is because the Parks Department is dragging their feet," he said.

He said he was told by the Parks Department that once the park was renovated they would keep it  locked.

"What kind of a message is that,"  the Council Member  exclaimed.   "We do not have enough green space in the area. It's just cement. " 

A 6-year-old boy stands outside the locked gate while looking at poster board with photos depicting the broken promises made to the council member and to the community.  "I used to bring my grandchild here," said an Abuelita walking by the locked gate.  It's sad the city does not take care of it. But you also have to make sure the park is safe."

Cabrera said his office has allocated close to six million dollars for various Parks Department Capital projects but has seen little progress and instead only excuses. The council member said he held the press conference to talk about the disappointment in dealing with the Parks Department, the commissioner and with the administration.   

“I put millions of dollars for the beautification of parks, but unfortunately things are not moving at all, " he said. 

"The main issue is that while projects remain halted, the cost of the projects continues to increase as time passes by.  Thus, causing the original money allocated to be insufficient. The department needs to give public accountability regarding work timelines and funds management.  Also, more attention needs to be paid to the outer boroughs and stop denying communities access to safe recreational areas in optimal conditions,”  said Council Member Fernando Cabrera.

"Young people are playing in substandard parks,"  he said.

The play equipment and benches on the other side of the park are also surrounded by filth and weeds.

The now  $2M for park repairs / cameras allocated for Mount Hope Gardens debacle isn't the only project the frustrated council member said the agency has been dragging its feet on:

Grand Avenue Playground - $2.69M to reconstruct garden, fencing, benches and playground.

St. James Park - $600K for cameras, basketball court repaving and soccer field.

Regatta Park - $1.6M  

His office also allocated funds to install a camera at Devanney Triangle across the street from Mount Hope Park along E. Burnside Avenue and the Grand Concourse. 

"Right here at this triangle we put $ 35,000 towards a camera and I'm given the excuse that there is no place to put the camera," said the Council Member while looking at Parks' owned triangle yards away.    

 "And I'm looking at a pole right now where you can a camera right there. All I'm getting is excuses after excuses, and excuses."

The council member also noted that he thought one of the fundamental problems is that the agency does not have enough designers and architects.

"We'll have meetings with them and they'll say. "'look, we're sorry we don't have enough architects we don't have enough designers."' 

The Parks Department Capital division has long been criticized from both outside and inside the agency for it lack of professionalism and poor management.  The Bloomberg administration has insisted on hiring unlicensed managers instead of qualified personnel to run the division that has been responsible for spending billions of of dollars during this administration.   The lack of accountability has resulted in countless delays on park projects and tens of millions of dollars in wasteful spending. 

The Parks Department's long established policy of taking thirty percent - 10% Planning, 10% Contingency, 10% Overhead, away from the actual construction of the project was also questioned.   There has been some discussion over the years from council members whether or not it was fair that these fees should be included or deducted from council Discretionary funding because the funding is already low.

“I have heard complaints for many years that the Parks Department’s Capital Division is not doing their job.  Unfortunately, this administration is more interested in groundbreakings than actually seeing these projects through completion,"  said Geoffrey Croft, President of New York City Park Advocate joining  Council Member Fernando Cabrera and members of the community. 

"It is shameful that these projects have been delayed. There is no excuse for them, except that this administration keeps hiring managers instead of qualified people to run their capital division. The Parks Department is the number one agency for cost overruns because they don’t do its diligence on these projects; instead they are in such of a rush to get shovels in the ground. Moreover, 30% of the money allocated for projects gets taken away from the actual construction project itself right of the top. This is our taxed dollars being wasted. These issues are unacceptable and need to be addressed.” 

The Mount Hope Garden is another failed collaboration developed through the City Spaces program of the Trust for Public Land and the City which relies on "community partners" to help take care of these public parks, a nice concept but reality is often another story. The Mount Hope Garden property was assigned to Parks on September 17, 1996.

Despite several requests the Park Department refused to answer questions. 

The large pool of standing water (rear) in the center of the park is called a mosquito farm.

Poster board with photos depicting the broken promises made to the council member and the community hangs on the loacked gate of Mount Hope Garden. 

Read More:

New York Daily News - September 5, 2013 - By Jennifer H. Cunningham 

Press Conference on NYC Parks Department - Part 2

A Walk In The Park - May 3, 2012 - By Geoffrey Croft 

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