Monday, May 22, 2017

Parks Commish "Spin" Class For Workers After Disastrous Ft.Greene Pk Redesign Community Meeting

"This is clearly Silver. He wants to take one of the oldest parks in the city and remake it, leave his stamp."  - Area Resident



Corner of Myrtle Ave. and St. Edwards Place.  Park Commissioner Mitchell Silver is proposing a dramatic redesign to Fort Greene Park by opening up the entrance into the street in a plaza like setting along the heavily trafficked Myrtle Ave.   (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge


Concept # 1. The plan would remove a rounded stone retaining wall that separates the park from the busy street. Parks Commissioner Silver recently blamed the community’s opposition to his Parks Without Borders Ft. Greene Park Plaza redesign not on the plan itself but instead on how park employees presented it at the meeting he attended on February 16th.   (Click on images to enlarge)

Area residents are instead calling for Parks With Borders to protect the park.  


Brooklyn


By Geoffrey Croft


Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver is receiving some major pushback on his proposed redesign of Ft. Greene Park as part of his Parks Without Borders initiative. 


Some residents are upset over the proposal. The plan would eliminate a rounded stone retaining wall and open up the park to the street,  creating a plaza like entrance at the busy corner of  Myrtle Ave. and St. Edwards Place in the northern section of the park.    


The plan would also eliminate many trees, and The Mounds a popular children's feature in the park and pave the way for commercial activities in that area of the park residents fear. 

Critics have called the Parks Department Mayoral funded $7 Million redesign proposal, “engineered gentrification.”     

The city argues that the plan would open up site lines to the park's historic Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument,  provide additional seating,  and open pathways.  

Rebuffed by strong community opposition a month earlier at a Parks' Community Input Meeting,  an "angry" Silver presided over a more than two hour lecture for park employees at the Queens theater on, at least in part, how to "spin" public opposition to unpopular projects.  

During the lecture Silver blamed the community’s poor reaction not on the plan but instead on the park employees who presented it, according to several Parks Department employees who attended.

The Fort Green Park proposal was the only city park project featured in the presentation according to attendees, a copy of which was obtained by NYC Park Advocates. 


The plan would remove the rounded stone retaining wall which was part of 1936 Gilmore Clarke design. The wall separates the park from the busy Myrtle Avenue. Residents are upset over the proposal which would open up the park to the street at the corner of Myrtle Ave. and St. Edwards Place.


Entitled, ’Public Engagement 101: Tips to enhance your public meeting experience’  -  more than two hundred park employees - mostly from the agency's Capital Division sat through the talk on March 22nd at the Queens Theater.  

The move came after a disastrous Ft. Greene Park community meeting on February 16th held to discuss the park’s controversial redesign where the commissioner got an earful.  

 "You have to listen to the people who lives in the area, in the communty," a resident of public housing accross from the park said.  

"You can't just come here and do what you to do here. Let us be the spokesperson for what we want done here.  Money was given to Fort Greene Park. So let the people in this community deside what's best for in the park,"  she said.   

 "We actually had a presentation telling us we needed to learn how to spin things better," said a Capital Division park staffer who attended the class and requested anonymity out of fear of retribution.  

 "He specifically pointed out that the problem was that the designer didn't present it properly, they didn't spin it properly.  That's why there was a problem with the community."  

 The staffer said the training was held to, "teach us how to present because he was so upset over how things went at Fort Greene Park,"   said the employee"   There is a way to approach, (public opposition)."     

 "It was a couple of hours, “ the worker added, “It was a waste of time.  

It was mandatory, we had to go. The entire capital projects division was required to go,”   said the worker who felt pressured into attending.  

Silver's presentation to employees included Fort Greene Park's 1936 Gilmore Clarke Plan which shows the rounded retaining wall. The city now wants to remove the wall to create a plaza,  which would open up the park along the heavy traffic of Myrtle Avenue.  


"Sometimes you have to get past the loud people in the community, try to draw out the silent majority, things like that," another park staffer recalled Silver saying during the talk

"Commissioners can become so singleminded and Silver's single mindedness is in lowering all these damn fences, " said the long time staffer who also requested anonymity.

"And some people don't want to lower their fences.  


"I think on some of the Parks Without Borders I think he may be forcing the issue more than is necessary," the worker continued. 


"I think he's been kind of heavy handed with some of these communities though who didn't want their fences lowered and kind of insists, 'you don't know what you are missing. '" 


"It think it becomes a little bit of a panacea - this is your main vision for parks is to cut these borders down, these fences down."


The email was sent to employees on February 23rdseven days after the contentious Fort Green community meeting. 


“Commissioner Silver will be holding a training next month called ‘Public Engagement 101: Tips to enhance your public meeting experience’  intended to provide guidance for staff who regularly engage with communities and represent NYC Parks at public meetings, hearings, events etc,"  the email stated. 

It was resent on March 23rd as a reminder.

Two training sessions had been held previously at The Arsenal in Manhattan however this one was held in close proximity to the Capital division headquarters in Flushing Meadows - Corona Park.  Capital employees interact with the public in park construction projects.

“Its the only (city) parks project that he mentioned,”  said a long time park designer who attended the talk.  

"The other slides are his work in the city of Raleigh (North Carolina). He sure is attached to his own idea. And this is from 'Mr. Community,'" the employee said.  

"It's becoming streets without borders," the park designer continued.  

"It's nothing about the experience about being within the park. To me if you look at that proposed design it looks like a highway.”

“He has this obsession with making it open to the street," the employee continued. 

"He’s not thinking about the experience from the park. There needs to be a little bit of mystery. The street corner is very busy, its very traffionic or disruptive.  That rounded wall that’s there now and the trees is actually a buffer that I think enhances being in the park experience," the agency designer commented. 

“Its a very 60’s concept, these boring plazas."  

"He’s really interested in having entrances on corners. This is personal. "

Besides opening up the park to a busy street, some residents are also apprehensive about the potential commercial uses of the area which would also eliminate the park's popular mounds.

One slide in the March 22nd presentation shows booths along the proposed newly designed "highway."

“They are really into these booths, these concessions," the park designer continued.

"Even Henry Stern (former Parks Commissioner) wouldn’t allow concessions in parks because it was supposed to be about  the experience of being in the park and nature and to get away from all the commercial activity."

Area residents say they welcome much needed improvements to that area of the park, including infrastructure upgrades, drainage,  paving, and improved lighting but not opening it up to the street.

Critics of the Parks Without Borders plan, as proposed say is not the right fit and accuse Silver of "top down" approach. 



The community meetings were billed as "share your ideas and shape the future design of the northern edge of the park."

Besides the meetings some neighborhood residents say they feel condescended and patronized to.

Residents say they feel further slighted by the spin they have received from the Parks Department in written correspondences.


In response to critical letters the agency has been touting the popularity of the voting to get the funding as acceptance for the plaza redesign, which area residents strongly point out it wasn't.


The voting was heavily promoted by the Fort Greene Park Conservancy,  which many point out is not represented by people of color from nearby public housing who mainly use the park on that side. 

Arborcide.  Another slide shows the Tree Impact Zones.  Numerous trees - including Honey Locusts, Norway Maples, London Planes and Zelkova known a good shade tree - would have to be eliminated according to the proposed plan.


Honey Locusts, Norway Maple, London Planes trees that would be destroyed under the proposal. 


Several critics met with Brooklyn parks commissioner Marty Maher on April 11th after the contentious February meeting where he told the group that they were not architects, they didn’t understand Silver’s vision and that "he’s a great planner,"  according to several people who attended.

“He’s as great as Olmsted & Vaux,”  several residents who attended the park site visit recalled Maher saying.

"It reminds me of in terms of stupid use of money to the whole thing where they moved the fountain in Washington Square Park to be symmetrical with the Arch. Just a ridiculous use of money,"  said Enid Braun, a long time resident of the area. 

"This is clearly Silver.  He wants to take one of the oldest parks in the city and remake it, leave his stamp, "  she said. 


"Will he listen?"


The last question asked at the May 3rd community meeting concerned the elephant in the room - if the community did not want the Parks Without Borders  plan to move the entrance was it going to be forced on them.


Maher side stepped the question.


When pressed later about Commissioner Silver's presentation to park employees Maher acknowledged that Silver thought the park presenters spent too much time discussing,  “the Plaza,” the most controversial aspect of the plan. 


De Blasio promised that land use decisions were going to be made locally which would be a major departure from the previous administration.


The Parks Commissioner has a lot riding on this as the Mayoral funded Parks Without Borders is Silver's initiative and he lives - at least until very recently - four blocks away from Ft. Greene Park on Myrtle Ave in The Avolone high-rise and jogs in the park regularly.

(The owner of AvalonBay is the same developer who is trying use parkland to build  a massive 720 foot tower on 96th Street & 2nd Avenue.)

At the February 16th community presentation Silver stepped in and said he uses the park three times a week. 

On Thursday Commissioner Silver became the subject of a contentious City Council Parks Budget hearing where he was repeatedly questioned about the agency's inability to bring capital projects in on time and on budget.

During the hearing the Commissioner characterized Fort Greene criticism to "new people in the community." 


After the hearing Mr. Silver was asked to address the Ft. Greene concerns specifically if the community would have a choice if they didn't want the Parks Without Borders plan to open up the park to the busy street.


“This was a community nominated park it was from the Parks Without Borders which talks about the edges and entrances," Commissioner Silver said. 



Concept # 2. The plan would remove a rounded stone retaining wall that separates the park from the busy street.


"We are open to hear what the community has to say. They brought the recommendations to us. We’ve had three public meetings and we are willing to listen to what the community has to say. The next step is the community board.

What we are hearing is that some like the changes some don’t like the changes our goal is to work with both to come up with a design that is acceptable.  The next step is the community board but I’m always open to listening to people.  

He was pressed that people didn’t know the specifics of the design when they were voting a more than year ago to have money come to the park.

"I’m always opened to design we have it in all of our parks," Silver said. 

"We’ll just sit down and talk about the changes and make sure that everyone likes the design. We don’t do top down planning, that’s not the history of parks' Community Parks Initiative, the anchor parks, its all collaborative and nothing is going to be different in Fort Green Park. So we’re going to listen," he said.

"Having community meetings is not the same as having support for the plan,"  said Enid Braun, a long time resident of the area.   

"We had no idea this money would have strings attached like that," she said.

"I just think this five million or seven million dollars can be so helpful to change the park for the better," said Ling Hsu, a vocal critic of the plan who has been helpingn to spread the word in public housing accross the street from the park.

"But I don't think that the Parks Without Borders proposal is the answer,"  she said.

"We keep being told this design is for your own good. They have no intention of changing the design."

3-year-old Jay having fun on The Mounds. The Mounds are a popular feature in the park for children and would be removed according to the proposal. The plan calls for what one park employee designer called a "highway" leading up to the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument.     


The Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument has long been a focal point in the park.

(Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge

Read More:


New York Post - May 22, 2017 - By Rich Calder 





5 comments:

  1. This is an inept use of New Yorkers' tax dollars. Funding Commissioner Silver's vanity project expensed mostly for unwanted aesthetics and antiseptic corridor-like asphalt intrusions is wasteful & unwise.

    Money spent on infrastructure needs...repairs...upgrading playgrounds is one thing...extravagant 'visioning' when parks such as Commodore Barry-used by the NYCHA residents is left to lie fallow and in shabby condition -is all about the myth of the Mayor's disingenuous pretext of concern for the underserved.

    Scrub the Parks Without Borders scheme...the strings attached to the plan does more harm than good...this ends up as Parks With Strings Attached.

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  2. Parks are special because they have borders and need borders to give respite from the busy sidewalks and streets. We want Parks With Borders! Take your predetermined concept out of New York City. Cutting down mature shade trees should be a crime. How can a park officials even suggest it. It takes years and years for newly planted trees to provide shade. After presenting the parks renderings and getting comments they then say that isn't the actual design but give no public meetings for people to comment on the actual design. What kind of dog and pony show are they running? Do they think we don't see it?

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  3. Comm. Silver is a planner first and like the good planner that he is, he knows the placement of an element in just the right spot is key to successful design. It's unfair to say Mr. Silver is against borders just because he's against them for Fort Greene Park. He's placed his borders and walls around the Department of Parks. In those rare instances when people ckimb them and drop in undocumented, he holds spin sessions to reinforce DPR border security. Good walls make good bureaucracy.

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  4. The community wants a real public hearing on the "final design", which Commissioner Maher says "no one has seen", even him. But Parks is refusing any further meetings, and it's not clear that the Community Board will either. We keep asking whether the Parks Committee will rubberstamp the plan in its final incarnation and they assure us not. However, without a true public hearing, how will they know to vote in a manner that reflects the community's opinion?

    Fort Greene is a diverse community with diverse needs from its public spaces, and Fort Greene Park has always been divided. As Ling showed in her analysis as a designer, some of it topological, the hill with the Monument a kind of barrier relative to the flat area that is now under scope, the area directly across from public housing. This north side of the park is the most accessible to the more densely populated part of the neighborhood, is relatively small relative to the rest of the park. The divide is also economic, and the fact that there are differing hours of operation for north and south sides belies any statements contradicting this fact.

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  5. Listen to the community. That matters (or should). Manipulating or trying to manipulate the community or planting non-community/paid staffers in an audience to suggest that they are community members shows huge disregard, disrespect and just plain ignorance. You don't think people can see through this tactic? Spin away, Mr. Silver, and you will earn what we have long suspected: You are not very talented and you are a tool of this corrupt Mayor deBlasio and his very unpark-like agenda. Those who live closest to parks should have a larger say because they live there and are most familiar with how the park is used and what it lacks. Most reasonable people can deal with the facts of the situation and work well with bureaucrats on finding solutions but the bureaucrats must first listen to the community's ideas, perspective, requests and work out from there. A sound bite of "parks without borders" is just plain silly. Let's just make them parks that are well kept, safe and a refuge from the hardscape that surrounds us. Particularly here.

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