Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Newest Park In Chelsea A Step Closer To Reality

Coming Soon -  A Place To Play.  A mother and child stop and peer through an open fence on West 20th Street between 6th and & 7th Avenue yesterday to watch a construction crew demolish a former Department of Sanitation building. Since 2010 Chelsea residents have fought tooth and nail to transform a 10,000 sq. ft, quarter-acre lot into a public park.  Chelsea Green park will become a rare, mid-block pocket park in a neighborhood whose residential population has exploded in a particularly park starved area of the city. The park is slated to open in 2019.  

In the end the city was able to secure three times the number of affordable housing units than what was originally envisioned at the park site.  A Win, Win For Everyone.  (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.


By Geoffrey Croft

The first new city park to be built in Chelsea in almost 50 years is inching closer to reality. 

On Friday officials gathered in the footprint of what will soon become a rare, mid-block pocket park in a particularly park-starved area of the city and in a neighborhood where the residential population has exploded. 

A green space that was fought for tooth and nail.

Flanked by large earthmoving equipment and the skeleton remains of the two-story building surrounded by construction debris,  representatives including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, and from the Department of Design and Construction and open space community activists gathered for a photo op.
Chelsea Green, as the new the $ 5.3 million dollar park will be called is expected to open in 2019, nine years after the community first began its push to create a much needed park space.

“Access to green space is vitally important, and for too long, East Chelsea met the definition of a park desert,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson who, along with the mayor allocated the park’s funding.  

“This park is one of my proudest achievements in public service. I want to thank Commissioner Silver, the Parks Department and the many community members who made Chelsea Green Park a reality,” he said.

Matthew Weiss, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver and officials from the Department of Design and Construction at Friday's photo-op.  “This park is one of my proudest achievements in public service," commented Speaker Corey Johnson who was instrumental in securing the park. (Photo: Friends of 20th Street Park)

This fall demolition began on the old Sanitation Department building where the agency’s Derelict Vehicle Operations office had occupied 136/140 W. 20th Street for at least 65 years.

Matt Weiss, a founder of Friends of 20th Street Park, is ecstatic to see the park finally come to fruition. 

"To be able to finally stand in the actual footprint of the space and realize how substantial it is by New York City standards it made it all real. It’s a real transformation come true,” he said.  

"Every event like this is just a reminder of all the highs and lows of the experience to get us here and get us one step closer to the final reveal of a great green space."  

Weiss credits a chance encounter with city Sanitation workers on his way to work one morning in September 2010 that lead to what he refers to as, “an adventure of a lifetime."   

On that fateful day he said he noticed some commotion in front of the lot across the street from his building, workers were padlocking the gate, so he inquired. 

They told him their operation at the site was closing and they were being relocated to another borough.

"I said, ‘really.’” 

Weiss, then a father of a one year-old, said that’s when the lightbulb moment to build a park went off.  

"Wow the city is vacating this city-owned site how unusual it is where there wouldn’t have to be a cost of acquisition for land and this neighborhood is really starved for green, for parks,” he said. 

He began sharing his idea with family, friends and neighbors.  

"I quickly got the same feedback - nearby parks aren’t that near, and the neighborhood is booming with families and seniors.”

The remains of the Sanitation Department building in the future park site on Friday.

Unwilling to accept the city's historically uneven track record of creating open spaces in needy communities, he made a decision to try and do something about it. A diverse coalition of residents and business owners throughout Chelsea was created and Friends of 20th Street Park was born. 

A steering committee was formed, a website was created, the group began compiling an email list that kept growing,  they felt momentum.

"Then we hit a wall,” Weiss said.

The group soon found out the property had been promised for affordable housing as part of Western Rail Yards 2004 rezoning on the far Westside. 

The group researched dozens of potential alternative housing sites but neither City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who represented the area, the City's Department of Housing Preservation agency nor the Community Board were budging.

“It was being told no in the face of what we thought was really good logic that made us so determined to have common sense prevail. The neighborhood needed a park, residential density was booming, there was lots of other opportunities for housing but only one for a park and we just wouldn’t take no for an answer,”  Weiss said.     

The group generated petitions and letters of support, they received the endorsements from twenty-one individual block associations.

In January 2011, The Council of Chelsea Block Associations (CCBA), an early supporting organization wrote to Community Board 4 and to local officials asking the board to reconsider its position. 

“[I]f a park is allowed to be established on the site, many hundreds if not thousands of residents will make use of the park…low income, middle income and upper income residents. It will be much easier to add 75 units of affordable housing to make up for the ‘loss’…as compared to finding space for a park starved community,” wrote CCBA president Bill Borock.

Politics continued to block success. 

Undeterred the group pressed on, for years.  

2011. The Sanitation Department building and lot facilitated the agency's Derelict Vehicle Operations office at 136/140 W. 20th Street for more than 65 years.

Demolition crews worked yesterday clearing out the last remains of the building.   The Department of Design and Construction is demolishing and clearing the space, it will then be turned over to the Parks Department for the construction of play structures, plantings trees, seating, and space for rotating public art displays. Chelsea Green is projected to open by 2019 according to the city.

Supporters packed community board meetings, organized social media campaigns, held rallies, met with numerous city officials in this uphill battle. 

As luck would have it the park movement had a passionate supporter who would become the park’s key political ally in the fight.

Community Board 4 member Corey Johnson worked quietly and effectively behind the scenes to help achieve both the community’s park plan as well as the affordable housing component.  And then some.

Early on, Weiss said,  Corey saw an opportunity to do "a world of good on both fronts.” 

These days Weiss thinks a lot about how this has all come full circle.

"We had an obstacle in prior leadership" he said. 

“In my view others saw an opportunity to make good on two important needs for the community. So to go from this to seven years later to Corey Johnson our biggest champion - you go from your biggest obstacle to your greatest champion you couldn’t have written a movie script any better.”

In the end the city was able to secure 220 affordable housing units at 495 Eleventh Avenue compared to 65 that was originally envisioned for the 20th St. site, three times the number of affordable housing units.  This alternative housing location was one of the lead sites the group researched and submitted to HPD and Speaker Quinn at the very beginning.   

The success here which achieved both important goals has not gone unnoticed among open space and community advocates.  The de Blasio administration has pitted housing vs. parks in several locations throughout the city as the Mayor has sought to dramatically increase the number of affordable housing units.  

Rendering of the future park.  The park will include play equipment for several age groups,  plantings, trees, seating, and space for rotating public art displays. Chelsea Green is projected to open by 2019 according to the city.

De Blasio is still pushing various housing plans involving parks and open spaces from Brooklyn Bridge Park to the Elizabeth Street Garden, Mill Pond Park in the Bronx to the Marx Brothers Playground and NYCHA Holmes Towers in East Harlem and Yorkville. 

The building of public parks and affordable housing are not mutually exclusive. The success here proves that both can be achieved through political will.

So many defeats, so much skepticism not only about our odds but about our motivation," Weiss said.

"In the end we played this role of not just compromise but peace maker. We found ways to solve another problem in the city with affordable housing, so to be able to get in the end triple the number of units of housing and a new park it gives me some real optimism that ordinary people in the community can find creative solutions that the government otherwise doesn't see for themselves. You just have to really stick to a cause and believe in it and make a lot of noise and then be very patient,” he said with a laugh. 

Weiss argues that every political decision should be made with such an open mind.  

He credits the success of achieving both the park and dramatically more affordable housing to an army of dedicated, tireless volunteers, and a little luck.

“It can be done. It took this ridiculous amount of perseverance and determination from a group that really coalesced but it did take some luck," he said. 

“Corey was instrumental in the success of the park," Weiss continued.   

"I think what he saw was an opportunity to solve two problems, that's what leadership is….he was just a problem solver, and a very charismatic, optimistic problem solver. We couldn’t have asked for a better council member in our district who happened to become a super powerful leader in city politics," he said. 

“Years and years of the community working together along with the collective efforts of our elected officials, made this community’s dream for green space a reality,”  said Friends of 20th Street Park committee member Sally Greenspan.  

Ms. Greenspan said she realized the park was actually going to happen when the project won the council member’s 2014 Participatory Budget competition.   

"Today, I am able to witness the park’s creation as it happens in real time.  And soon neighbors will be gathering and children will be playing in Chelsea Green, awesome!” she said. 

"The process of getting a park has been full of ups and downs,” said Friends committee member Dan O’Sullivan.    

"At the first community board meeting when we all filed up and presented in favor of the idea I thought logic would be clear to everyone, we would carry the day and construction of the park would commence the next day.  Instead, that meeting was followed by hundreds more as we wandered through the apparently hopeless wilderness of existing and competing and powerful agendas.  The participatory budget process was the thing that really dramatically turned the tide.  At that point, Corey Johnson, who coincidently stood right next to us at that very first community board meeting as the timekeeper ensuring out speeches were not too long, saw the depths of support for this project, took it on and made it happen.  I am very grateful for the work Corey has done on this.  While I originally was hoping to bring my kids to a swing set, now I am looking for a bench to read the newspaper on in my retirement, the thought of some green space in that neighborhood instead of just plugging that last gap with another building was the right thing to do for future generations,”  he said.  

The campaign helped galvanize a community in a neighborhood long known as industrial. East Chelsea is transforming from a largely commercial district into what has become a vibrant residential community. 

"To be able to finally stand in the actual footprint of the space and realize how substantial it is by New York City standards it made it all real," said Matt Weiss.  “It's a real transformation come true.”

“Your world can be kind of small in that you just don’t know your neighbors and this exercise brought this community this neighborhood -  if you want to call it East Chelsea - together in such a wonderful family sort of way that neighbors know each other now not just on 20th street but on 17th and 18th, 19th,” Weiss said recalling ideas brought up in conversations with fellow steering committee member Sally Greenspan.   

"They will play in the park and be friends and be part of a bigger community because of this fight and the effort and that’s what people have told me a long time was that’s the point of parks in the first place. So the fact that you build this (community) before the park was even built is really doubly special I think," Weiss said.      

Matt and his wife Joanna now have three kids - ages, 8, 4 and 2. Their children, along with thousands of others will undoubtably be spending a lot of time in the new park when its completed. 

The project, created out of love and achieved through steadfast determination will serve the city and many people of all ages for generations to come.

A Win, Win For Everyone.  

One of many events the group organized over the years in order to bring attention to the issue.

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

Read More:

A Walk In The Park  - December 16, 2011 

A Walk In The Park - November 14, 2011

A Walk In The Park - September 22, 2011

A Walk In The Park -  May 2, 2011 

A Walk In The Park  - February 10, 2011 

A Walk In The Park - January 12, 2011

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Pregnant Woman Assaulted In Riverside Park In Off-Leash Dog Incident


By Geoffrey Croft

A woman who is seven months pregnant was punched in the face in Riverside Park after a confrontation with a man over her unleashed dog, NYC Park Advocates has learned.    

The 39-year-old upper Westside resident was in the park on Sunday night with her dog off-leash at 7:40 p.m. when she was confronted by a man in his 40's who complained about her dog being off leach according to the police.

He took out his phone and tried to take a photograph of her and she put her hand up to block him and he punched her once on the left side of the face before fleeing northbound in the park.

She was not seriously injured. 

Non arrests have been made.

The victim posted her account on FaceBook.
"Safety alert: I was physically assaulted in Riverside Park last night by a white male, late 30s to early 40s, Irish looking, around 5’7 or 5’8, stocky, wearing a navy blue or black skull cap and navy or black fleece with Yankees embroidered on the left side. 

I admit I let my dog off leash an hour before offleash hours (approximately 7:45pm actually, but it was freezing last night and I didn’t want to wait until 9pm). He said he wanted to call his brother who is in “law enforcement” and come to arrest me, and he was enforcing the law in the meantime. I quickly apologized and leashed my dog — small, female, border collie who was hiding from the yelling man. I even acknowledged my neglect and offered to wait for his brother. I’m always willing to own my mistakes. However, I think this made him even more agitated. He said he was going to take a photo of me, and put the phone close to my face so I naturally put my hand out since he was getting closer to me, and that’s when he punched me in the face. I called the cops and an ambulance came since I’m 7 months pregnant. 

I was slightly puffy and dizzy, but the gloves probably saved me from major bruising or broken skin. Again, I admit I (like many others routinely do) let my dog offleash too early, but a freezing Sunday eveningtypically means very few people in the park. In fact, there was only one other woman around who also had her two dogs offleash, and heard the man yelling from afar, but did not see it. I believe this man lives in the 80s or 90s near Riverside. Based on his level of anger, most likely has a temper issue that neighbors have encountered. If you have any information on this man, please message me."

Friday, January 12, 2018

Central Park: Police Officer Steven McDonald Honored At His Old Precinct

"There is more love in this city than there are street corners,”  -  Steven McDonald 

Patti Ann McDonald, wife of the late NYPD Det. Steven McDonald, attended the unveiling of his memorial  with their son, NYPD Sgt. Conor McDonald at the Central Park Precinct. A year after being assigned to the park he was shot three times by a fifteen-year-old who the officer was questioning, his wife was pregnant with Conor at the time of  the shooting.  “I forgive him and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life,” Steven said in a statement read by his wife at his son’s baptism held in a chapel at Bellevue Hospital in early 1987. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on Images to enlarge


By Geoffrey Croft

One year after the passing of police officer Steven McDonald the city honored the hero with a plaque which was unveiled at his old precinct in Central Park.  

The touching ceremony was attended by family and friends and follow officers who worked and knew the beloved officer and many others who were there to pay their respects to a fallen brother who had inspired so many.

NYPD officer Steven McDonald in 1986, at age 29, the year he was shot and paralyzed in Central Park.  He was shot a year after being assigned to the Central Park Pct and 20 months after becoming a police officer. He was  and continues to be an inspiration to countless officers and will remain an enduring spirit for the city.  

He is survived by his wife, Patti Ann, and son Conor who followed in his father’s footsteps and became a forth generation police officer when he joined the force in 2010.  He is now a sergeant in the NYPD. 

McDonald’s wife was pregnant at the time with their only child, Conor was born six months after the shooting. 

Those attending the standing room only ceremony included Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, former Mayor David Dinkins, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and  Cardinal Timothy Dolan who presided over a funeral mass for McDonald at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 

The family's deep faith was also in attendance.

Steven McDonald was paralyzed after being shot in Central Park and was confined to a wheelchair and a ventilator.  The incident shocked the city.   

The Mayor said the plaque will be a reminder of McDonald’s life, that "we should all be about serving others, should all be about protecting others, and forgiving those we come across that do the wrong thing as well as celebrating those who do the right thing.  That's what his life was about and it was so extraordinary,” he said.    

The mayor spoke of the family’s courage, strength and their contribution to the city.   

"All eight and a half million New Yorkers owe a debt of gratitude to this family,” the Mayor said. 

"A man of faith like him believes its important to live the word.” 

The mayor then read a passage from the Corinthians 13:7-8.

“ Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at the moving plaque dedication ceremony on Wednesday.  

NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill praised Patti-Ann for all the support she has given to Department over the years.   

Commissioner O’Neill said he probably met officer McDonald for the first time right outside the precinct's front door when he was commanding officer for Central Park.

"The first time I met him I knew he was a special person,”  O’Neill recalled.  

“To be able to live your life incapacitated like that physically but certainly not mentally,  and to share that message of love is pretty special. I’m not sure they’re too many people on this planet that can do that."  

The police commissioner spoke of the incredible impact Steven had not only on the NYPD family but on the city and beyond. 

"You live a legacy of hope, of forgiving, not hating,” he said.  

"His legacy carries on, gives us hope to live in peace and make this world a better place.” 

Steven’s son Conor said the days before his father’s death were the worst of his life. He appreciated the loyalty and love his family received since his father was shot and since his passing.  He credited this support for giving him the strength to carry on. 

“My father was giant in my life, he was my hero, he gave me all the opportunities I have,” said Conor, 30,  who was born three months after the shooting to the newlyweds. 

“Steven was an exceptional human, the best of the best. He was a loyal and loving husband and a devoted and a very passionate father,”  Steven's widow Patti-Ann McDonald said.

"Even before he was shot by a 15-year-old boy Steven always believed it was his duty to spread God’s message of love,” Mrs. McDonald said.

"No matter what happened he always believed in the good of everyone from his time as a Navy Corpsman to his career as a dedicated cop," she said.   

“Steven always put others before himself to fulfill his life of service. Steven made life confined to a wheelchair and a ventilator look extremely easy.  He never showed the pain he suffered each and everyday while going though daily medical procedures that were excruciating. He never complained about the pain that would wake him up on a constant basis.  Steven lived life with a purpose to show us a better way." 

Patti-Ann McDonald, with her son Conor by her side, addressing the crowd.  

Patti-Ann read an anonymous letter her husband received a few years after the shooting the family found inspiration from. The author said he was knitting a sweater for their young son.   

Mrs. McDonald said at times when she and her son became bitter and sad about the pain and suffering Steven had to endure he would read them the letter to "show the purpose of his sacrifice." 

The letter came from a cyclist who was in the park that fateful Saturday in 1986.  The bike rider wrote that he had "a strong premonition that something was going to happen to him." He credited the officer for protecting him that day.  

“I knew something was wrong I just didn’t know what,” the moving letter dated March 16,1992 said in part. 

He was supposed to ride three or four laps around the park that day but stopped after one. He said he entered the park on East 91st Street but felt a very strange sensation as he headed north.  

"By the time I reached the furthest norther part of the park I was in a total state of dread.  I knew something was wrong, I jus’t didn’t know what. I had left my Church many years ago but I  started praying and promising god that if I just got passed that part of the park then I would return home without cycling the laps I had planned."  

He wrote that by the time he had circled around and reached the southern part of the park police cars were screaming past him racing north.

“I had never seen so many. But now I knew that whatever it was I had been feeling had just been answered for me by those cars."     

After he got home he heard on the news what had happened. 

"You see I always felt after that time that you had somehow protected me,"  Patti-Ann continued to read, her voice cracking.

"I don’t know how I don’t know why but I felt that you personally had kept me safe and I owe you a lot for that. So I want to thank you and tell you that every stitch with which I knit this sweater for your little boy was knitted with love and deep thanks. I hope you and your family will always have love, health and great happiness.”

The author signed it, "Love a friend.”

Patti-Ann thanked the many people for their support and love. 

“Steven would tell us in the darkest times of your life, never let anger destroy your will to live. Give all the love that you have to give and make this world the best it can be."

She then thanked her son. 

“I just want to say I was so blessed. I was pregnant with Conor when all this happened. Conor has been the strength that got Steven through those many years and myself and has helped me tremendously this past year and I love you Conor,” she said.

The mother and son then hugged.

NYPD bagpipers played during the unveiling of the plaque.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan ended the moving ceremony with a Benediction.

"He became a part of every home, so how appropriate dear Lord that we would honor him in this park called New York City’s backyard." 

The plaque is inscribed with the words of St. Francis.

“Lord make me an instrument of your peace.”

Steven McDonald lived by that.

A man of deep faith he publicly forgave the cold-blooded teen eight months after the shooting from his bed at Bellevue Hospital. 

 “I feel sorry for him,” McDonald said of Jones.

 “I forgive him and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life,” he said in a statement read by his wife at his son’s baptism held in a chapel at Bellevue Hospital in early 1987.

McDonald also expressed hope that he could further the dialogue with the offender after he was released from prison to inspire others.

Jones served nine years in prison for the shooting.  On September 9, 1995, three days after being released on parol, Jones was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Steven McDonald was appointed to the NYPD on July 16, 1984.  He was assigned to the Central Park Pct. a year later on July 8, 1985.

A year after being assigned to the park tragedy struck.   He was 29-year-old on that fateful summer day.  

Officer McDonald and his partner were working undercover at about 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 12, 1986.  They were patrolling in a gray unmarked anticrime car near the north end of the park when they spotted and began following three “suspicious” youths.  

McDonald followed them onto a wooded path near the Harlem Meer boathouse at 107th St. and East Drive.

One of the boys, 15-year-old Shavod Jones, pulled out a concealed .22 caliber,  “Saturday night special” revolver and fired several shots hitting the officer three times. One bullet hit McDonald in the left side of his neck, shattering into fragments that lodged in his spinal column.  

He collapsed onto the rain-soaked dirt and was rushed to the hospital.

McDonald was left a quadriplegic and unable to breath on his own. 

Responding police quickly arrested three suspects within minutes.  Jones was convicted by a jury in less than two hours and sentenced to 3-1/3-to-10 years, the maximum for a juvenile offender.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson,  Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan share a light moment after the ceremony.   (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on Images to enlarge.

After the plaque dedication ceremony Patti-Ann said she had many emotions.  She said she felt "very proud,” that the city erected the plaque in the Central Park Pct. where he worked.

"Steven loved working here,” she told A Walk In The Park.  

"Even after the shooting he used to come through the park and spend many hours here visiting the officers and to have his picture up here forever is just a beautiful thing especially after everything we’ve gone through this past year and what he lived through the past thirty plus years to see him being recognized like this, I mean it helps, it helps with the grieving process.  Just very grateful to the City of New York for their love and support and the New York City Police Department who have been phenomenal not just this past year but for the past thirty plus years,”  she said.   

The McDonald family were staples at many events in the city throughout the years.  They were  also frequent visitors at New York Ranger games.  She described her husband as a huge Ranger fan.

"It was something that Conor and him were able to do together," Patti-Ann recalled. 

“Obviously with Steven being a quadriplegic and using a respirator there weren’t many physical things they could do together and they were able to go to games together and experience that bonding together which was very nice.  I have pictures of Conor on Steven's lap when he was a little boy, two or three years old and when he got older standing next to him. It was something they both shared and loved together,” she said.        

"Go Rangers,” Patti-Ann said with a smile. 

Steven is an inspiration to countless officers and is an enduring spirt of the city.

“There is more love in this city than there are street corners, ” he wrote in his 1989 book, “The Steven McDonald Story.”

Steven McDonald with his wife Patti Ann and
Steven McDonald with his wife Patti Ann and 2-year-old son Conor in their Malverne home on June 1, 1989. (Photo: J. Michael Dombroski/Newsday)

Read More:

A Walk In The Park - January 10, 2017 - By Geoffrey Croft 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Barry Grodenchik Appointed As New Parks Committee Chair For City Council


By Geoffrey Croft

City Council Member Barry S. Grodenchik has replaced Mark Levine as the Chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee.
Grodenchik represents the twenty-third council district in Eastern Queens and was elected to the council in November 2015. 

“I am honored to have been elected by my colleagues as chair of the parks committee,"  Barry Grodenchik said in a statement.

"As a lifelong New Yorker who grew up in city parks and the current representative of a district with over a thousand acres of parkland, I welcome the opportunity to work to improve the parks that are vital to every community in the city.  

I thank Speaker Corey Johnson for his support and look forward to working with my colleagues on the committee as well as with Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver and his staff,” he said. 

The appointments were announced today at City Hall.

The new parks chair took the opportunity to address his fellow legislators on the floor. 

Council member Grodenchik spoke about the transformative impacts of parks.  

He recounted a story of his father Nathan and his friends walking across Crotona Park in the Bronx in the summer of 1935 and being approached by a "Parkie" who asked if they wanted to learn how to play tennis. 

His friends kept walking. Barry's father played tennis for 62 years until he was no longer able to at the age of 79.

Parks and Recreation Committee:  Barry S. Grodenchik-Chair,  Joseph Borelli, (Staten Island),  Justin Lee Brannan (Brooklyn), Andrew Cohen, (Bronx),  Costa Constantinides, (Queens), Mark Gjonaj (Bronx),  Andy King (Bronx),  Peter Koo (Queens), Francisco Moya, Queens),  Eric Ulrich, (Queens), and  Jimmy Van Bramer, (Queens).