‘Get off my lawn!’ Local group takes heat for pushing city plan to fence-off grassy park

The city — and a group of volunteer gardeners called Friends of DeLury Square — want to replace this temporary fencing blocking access to the grassy areas with a permanent barrier, to the consternation of some locals.
Parks Department

BY COLIN MIXSON

A Parks Department plan to fence off a tiny lawn inside a Downtown green space has pitted neighbor against neighbor, with local nature lovers squaring off against a group of volunteer gardeners over just how accessible a public park should be.

“It’s a small issue that has tremendous resonance in terms of the privatization of a public space,” said Alice Blank, a member of Community Board 1’s Parks Committee.

A lawn that comprises about two thirds of the 8,850-square-foot DeLury Square park at Fulton and Gold streets has been sealed off from public access by a temporary fence since 2014, after the Parks Department found that the hordes of visitors and dog-owners who poured through the green space had decimated the grassy area, according to the former Parks employee who originally designed it.

“We opened the park and it was far more successful than any of us ever dreamed, in the sense that a lot of people came, and the lawn was really hit hard,” said landscape architect Alex Hart. “It’s probably just not large enough to sustain that kind of use.”

Now, as part of a $202,000 renovation project, the city agency is planning to replace the current flimsy fencing there with a more substantial version, making the once-temporary change permanent.

Local gardeners who volunteer with Friends of DeLury Square — a group dedicated to maintaining the small park — appeared en mass at a June 19 meeting of Community Board 1’s Parks Committee to support the construction of a permanent fence, with the group’s leader informing committee members that handing the park’s grassy area back to the public would mean its destruction.

“It is a complete disaster to even think about doing something like that,” said Veronica Silverberg. “It would be decimated.”

The well-organized group vastly outnumbered opponents of the fence at the meeting, but the volunteer gardeners were nonetheless challenged by several passionate park lovers — including a former member of the group, who said she quit because she fely that the gardeners had essentially privatized the public space.

“The fencing has effectively privatized the lawn area, where for some time now only a select few have enjoyed a public green space that belongs to all of us,” said Joanne Gorman, a resident of the nearby Southbridge Towers and former Friends of DeLury Square member.

The new fence — though clearly the focus of public concern — is actually only a minor aspect of the Parks Department project, which is also includes fixing a broken fountain, as well as repaving a short pathway to make it more accessible to wheelchair-bound park-goers.

Some CB1 members, who were being asked to weigh in on the Parks project as a whole, became confused over where the community stood, as the impassioned back-and-forth over the fence dominated the meeting.

“I’m not getting a sense from the community about who’s in support of the plan and who’s opposed to it,” CB1 member Andrew Zelter told the crowd.

But other board members, including vice chairman Paul Hovitz and Blank, spoke passionately against the fence, claiming the city should be exploring options for preserving the grassy area that don’t involve a barricade.

“I think a design could be provided that would allow for the park to be open,” Blank said. “I don’t think we should be spending taxpayer money to pay for permanent fencing to keep people out.”

Hart, a former Parks employee turned private landscape architect who was brought on by the city to handle the new DeLury Square renovation project, said it would be possible to maintain the park’s grassy area while allowing public use — but it would be expensive.

“I’m not going to say it’s impossible — I think it’s possible,” Hart said. “But it’s going to be a challenge, and it’s going to take a sustained effort.”

And the landscape architect insisted that the $202,000 Councilwoman Margaret Chin had allocated for the park’s renovation was far a cry from the funding required for a such major design change.

“It’s a small space, but even more small is the budget we have to work with,” Hart said. “Even though that sounds like several Maseratis, in terms of a capital project, it’s almost non-existent.”

Committee members ultimately sided with the Friends of DeLury Square, approving a draft resolution that endorsed the project — fence and all. The full board voted to approve the resolution at its meeting on June 26, but an amendment asking the Parks Department to seek funding that would allow the park’s grassy area to be open to the public.

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