Volume 19, Number 3 | June 2-8, 2006

Downtown Express file photo by Elizabeth Robert

A Little League game on the ballfields.

B.P.C.A. wets down artificial turf idea

By Ashley Tusan Joyner and Anindita Dasgupta

These days, chatter about the lack of safe play space for children in Downtown Manhattan isn’t hard to come by. Some Downtowners are hoping to convert the Battery Park City ballfields to artificial turf to increase the available playing time.

“The scarcity of playing space is a very important issue for all the kids who live Downtown,” said J.C. Chmiel, coordinator of the Downtown Little League’s Majors Division. “It’s a tremendous crime for children not to have anywhere else to play.”

Community advocates say the idea to swap natural grass for synthetic turf would free up delicate fields that currently remain closed for nearly half of the year due to wear and tear and climate sensitivity.

“There is a lot of time that the fields are just not playable or accessible to the youth,” said Paul Goldstein, Community Board 1’s district manager. “It seems clear that if there was turf on the fields, there would be more time for kids to play.”

However, Jim Cavanaugh, president of the Battery Park City Authority, said that artificial turf may not be the best option to give kids more playing time. “We are not convinced that putting in artificial turf will increase playing time,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “We realize that they want to maximize their playing time on the fields, but we feel that there are other ways to do that. We’re going to see if we can meet their needs at least partway while still keeping the natural turf.”

Cavanaugh did say that the turf would allow the parks to open earlier. Currently, the fields open in early April. “Even then it’s still a little cold,” he said. He said there are many aspects of natural turf that help the environment. Natural grass absorbs and cleanses runoff rainwater, for example. “Those are factors that you lose when you take out grass and put in plastic,” he said.

However, replacing the natural fields would cost the B.P.C.A. more than just the environmental benefits of natural grass. Since 2000, the authority has mandated stricter environmentally-friendly guidelines. Each new building is now required to have roof top gardens and recycling programs. Cavanaugh is hesitant about setting up artificial turf in the parks, while telling neighborhood developers to plant vegetation. “We didn’t want to contradict ourselves,” he said.

Cavanaugh said that the Battery Park City Authority is in the process of finding more time for the leagues. He said, “We have already freed up fields on Mondays in June and we’re trying to extend that to see if there are additional hours available.”

For some, the technical perks of turf are as plain as the color green. When it rains, fields of grass tend to flood and fields of turf do not. Installment and maintenance costs for turf fields ring in at a fraction of the dollars it takes to reseed and upkeep plots of grass each season. And when it comes to sports activity, turf tends to have truer buoyancy and resilience during play.

Cavanaugh acknowledged that recovery time of natural grass is longer, but he explained that the Battery Park City Authority is trying to work with their maintenance staff to allow as much time as possible to players.

C.B. 1’s Goldstein said it will be less time than players would have with turf.

“We like grass too, we just have different priorities,” said Goldstein. “If turf means so many more kids and others can have access to the fields, we will continue to try to win naysayers over.”


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