Volume 21, Number 9 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | July 11 - 17, 2008

The Parks Department’s new vision for Collect Pond Park includes two shallow ponds.

What’s in a park name? A pond, city says

By Julie Shapiro

The Parks Department put the “pond” back in Collect Pond Park in their latest design, unveiled this week.

The space, bounded by the 111 Centre St. courthouse and Lafayette, Leonard and Centre Sts., is now a parking lot and a barren plaza, but Parks wants to convert it into a lush, wooded square.

The city expects the construction to start in summer 2009, using $4 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which may or may not be enough to complete the project, said Cristina DeLuca, a Parks spokesperson.

The first design for park, presented last October, showed a large lawn in the center, surrounded by trees and benches. The city Art Commission, though, wanted the design to pay tribute to the park’s past life as a pond — advice that produced the new design.

This incarnation of the park design shows an hourglass-shaped north and south pond in the center of the park, bridged by a metal walkway. The ponds will be flat and very shallow, reflecting the sky and the sun, said Lawrence Mauro, the project manager for Lower Manhattan parks. The panels beneath the water will be dark, to better reflect the light, he said.

“They will have a cooling effect on what is otherwise a rather hot space,” Mauro said in a presentation to Community Board 1’s Seaport/Civic Center Committee.

In the winter, when the park will presumably be cool enough, the water will freeze into a slab of ice and turn into a “snowy landscape,” Mauro said.

Board 1 members questioned the safety of the ice, calling it a lawsuit waiting to happen, but Mauro joked that at least there would be no danger of falling through the ice since it will be so shallow. More seriously, he said the department would look into it further.

C.B. 1 supported the previous version of the park’s design, calling it a vast improvement over the current plaza and Department of Transportation parking lot, which both attract homeless people at night.

Collect Pond was once a 60-foot-deep pool, filled with water from an underground spring, according to the Parks Department Web site. Dutch settlers called it “kolch,” meaning “small body of water,” but English settlers later changed the pronunciation to “collect.” In the 18th century, families picnicked by the pond in the summer and skated on it in the winter, and drank its fresh water. But by the early 19th century, the pond had become a sewer, and the city decided to drain the dirty water and fill in the land. To drain the pond, the city carved a 40-foot-wide canal, which today is known as Canal St.

The pond’s drainage did not end the site’s problems. The swamp beneath the former pond caused buildings to sink and contributed to outbreaks of cholera. A piece of the Five Points slum neighborhood overlapped with the former Collect Pond, bringing gangs and crime to the neighborhood. Collect Pond was also home to public executions and a detention center, before the Parks Department took it over in 1960.

Office workers and jurors currently use the plaza during lunch, and Mauro expects the new park to be particularly attractive to that crowd. Oak and birch trees will line the park’s perimeter, thinning in the interior to make room for several small lawns and a plaza with tables. Benches will dot the park’s paths, alongside planters with ferns, witch hazel and purple fountain grass. Near the corner of Centre and Leonard Sts., water misters will cool and moisten the air, a feature borrowed from the previous design.

Reconstruction of the park will also include belowground work to fix sinkholes in the current plaza, DeLuca said.

Board 1’s Seaport/Civic Center Committee decided to table the question of the park’s redesign until September, when Parks will come back with more information.





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