Volume 22, Number 22 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | October 9 - 15, 2009
Downtown Express photo by Tequila Minsky
Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee on Tuesday voted to stick with the approved plan for Tire Swing Park rather than risk delays and funding uncertainty. Some park advocates had tried to retain all of the playground’s elements. There will be a new tire in the park, but the rest will be changed.
Park plan swings back to the original redesign
By Julie Shapiro
The demolition of Tire Swing Park will begin next week, after a last-minute push to save the park failed Tuesday night.
Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee voted to continue with the state’s plan to rebuild the park, rather than risk indefinite delays by altering the plan.
“Tire Swing Park was a wonderful park, but its time has come and gone,” said Jeff Galloway, co-chairperson of the committee. “Things don’t last forever.”
The State Dept. of Transportation has been planning for years to rebuild the shady, wooden playground in W. Thames Park as part of the state’s larger Route 9A project. The new park will include a renovated dog run, permanent community gardens, a leveled playing field and an additional basketball court — amenities that have broad support among residents.
But last month, shortly before construction on the park was scheduled to begin, a contingent of parents and other park users spoke out against one piece of the plan: the demolition of the playground and south lawn, known as Tire Swing Park. They objected to losing the mature trees that shade the rustic playground and worried that the modern design of the new park would remove the space’s funky, backyard feeling.
The Coalition to Save Tire Swing Park gathered hundreds of petition signatures and made their case to the community board and D.O.T. in meetings over the past month. In response, the D.O.T. made several small changes to their original plan, including adding a real, rubber tire swing to the design, instead of a similar plastic feature, and planting larger trees that will mature more quickly and provide shade sooner.
However, the Save Tire Swing Park group hoped for much more drastic changes to the plan, and at the group’s request, the D.O.T. developed an alternate design this month. That design kept the current play equipment and south lawn in place, rather than adding new equipment and new trees. The purpose of Tuesday night’s B.P.C. Committee meeting was to decide between the state’s approved design for the park and the alternate one.
It turned out to be an easy decision, because the alternate design would need the city Public Design Commission’s approval, which would take at least four months. As a result, switching to the alternate design now would make it impossible for D.O.T. to reopen the park by Memorial Day 2010, as they had promised. And delaying the park construction for a year would put the project at risk for losing its federal funding, D.O.T. said.
The potential delays were a deal breaker to representatives of the dog run and community gardens, who objected to any changes that could jeopardize those amenities.
“No matter how meritorious the [proposed] changes are, there comes a time when any changes are at a great cost to the community,” Galloway said.
Another problem with the alternate design was that it would have saved very few, if any, of the trees that shade the park.
T Fleisher, horticulture director for the B.P.C. Parks Conservancy and a self-described “big advocate of trees and soil,” said he would never want to see healthy trees cut down — but the ones in the park are near the end of their life span and would have to be removed anyway. The poplar grove doesn’t have enough soil, and the pear trees are losing limbs as they age, endangering park goers, he said. Fleisher’s horticulture knowledge is well-regarded locally and nationally, and his effort to bring greener lawns to Harvard was recently featured in the New York Times.
After hearing from Fleisher and the D.O.T., the B.P.C. Committee voted overwhelmingly to continue with the current plans for Tire Swing Park, which include 23 new trees, water features and separate play areas for different ages of children. Construction will start next week, closing the park for about seven-and-a-half months.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Matthew Fenton, a B.P.C. parent and a founder of the Coalition to Save Tire Swing Park. “We were hoping for a resolution that would work for everybody, but unfortunately that did not come about.”
Fenton is already nostalgic for the impromptu potlucks in the park, which serves as a gathering place for many families in the south neighborhood.
Although the Tire Swing group did not get much of what they wanted, Fenton said the hours of meetings were not in vain.
“It’s always worth it to fight for something that matters,” Fenton said.