chelsea park design sparks debate

| 19 Jul 2016 | 01:12


A preliminary design for the new 20th Street Park has been released and is causing some controversy, particularly with regard to the inclusion of a short fence.

The design, presented by Parks Department officials at a July 14 Community Board 4 meeting, was prepared with input gathered during an April “scoping meeting,” when Chelsea residents were given the opportunity to collaborate on the design of the newest neighborhood park. Common themes at that meeting were the needs for a relaxing green space, an area for children to play and a section for art to reflect the culture of the neighborhood.

At last week’s CB4 meeting, Parks officials presented a “bubble graph” that depicted approximate areas for each proposed section of the park. It included planting around the perimeter of the park, shaded seating, a public gathering space, two separate areas for children to play — one for ages 2 through 5 and another for 5 through 12 — and a decorative water feature, plus space for a small stage and rotating public art.

While attendees at the meeting were generally pleased with the design, a proposal by the Parks Department for a 4-foot-tall fence at the front of the park ignited the crowd. The planned height of the fence is part of Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver’s plan for “Parks Without Borders” — that is, parks whose outer features are designed to make them feel more welcoming — and it’s already caused controversy at Clement Clarke Moore Park on West 22nd Street. There, neighborhood residents say that even with the existing 8-foot fence surrounding the park they have found empty alcohol bottles and used syringes; the Community Board requested in a letter dated May 3 that the Parks Department leave the fence as-is.

“What works in some places doesn’t work in others,” said Lowell Kern, co-chair of the CB4 Waterfront, Parks, and Environment committee. “What you’re giving us is, ‘This is what the commissioner decided.’ But just because it’s what the commissioner decided doesn’t mean it’s right for our neighborhood.”

While many voiced concerns about needing a taller fence, some felt the opposite and thought a fence was unnecessary. “It’s old fashioned to think that if you put these huge, ugly fences in that it’s going to prevent bad things from happening,” said Diane Nichols, who lives in the building directly across the street from the new park. “I’m a senior citizen and I’ve lived across the street for 35 years. I don’t feel worried at all about the safety of the park. In fact, I think having a 4-foot fence is a compromise — I would prefer no fence at all!”

Matt Weiss, an organizer for the community organization that first proposed the park, Friends of 20th Street Park, said, “I tend to agree that an overly large fence would take away from the openness of the park ... I think it’s a balancing act. I hear everybody on the safety concerns. I have three little ones myself.”

Overall, though, he said, “They were able to put in a lot of amenities in a small footprint. The Parks department made a great first effort to accommodate the needs and interests of a bunch of different groups.”