During a recent warm spell, the city's parks were bustling as New Yorkers shed a few layers and looked to embrace spring's imminent arrival.
The Chelsea Waterside Play Area, long a popular spot in a neighborhood devoid of children's parks, would typically be among those teeming spots. But with the play area in desperate need of some TLC, the playground at 11th Avenue and West 23rd Street was nearly empty of visitors on a recent Thursday.
Its rubbery surface, designed to be safer than concrete, has chunks missing, and climbing equipment has been cordoned off because it has become unsafe. But with much of the park's drainage system damaged or blocked, it's the park's water features — where children splash around during warm days from spring through fall — that will perhaps be most missed this year.
Friends of Hudson River Park, a nonprofit, has begun a capital campaign to fund renovations. The plan is to completely renovate the play area
“We could do a Band-Aid, quick fix for these problems, but that's sort of ignoring the fact that the park is already 15 or 16 years old. Or we could just do a full repair and rebuild the whole thing,” said Greg Wasserman, who co-chairs the capital campaign with his wife, Melissa. “Fifteen years ago it was cutting edge and we want to make sure we do that again today.”
The campaign hopes to raise $1.5 million, of which Councilman Corey Johnson office has already contributed $170,000 and committed another $650,000.
“It's hard to overstate the importance of parks and playgrounds,” Johnson said in a statement. “Successful cities provide their residents with access to open space, to greenery, light and air, places for human interaction and places where kids can be kids.”
Signe Nielsen, the landscape architect for the project and a longtime New Yorker, is in charge of redesigning the park, which is overseen by the Hudson River Park Trust. In January, she and her staff organized a design charrette that drew about 25 residents, including children.
Nielsen said the overwhelming sentiment was to keep the water features a central part of the park. “Everyone felt that the fundamental character of the playground and what it's known for should remain the emphasis of the new design,” she said.
But because the park is relatively small, she said the challenge is “balancing fun and imagination and exploration of children with safety,” as well as making sure that the park is enjoyable during winter, when the water features are turned off. Nielsen and staff are still working on a theme, which would involve both visual elements and objects for children to play on.
Eileen O'Brien, a midtown resident who visits the park regularly with her granddaughter, Isla, praised the park and looked forward to when it would be fully functional again.
“In the summertime [the water features] are great, it gets so hot and people can really enjoy it,” she said.
But she also would like the park to include some traditional amenities. “I wish there were some swings,” she said. More shade for those who aren't splashing around, such as herself, would be nice too, O'Brien said.
Donations to the capital campaign made until March 31 will also be matched by the Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, which has made similar contributions to other city parks, including Central Park and the High Line.
“This project is really parents who are taking this on themselves with the guidance of Friends of Hudson River Park,” said Gregory Boroff, the executive director of Friends of Hudson River Park and also a Chelsea resident. “I'm surprised and amazed by the time they're spending and everything they're doing – they're leaving their own jobs to go to meetings and putting so much personal effort into this. This is an opportunity where people are really walking the walk.”