It’s not easy losing green space

Riverside Park on the Upper West Side. Photo Credit: Caroline Linton

We are in danger of losing at least part of one prime neighborhood treasure.

Riverside Park on the Upper West Side.
Riverside Park on the Upper West Side. Photo Credit: SNL

Enjoy the park? Green space is precious in the city, and now we are in danger of losing at least part of one prime neighborhood treasure: Theodore Roosevelt Park on the Upper West Side.

Nestled adjacent to the American Museum of Natural History, the tree-lined park is almost always filled with children playing, elderly people sitting on shaded benches, locals walking their dogs and, occasionally, a bearded writer finishing his column.

But now the museum wants to build a six-story, 218,000-square-foot science center in the park, and the natives are getting restless.

“This park is our village square,” said Sig Gissler, former administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes who lives on West 79th Street and now heads up the Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park. He noted the irony of destroying a green space named after President Roosevelt, a conservationist who expanded the national park system.

“The proposed development will destroy trees and create more congestion. We won’t sit still for the loss of precious parkland,” insisted Gissler, “that is owned by the people of New York City.”

But is it? Usually, the museum would require government approval to claim public parkland. But it claims it already has the permission, citing documentation from 1876 that allows the museum to develop the parcel.

Hundreds of Upper West Siders recently attended a town hall meeting at the Fourth Universalist Society on Central Park West, and made their strong emotional attachment to the park quite clear.

When City Council member Helen Rosenthal, who represents the neighborhood, said she supports the development and spoke of “repurposing” the space, angry residents booed.

“I’ve been in similar situations for decades,” said activist Seth Kaufman, who lives near the park, “and learned that only direct action works. Get out on the streets, alert the media and put pressure on the politicians.”

“The museum respects its neighbors and their concerns,” a spokesman later told The Wall Street Journal. “We think it will be an even more productive conversation when we have completed and shared the initial concept design.”

More productive than booing? Let’s hope so.

Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.

Mike Vogel