BY ZACH WILLIAMS | The city Parks Department announced $4.3 million dollars in new funding on Sun., Nov. 8 to construct a new park at 140 W. 20th St., between Sixth and Seventh Aves.
Since 2010, a group of local residents has been advocating for a green space on what was once a parking lot and building used by the Department of Sanitation. They lobbied the city to designate the .23-acre space as parkland, raised $500,000 in private funding, and received $1 million through last year’s Participatory Budgeting process. Along the way, they’ve learned that with persistence, the wheels of bureaucracy can turn.
“Twentieth Street Park is a story of green space with real grassroots,” said Matt Weiss, a founding member of Friends of 20th Street Park, at an on-site Nov. 8 press conference attended by over 100 neighborhood residents, as well as elected and city officials who praised the Friends’ efforts and pledged their continued support.
“We all know that Chelsea is an amazing neighborhood that is experiencing growth at virtually every turn,” Weiss noted. “However, one area that has not kept pace with this growth is green space.”
Chelsea may have the High Line, but the area roughly between Fifth and Seventh Aves. has the lowest proportion of green space relative to developed land in Manhattan, according to the Parks Department. A new park would help ameliorate that situation locally, while also furthering a city initiative to have 85 percent of city residents live within walking distance of a park by 2030. The neighborhood ranks 58th out of 59 city community districts for the prevalence of parks, according to the department.
Now that the project has enough cash, a three-year process of environmental review, design, procurement and construction begins. Public meetings slated for next spring will help determine the site’s design, and the scope of its function. The Parks Department, on average, takes 29 to 48 months to complete a capital project from start to finish.
But a few more years of work does not daunt supporters, who say that the project has already survived various ups and downs over the past five years.
“It’s always an evolving process with different issues coming up,” said Sally Greenspan, a founding member of Friends of 20th Street Park, in an interview just moments after the Nov 8 announcement. “Staying with it is hard. We all have other priorities as well. We all have jobs and we all have families, and this takes time.”
In the last year, they’ve lobbied their fellow residents and elected officials to support turning the site into a park rather than affordable housing. Councilmember Corey Johnson said during his Nov. 8 remarks that a commitment from Mayor Bill de Blasio will resolve this issue by constructing 220 units of affordable housing at a site at 495 Eleventh Ave. (btw. W. 40th & W. 41st Sts.).
“This is a solution that had evaded us for a long time, which made it difficult for this project to move forward,” he said. “At this spot, future generations of New Yorkers will connect with nature, connect with their neighbors, play, eat lunch, relax, fall in love, fall out of love…It began with a group of dedicated New Yorkers who saw a cause and didn’t stop until they achieved a new park for our neighborhood.”
Those residents rallied State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assemblymember Dick Gottfried and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney to the cause. Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said at the press conference that the officials and residents made it readily apparent how much they wanted to prioritize the W. 20th St. park project.
“The creation of this park is a great example of what can happen when a group of people come up with a great idea, and have the persistence to keep working on it, even if it takes years, like this did, to see it through,” Gottfried said.
Greenspan told Chelsea Now that advocating for a new park has already given her the sense of community that the park can eventually provide. Historically, churches and synagogues were forums where residents engaged, she said. But in the last few years, she grew to understand how the campaign for a new park could bring a community together.
She did not know Weiss five years ago nor many of the other neighbors who would join together to form Friends of 20th Street Park. As the project progressed, she began realizing that she would not have to wait for the benefits of the park to become apparent, especially in the lines at local supermarkets.
“People would say, ‘Hi Sally.’ I had never seen these people before. I never knew any of my neighbors because we all lived in our little apartments, and then came out and we knew the people who lived next door and that was it,” she recalled, then anticipted the day when “we will all be sitting in this park and the children will be playing and we will all know each other.”
For more info on the park, visit 20thstreetpark.org.