Garden variety debate at Hanover Square

By M.L. Liu

A planned memorial slated for Hanover Square has brought little comfort to some nearby residents. Instead, it has evoked dismay.

“This [the garden] is supposed to be a gift, and no one asked us whether or not we wanted it,” said Viqui Maggio, a 3 Hanover Square resident, at a June 8 public meeting to discuss the monument – which she referred to as a “tombstone.” Her building overlooks the square. Children, in particular those who were in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, would be upset to see a memorial each time they exit her building.

“I think we should have joy, we should have happiness [in the garden],” said Shirley Juergensen, who also lives at 3 Hanover Square.

The British Memorial Garden will commemorate British victims of Sept. 11.

Joel Kopel, vice president of 3 Hanover Square condo board and a Community Board 1 member, urged his neighbors to “be optimistic about the park.” He praised the garden, insisting it would improve their property values, although he also expressed concerns about the size and placement of the British artist Anish Kapoor-designed memorial.

In an interview after the meeting, Kopel elaborated, “We did not want this to be a cemetery, we did not want this to be a somber experience. We wanted the park to be uplifting.” He said he had received assurances from the Parks Department that the memorial, which will be within the sightline of the building’s front door, would be hidden.

“Between the steps of 3 Hanover Square and the memorial, there’s going to be topiaries…There’s going to be all kinds of gardening experiences before you get there,” said Kopel. “Even though it’s tall, it’s going to be mostly covered.”

City Councilmember Alan Gerson, who organized the meeting, expressed disappointment that the city had approved a design that seemed to elicit so much disdain. He said, however, that unless residents wanted to go to court, only “reasonable” modifications could be made to the memorial at this point.

Unless something radical happens, the memorial will remain 18 feet tall, Peggy Brown, a spokesperson for the British Memorial Garden Trust, said in a telephone interview.

Namshik Yoon, Parks Dept. chief of operations in Manhattan, presented residents with a work schedule for the coming months. He moved around the room, showing audience members plans for the garden.

Demolition at Hanover Square will be completed in three to four weeks, after which the installation of stonework – paving stones and a carved stone map of the United Kingdom – will begin.

The trees already in the square – except for two that were relocated and will be returned to the site – will remain throughout construction. The majority of the plantings, including the topiaries, will not be planted until next spring to allow them a full growing season. A four-foot tall fence on Pearl St. will protect the plantings.

The construction fence will be removed and the park will be accessible to the public starting in early fall.

“They will not be able to get the full benefits of the planting at that time,” Yoon said after the meeting. But people will be able to walk through Hanover Square once the fence is removed.

The garden’s paving will hopefully be completed in the fall, said Brown, however, “My understanding is that there will be ongoing construction until the winter.”

Some audience members were critical of the garden’s design. Richard Fabrizio, a resident of 3 Hanover Square, insisted the garden’s curvilinear design will hinder movement through the square, which he said is already small and narrow. “The design of the park is like the astronomer who goes into a closed room and makes predictions about the sun and moon,” Fabrizio said after the meeting.

In response to residents’ concerns about a fence around the construction site, Kopel said the fire department had reviewed the construction plans and was satisfied that firefighters could reach the building in an emergency.

Others inquired about the rules of the garden, including its hours of operation and its dog policy.

Garden hours have not yet been established, but Gerson expects that Community Board 1 will eventually make a recommendation to the Parks Dept., although the department ultimately determines park hours.

Closing hours might be necessary in order to prevent homeless people from sleeping in the garden and to discourage people spilling into the garden to drink after leaving the surrounding bars and restaurants, Kopel said.

Natasha Besch-Turner, a resident of 63 Wall St., said there were no dog runs nearby. “I’m not asking for more than being able to walk through [the garden] with my dog,” she said, cradling her dog, Simon, under her arm.

Kopel remains optimistic that despite the residents’ concerns, the garden is ultimately a welcomed addition to the neighborhood. “I think most people are in favor of this,” he said after the meeting. “I think they just wanted to be in the know and know what’s happening and [know there are people] looking out for their well-being – and we are.”

WWW Downtown Express