Major Movement on Micro-Park Plans

The “bubble diagram” for 20th Street Park, as presented to CB4 on July 15. Courtesy NYC Parks Department.
The “bubble diagram” for 20th Street Park, as presented to CB4 on July 15. Courtesy NYC Parks Department.

BY SEAN EGAN | Last week, the highly anticipated and hard-won 20th Street Park took a decisive step to becoming a reality, with the revealing of rough plans for the green space that will be built on a former Department of Sanitation site between Sixth and Seventh Aves.

At the July 15 meeting of the Community Board 4 (CB4) Waterfront, Parks, and Environment Committee (WPE), the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation was on hand to present the first official, concrete plans for the space — which took the form of a “bubble diagram,” named such for the way in which the space and its amenities are represented on the page as rough oblongs (as opposed to precisely organized schematics, which will be produced later). These plans enjoyed a largely positive reception, and the feedback gleaned from the meeting will be used to improve the finalized plans — estimated to be done in the fall.

The grassroots effort to establish a park on W. 20th St. officially began in 2013, when Matt Weiss founded Friends of 20th Street Park, which soon established itself as a vocal and motivated coalition of residents and businesses with a shared vision for the abandoned, 10,000 square foot lot in park-starved Chelsea.

The group succeeded in having the park appear on the ballot for Council District 3’s 2015 Participatory Budgeting process — an initiative in which Councilmember Corey Johnson’s office distributes about $1 million in discretionary funds amongst community-voted-on public projects. Emerging as the top vote-getter, it won $200,000 — after which Johnson committed an extra $800,000 to the endeavor. An even larger windfall came in late 2015, when the Parks Department pledged $4.3 million in funds for the lovingly dubbed “micro-park.”

“To see the progress being made is just a dream come true,” Weiss said of the bubble diagram. “When we started this effort, you know, we had some volunteers within the community who would draw pretty crude renderings of what open space, green space, would look like on that site. So to see it now with an official New York City Parks Department maple leaf, and an actual schematic design coming together is incredibly gratifying and exciting.”

Weiss is very pleased with the amenities the Parks Department has incorporated into its design, which include open space, benches, planters, and play areas for both younger and older children. In addition, there is a planned water feature whose white noise will “allow you to feel even further from the street,” Weiss noted, adding that the Parks Department was “very thoughtful” in including nods to the neighborhood’s character in the design.

“They’re incorporating a stage, and temporary public arts displays, [a] children’s mural wall,” he said, envisioning the combined effect of these features as creating “a nice connection, a neighborhood connection, to this community that has a lot of history with the arts in its DNA.” These artistic features are among many elements in the bubble design that reflect suggestions that emerged from an April community scoping meeting, held to poll the community for ideas as to what they want from the park.

“I think the Parks Department has done a great job incorporating the feedback, to come back to the community with a design for a park that offers a little something for everyone,” Weiss said.

The next step for the Parks Department is incorporating ideas from the CB4 committee meeting while producing their finalized plans — there was an amount of disagreement over the height of the fence, which Weiss believes could be compromised on, and discussion about the arts features and potential public Wi-Fi — but largely its just the “fun stuff” that’s left. While the plans are being revised, the structures remaining on the lot will be demolished in order for a 2017/2018-construction phase and a 2019 opening.

“I think what people really heard was we’re looking for an oasis,” Weiss observed. “An urban oasis, right in the heart of Chelsea, that’s a nice escape from the busy streets, and is a gathering place, where people can either get together with and get to know their neighbors, or find a tranquil spot to just be with their own thoughts and just enjoy the city, enjoy some shade.”