Planning the Reservoir’s Future

Yesterday, Peter Dorosh, myself and about 20 other people attended the second of the New York City Parks Dept’s “Listening Sessions” for Ridgewood Reservoir. We learned that $50 million has been allocated specifically to turn Ridgewood Reservoir into a “destination park”; that is, one that will draw people in from outside the neighborhood. This is part of PlanNYC, Mayor Bloomberg’s 25-year plan of which, according to Kim Fallon, the “biggest part is greening the city.” In particular, the plan proposes planting about one million new trees. As Peter kept pointing out, it seems rather strange to bulldoze an area that’s already full of native trees in order to accomplish this.

Seven other areas are up for the same treatment including the beach at Far Rockaway, Dreier-Offerman Park in Brooklyn, Ocean Breeze in Staten Island, Fort Washington Park and the Highline in Manhattan. Mark K. Morrison has already been selected as design consultant. A preliminary plan should be available in a few months. They hope to start construction in Fiscal Year 2009. It’s not clear how far advanced the city’s plans are, or in fact what they are. Other than the statement in the plan that they want to “set aside two of three basins as a nature preserve and new active recreation center” they really haven’t said very much. I hope they haven’t made up their minds yet.

The stated goal of the session was to listen to what local residents want to be done to the park. Roughly 25 people attended, split about half and half between nature enthusiasts like Peter and myself and folks from the immediate neighborhood. (The Parks Dept. employees kept calling the nature folks “birdwatchers”, but the group that was there was quite a bit more diverse than that.) There were also about a dozen Parks Dept. officials. Also in the audience was state assemblyman Daryl Towns.

Kim Fallon at podium holding questionnaire

Kim Fallon, Acting Queens Team Leader, Parks Projects

They split us up into five different, color coded tables. Peter and I were on the green team, apparently by accident since we’d registered separately. The other member of our team was John C. Muir from the Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment. After listening to a brief initial presentation, we got maps and aerial photos of the site. We also got little cardboard cutouts of soccer fields, baseball fields, skate parks, cricket pitches, and parking lots to place at the points on the map where we might like these things. We were also encouraged to draw on the maps. After 45 minutes or so of discussion, every team gave a brief presentation on their thoughts.

Lutheran Pastor

Rev. David Benke from St. Peter’s Lutheran Church presents the White Team’s suggestion: “Passive use as primary use”

What emerged from this was that nobody, nature folks or locals, wanted “active” recreation at the site. Not a single baseball field or cricket pitch showed up in the presentations. One group put in a small skate park on the very edge of the site since local kids had been asking for it (though I don’t think anyone under the age of 30 came to the meeting). Otherwise, though, the general feeling was that there were sufficient baseball fields and basketball fields already in the neighborhood.

Improving the trails around the reservoir was universally desired for walking, jogging, and bicycling; and everyone wanted the street lights fixed. Interestingly, John C. Muir told us that when the reservoir first opened to serve the city of Brooklyn, it was explicitly designed as a “promenade” and walking was encouraged. Several teams suggested improved public transit, probably to be accomplished by adding a bus route or rerouting existing ones. (Right now, it’s a bit of a hike from the nearest bus and subway stops.) The groups were split on whether more parking was needed, and if so how much. Most of the time, the current lot is empty; but it can get crowded in the middle of a sunny day on the weekend.

Everyone assumed the lake in basin 2 should stay. Some folks wanted it improved for fishing or canoing and rowing or both. One interesting question was where the water that fills that basin actually comes from. Nobody was quite sure. It’s been drained at least once in recent memory, and it has refilled itself. Is it rainwater, a leaky pipe, or something else? And just how good is that water? We’ll have to figure that out.

Nobody asked for any of the three basins to be filled, although the Parks Dept. had explicitly stated that they could afford to fill one of them. However, there’s really no reason at all to fill the basin unless you’re going to put in ball fields. Furthermore the expense of bringing in enough soil to fill 10-20 acres 20 feet deep (not to mention the trouble of moving that many trucks through a residential neighborhood for months) seemed a total waste of resources.

Basin 1, which is in the process of turning into a bog, should probably be protected. How much access should be provided is an open question, but no one wanted to put much of anything there at all. Basin 3, the largest, should also be limited to passive use. There were various suggestions for nature trails, botanical gardens, arboretums, nature centers, and so forth. Various people suggested a serious effort to remove invasive species like Phragmites and Asian Bittersweet.

Rob Jett wrote about the first of these meetings, which apparently came to similar results. We’ll find out in a few months how much the Parks Dept. actually valued these sessions. If the initial plans show nature trails and no ball fields, we’ll know they were listening. If the plan starts by filling Basin 1 and covering it with astroturf and concrete, then we’ll know these sessions weren’t taken seriously. I hope they were listening, though. Ridgewood Reservoir is a very unusual and hidden gem in the heart of the city, almost a relic of another time, and it would be a shame to lose it now.

One Response to “Planning the Reservoir’s Future”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    Alas, rerouting buses is almost impossible: the relevant City Councilor always has a list of elderly and handicapped people who can’t manage to walk an extra block (and I’m not saying it’s not so, just that such complaints are politically more sexy than a rationalization which would allow far more people to walk several fewer blocks).

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