by Alex Abu Ata and Jose Leyva
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pumped a record $1.1 billion into New York City’s parks during his tenure, half of which was spent in the Bronx. That’s good news for many Bronx residents, depending on where they live.
One father said he travels to several different parks in the borough three to four times a week with his family. “It’s nice and safe, it’s great for the kids,” said Robert Figueroa, Bronx resident and father of two.
But for those who were counting on using the park the mayor pledged would replace the 25 acres of green space it lost to the new Yankee Stadium, it’s another story. They are still left scrambling for play space for their children, for perhaps two more years.
“Our sons and daughters now have to take the bus to play baseball,” said Alex Fernandez, a 32-year-old Puerto Rican who lives in High Bridge, two blocks from Yankee Stadium. The new ball club was built where Macombs Dam Park and half of Mullaly Park used to be. Together the parks boasted four baseball fields and two basketball, 32 handball and 16 tennis courts. A football field was encircled by a race track.
The promised new replacement park projects have been delayed until 2011. “It’s good to hear that we are going to have new parks,” said Fernandez, “but we’ll have to wait a long time.”
Elsewhere, however, Bronx residents who live along the waterfront now enjoy new green space that did not exist before. The Barretto Point Park opened in 2006 along the East River in Hunts Point. Nearby, a 2.7-acre Concrete Plant Park opened on October 30. It represents a segment of the Bronx River Greenway.
By the end of 2007, 13 projects costing $16 million had been completed. Twenty more were under construction for an estimated $63 million. An additional $99 million had been allocated for 34 projects that were in design, according to the Department of Parks and Recreation’s 2006-2007 biennial report.
Nearly half of the $600 million the Bloomberg administration spent on Bronx parks came from mitigation over the construction of the Croton Water Filtration Plant under the Van Cortlandt Park. The project had been criticized for its proximity to a densely populated area, and, following lawsuits from opposition groups, the city´s highest court rules in 2001 that the city could not proceed without approval from the State Legislature. Although the local Assembly member, Jeffrey Dinowitz, opposed the project, Bloomberg was able to bypass him by negotiating a deal with Bronx politicians. As a result, the plant will donate over $200 million of its water and sewer revenue to the city, which will be used to improve 75 parks in the Bronx over the next five years.
Despite the investment, Bloomberg has been criticized for implementing new projects without consulting the communities concerned. “The new projects were determined by the administration, and not by the needs of the communities.” said Geoffrey Croft, head of NYC Park Advocates.
On Earth Day in 2007, Bloomberg announced a 25-year plan, dubbed PlaNYC, intended to improve the city’s environment. One of the goals of the plan was to provide a park within a 10-minute walk for every city resident. Besides opening new parks, the administration also plans to open schoolyards to the public.
The financial crisis forced the Bloomberg administration to reduce its plans for city parks. The Parks Department’s five-year capital plan for projects through 2013 was cut to $2.3 billion–a $338 million reduction. Projects to rehabilitate eight parks throughout the city as part of PlaNYC–including
Soundview Park in the Bronx–saw their budget shrink from $206 million to $102.9 million.
The construction of the new Yankee Stadium during the Bloomberg administration was costly for the South Bronx community. In addition to the Bronx’s parkland, the Yankee organization received about $364 million in city tax breaks to build the ball club, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office.
When demolition began in 2006, the Bloomberg administration promised to open the new Heritage Park this fall. Construction has yet to begin and the city announced last week that it will be delayed for another two years.
According to the New York City Department of Parks, the new projects will include four new parks with soccer and football fields, a track, four basketball courts, eight handball courts, a skateboard park, a playground, fitness equipment and a waterfront esplanade.
These new facilities will ocupy 32 acres of recreational facilities, parkland and open space.
Completion date is now set at 2011, five years after the demolition of the Macombs and Mullaly parks.
While the community waits, the soccer field might be completed, but on synthetic turf—which costs less to the city to maintain, but also absorbs heat and can reach intolerable temperatures on a hot summer day.
“The new Macombs park is too small,” said Deyani Martinez, a 28-year-old mother of two boys. Sometimes there are kids trying to play soccer, she said, while others are trying to play football, next to still others who are working out–all on the same artificial turf.