Color Returns to damrosch park

| 18 May 2016 | 04:02

On Tuesday afternoon, Damrosch park was welcoming, inclusive and green.

In other words, much like a group nearby residents had sought during a five-year skirmish over the park's purpose.

Tuesday's festivities — many of the residents brought toffee, nuts and apple cider to the park — in part greeted 38 new trees and dozens of plantings taking root in the 2.4-acre space, which adjoins Lincoln Center on West 62nd Street. The trees — crape myrtles, green vase zelcovas and shamrock lindens — went some way to replace dozens of London lanes chopped down about six years ago in preparation for Fashion Week's initial appearance in the park. It was then that a coalition of Upper West Siders battled with the city and center over access to the park. But letter writing, Freedom of Information requests and direct petitioning led only to frustration. In 2013, Cleo Dana, who can see the park and Lincoln Center from her apartment, joined with Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates; Olive Freud, the president of Committee for Environmentally Sound Development; and neighborhood plaintiffs, and sued. They alleged that the Parks Department and Lincoln Center were violating the public trust by allowing Lincoln Center to put on private, money-generating events, and in the process cutting off public access. The parties settled in December 2014 and Tuesday's events marked a symbolic burying of the hatchet.

In addition to the plantings, which are one aspect of the settlement, a new plaque was commissioned to honor the Damrosch family, longtime patrons of the arts, including the Julliard School.

On Tuesday, Freud, who was joined by representatives from Lincoln Center and the Parks Department, spoke about the impact the group's actions had on the community.

“The Public Trust Doctrine has teeth and is to be taken seriously,” she said from a glass podium. “Other groups in the city should take heart and protect their precious public amenities; no one else will!”

Lincoln Center invested about $500,000 to reinvigorate the park. Planters are now filled with hardy plants, capable of enduring both the city's sweltering summers and its frigid winters. The center is also in charge of most upkeep and maintenance of the park, including snow removal, security and event planning.

Lincoln Center will continue to provide public programming in the park. That will include the Big Apple Circus, a nonprofit, which has set up its winter show at Damrosch Park since the early 1980s. “The circus set up will not interfere with the trees,” a spokesperson for Lincoln Center, Mary Caraccioli, said an email.

She said numerous concerts and events that the Center are being planned for the summer, all of which will be free or low-cost, she said.

“The programs give us the opportunity to bring the world to Lincoln Center. It's important the people understand that they are welcome here,” Caraccioli said. “There's great art for all. If people come to the public programs, suddenly they belong and going to the opera or the ballet seems less intimidating.”

Residents are also looking forward. “The most important thing was to give people in the city the heart to fight,” Freud said.

She and Dana hope that their actions will inspire concerned residents like them to speak out against any problems concerning their public spaces. Freud's group praises a San Francisco's so-called “Sunlight Ordinance,” which prohibits high-rises and towers from casting shadows onto public parks and spaces, a law Freud hopes will one day take hold in New York's open spaces.