Museum Taps Neighborhood Groups for Park Redesign news

| 01 Mar 2016 | 10:53

The American Museum of Natural History is tapping into the neighborhood for a community working group that will weigh in on the redesign of a portion of Theodore Roosevelt Park, where the museum plans to use a quarter-acre of green space for a proposed expansion.

Friends of Roosevelt Park, the nonprofit that manages the park with the city’s Parks Department and the museum, will co-chair the group with the museum. Block associations, elected officials, Community Board 7, and park advocacy group Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park, among others, make up the group. The project’s landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand will also attend meetings, which begin on March 4.

“It’s always been our intention to work with the community to achieve the objectives of what the museum would like to do and make sure that the needs of the community are met as this project moves forward,” said Dan Slippen, vice president of government relations at the museum. “I think that what we’re doing now is really solidifying, in a way, efforts that we always intended.”

The museum has already met with community groups and residents, and will continue to hold individual meetings about the project.

The group will focus on the park’s current and future design and use, park construction and maintenance, and sustainability and historic preservation, among other topics.

“This is where the rubber meets the road,” said Adrian Smith, a landscape architect and president of Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park. “We’re optimistic that we’re going to be able to affect even more change than we already have.”

Defenders seeks to preserve the park as a neighborhood respite, and continues to raise concerns about changes to the museum’s underground service driveway, which necessitates the removal of trees, including a large English elm at 79th Street and Columbus Avenue. In total, the museum anticipates that nine trees will be lost in the construction project.

“We don’t want to just be perceived as tree huggers,” said Smith. “What do those nine trees mean? What it means to us is that it changes that portion of the park forever. Those are big, significant trees that really create a beautiful outdoor living room, front door, backyard.”

The organization is also interested in how the construction project will affect the park.

Slippen expects the working group to discuss the service driveway, but noted that the park use and tree loss hasn’t changed since the design concept was released in the fall, though the museum is “looking heavily” at how to preserve the English elm.

Peter Wright, president of Friends of Roosevelt Park, said a similar group formed in the late 1990s when the Rose Center for Earth and Space was constructed, which he remembers as a successful initiative. The W. 81st Street section of the park was redesigned at that time.

“We want this neighborhood group, the voice from the pew, the people there, to give ideas to the landscape design company as to what attracts people, what are the good things, what are the no-no’s,” Wright said. “That’s what this committee is all about.”

Friends supports the museum’s expansion plan, and Wright isn’t too concerned with the tree loss. The park is densely filled with more than 200 trees already, he said, which creates competition between existing trees for sunlight and nutrients.

Wright also hopes to discuss the addition of a learning garden for local students once the group convenes.

The museum also launched a transportation working group, chaired by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, to address transportation and parking around the museum. In addition to community groups, the city’s Department of Transportation and the New York Police Department’s neighborhood precinct will also participate. The discussions will focus on current issues but could also have relevance to the transportation analysis for the construction project’s environmental impact statement

Congestion around the museum has been an ongoing concern, said Rosenthal.

“That problem has not gone away, so now we have a working group with all the right people at the table whose goal it is to fix it,” she said.

Wright expects some disagreement amongst those in the landscape group, but said the meetings provide opportunities to raise concerns.

“There’s going to be a typical West Side food fight about some things, but that’s okay,” he said. “That’s why we’re getting together. It’s like at a wedding. Speak now or forever hold your peace.”