Few candidates have put a high priority on the need for open space, greenery, or recreation in the city. But there are many issues the candidates could be talking about.
PAYING FOR PARKS
GREEN FOR COMMUNITIES OF COLOR
Recently, the city has begun auctioning off gardens to developers, in some cases for housing, which is also a pressing need for these communities. But garden advocates point out that there are numerous vacant lots with no gardens on them, and the communities need both housing and open space. In some neighborhoods, like the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the gardens themselves have contributed to the increase in property values in the neighborhood, reviving developers' interest in lots that were abandoned decades ago.
Legislation is before the City Council that would require a thorough public review before a community garden could be developed, and provide a way to transfer gardens to the parks department or a land trust. New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has filed a lawsuit to stop the city from auctioning off gardens without following the established public-review process he contends is already required by law. In the State Senate, John Sampson of Brooklyn introduced a bill that would, among other things, dedicate community gardens as parkland. Senator Velmanette Montgomery sponsored another bill that would allow non-profits to apply for Environmental Bond Act Funds to purchase community gardens. Neither bill made any headway in Albany.
CONTROVERSIES OVER TWO PROPOSED PARKS
TAKING PARKLAND FOR OTHER USES
The city wants to build a chemical water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. The plant would filter water from the Croton Aqueduct, satisfying the requirements of a federal water-quality lawsuit against the city. The city plans to build the plant underneath 30 acres of the Mosholu Golf Course, rebuilding the course on top when the project is completed in about five years. Opponents of the plan contend that the filtration plant will actually rise 30 feet above existing ground level, and increase noise, traffic, and pollution in the area. In May, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by the Parks Council and community groups against the plant. The groups are appealing the decision.
At Ferry Point in the Bronx, a former city dump that was transferred to the parks department is being turned into a luxury golf course by a private developer. Seven of the 400 acres will become a public park near a low-income housing project on the east edge of the site. But a 30-foot-high wall will block access to the rest of the park, including a waterfront esplanade, from the residential areas. The New York Environmental Justice A lliance opposes the plan as the privatization of public space that excludes low-income residents. Aside from the environmental justice concerns, there are also many troubling environmental questions, beginning with the toxic chemicals still remaining from the site's previous use.
Environmental groups in Staten Island are opposing the city's plan to build a complex of sports fields in a natural wetland area in Bloomingdale Park. They say there are other potential recreational sites that are not wetlands and have lower associated construction and maintenance costs. Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari has pushed the plan, citing the need for soccer and other fields for the borough's increasing number of young families. Because the Department of Environmental Conservation has not designated the area as a state-regulated wetland, construction can proceed; environmental groups are contesting the DEC ruling.
THE CANDIDATES' POSITIONS
One of the exceptions was Liz Krueger, who is challenging Senator Roy Goodman for the Manhattan district he has represented for 32 years. She called back herself to discuss her strong support for parks and community gardens. "We have way too little park space and open space throughout New York City," she said, "and it's a true quality-of-life issue for the future of our city."
Both Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio have made general statements supporting federal funding for urban parks (available on the web site of the League of Conservation Voters). They support the federal Conservation and Recreation Act now being considered by Congress. The Act would establish a separate trust fund for open space conservation, including money for urban parks and recreation.
The presidential candidates also support the concept of a federal land conservation trust fund, although George W. Bush takes care to emphasize his belief that any federally funded land acquisition must not trample private property rights. Audubon magazine published the candidates' statements on this and other environmental issues.
Two state senators have introduced legislation in Albany: Velmanette Montgomery and John Sampson. Liz Kreuger says she is a strong supporter of community gardens, and although she is not yet familiar with the details of the past legislation, she would support state efforts to promote the gardens.
The Green Guerillas, a garden advocacy group, has begun a campaign called Plant the Vote. By registering voters and educating people about the community garden issue, it hopes to get garden supporters elected in next year's citywide elections.
Although both United States Senate candidates have made general statements in support of environmental justice initiatives, only Rick Lazio specifically mentioned the need to redress the lack of open space in the inner city. His statement to the League of Conservation Voters said, "Ă…Ăł|we need more parks and recreational opportunities throughout this land, but the need is highest in our crowded urban areas. That is why I have consistently supported funding for the Urban Parks and Recreation Program." Ralph Nader calls for an Urban Policy Initiative, but its various recommendations omit any mention of investing in urban open space or recreation.