Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


Remembering 9/11. Governors Island. The Beetles.


In gritty, industrial Long Island City, more than 150 people crowded the side walk and street adjoining a community garden to watch the planting of a street tree dedicated to Michael E. Brennan, a firefighter lost in the World Trade Center attacks. Among the participants that day, six months after September 11th, were administrators, teachers and students from Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Secondary School for Arts & Technology. Michael Brennan was the son of their school's secretary, Eileen Walsh. "As they tried to express the sorrow and grief we all feel, the idea came forward to plant a tree and put a memorial plaque in," said Noah Kaufman, one of several people working in the area who have been slowly putting together the community garden during their lunch hours. The desire for a memorial inspired a broader effort by the school to help in the garden and join with other high schools and business people to work for outdoor space in an area completely devoid of green.

The project in Queens is but one of numerous green remembrances of 9/ll that have sprouted as if from seeds spread in the wind. In addition to the parks and groves being planned at the sites of the terrorist attacks, living memorials in parks, gardens, and streets are taking root in New York and all over the country. Trees and flowers are age-old symbols of the resilience of life. People searching for a way to cope with the pain and loss have found a sense of renewal and hope in growing things, even a single tree. There is solace to be found in the labor of gardening, as well as in the process of working together with neighbors to make the city a better place to live.

The impulse can be seen in the daffodils that have been blooming at 600 parks and other sites around the city. Ten thousand volunteers planted more than a million bulbs, donated by bulb companies and Dutch cities, in a project organized by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation with help from 583 groups. Similar motivations led residents of a block in Brooklyn to raise money to plant two trees in Prospect Park to remember a neighbor who died in the World Trade Center attacks.

To encourage these efforts, the U.S. Forest Service has established a Living Memorial Project to assist local governments and groups in planning public groves in New York City, the Pentagon area, and in southwest Pennsylvania. The Forest Service is providing technical assistance and matching grants (the deadline for grant proposals is May 21.) The agency will also compile an inventory of memorial plantings around the country and feature them on the project's web site. New York City plantings will be mapped on OASIS, an interactive web-based map of New York City open space resources.

Some of the larger New York City memorials that have already been planted or are in the works:

In December, Trees New York planted 18 street trees in lower Manhattan in honor of specific individuals who lost their lives at the World Trade Center. The urban forestry organization, which promotes the planting and maintenance of street and park trees and trains citizen pruners, also has a Living Legacy Program for those who want to sponsor the planting of a commemorative tree.

At Battery Park, where many people fled after the attack and which was used as a staging area for the recovery effort, the Battery Conservancy dedicated a 10,000-square-foot flower border as the "Garden of Remembrance" for September 11. The border runs along the waterfront near the ferry for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Students from nearby high schools who escaped through the park on September 11 returned to plant bulbs in the garden, and participated in the dedication on December 11. "We wanted many people who had a traumatic experience in the park that day to build new positive memories," said Warrie Price, the park administrator and Conservancy president. The Conservancy recently received $1 million from Verizon toward its goal of a $4 million endowment to support the planting and maintenance of year-round flower and plant displays at the garden.

The National Tree Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based group that works with local volunteer organizations to plant and maintain trees in urban and rural areas and along highways, planted a dozen ash trees in a Memorial Treeway at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, where 11 of those who died on September 11 were buried. The trust plants what it calls "champion trees," which are clones of the largest and healthiest native trees in the country.

American Forests, a 125-year-old national conservation group that focuses on environmental restoration, urban forestry and education, has teamed up with Eddie Bauer to plant at least one tree for every victim of the September 11 attacks. The group will plant saplings at sites in New York, Washington, D.C., Arlington, Virginia, and Somerset County, Pennsylvania, as well as in other communities in the United States. About half of the 3,000 saplings destined for New York City will be planted in the Hudson River Park.

With Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg at his side, President Bush announced on April 1st that the U.S. government would give Governors Island back to New York city and state for educational purposes. The president's announcement has given momentum to longstanding efforts to open the historic military base to public use, but with a new twist: The plan now calls for using the island for programs of the City University of New York, freeing up space at other CUNY campuses for New York City public high schools.

There was no mention of Governor Pataki's earlier plan, which was widely supported, to create a self-supporting "grand civic space" on the island, including a convention center, museum, hotel, and public park. President Clinton declared the two historic forts on the island a National Monument in his final days in office.

Civic groups and members of Congress who have been working for years to turn Governors Island into a new public space for the city reacted positively to the idea of moving CUNY programs to the island, part of which has brick buildings, lawns, and trees that feel like a college campus already. But they didn't want the idea of public uses, including open space and ballfields, forgotten. "What about the plan we all signed on to?" said Robert Pirani, environmental director of the Regional Plan Association. He noted that many elements of the previous plan were totally compatible with CUNY, including parkland, a tourist attraction like a museum to complement the historic forts, and revenue-generating uses like a conference or special events center. "One of the things that would make it a success is to have a variety of things out there."

Representative Carolyn Maloney, who, along with Rep. Jerrold Nader, sponsored legislation to return the island to New York for public use, cautioned that there needs to be a realistic way to cover the estimated $15 to $35 million cost of maintaining the island, as well as the cost of converting the buildings to educational use. In an editorial in the Daily News, she argued for federal assistance as well as the inclusion of enough revenue-producing activities to make the island self-sufficient, in addition to the green space that the original plan included.

Financing, as well as legal and legislative issues, would have to be addressed before the plan could go through. But even before the details are worked out, the National Monument area could be opened for visitors, according to Robert Pirani. "The Parks Service could be running tours this summer," he said, noting that number of people going to Ground Zero had increased visitation to the other historic attractions in New York harbor, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

On June 2, a flotilla of a thousand boats will converge near the island to advance the cause of opening the island to the public.

Anyone who detects evidence of the Asian long-horned beetle is urged to call the beetle hotline, 1-877-STOPALB, operated by the nonprofit group Trees New York. The group immediately forwards the information to the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and a forester will come to check out the sighting. Barbara Eber-Schmid, the executive director of Trees New York, says that people shouldn't be reluctant to report a sighting because they don't want their tree taken down. The tree will die anyway, and there is government funding to replace the trees cut down. Leaving an infested tree will allow the beetle to spread.

Since the Asian long-horned beetle was first discovered in Greenpoint in 1996, it has become a serious threat to the city's five million park, street, and backyard trees. The tree-killing insect chews holes into the bark of trees to lay its eggs, which hatch into white, worm-like larvae. The larvae burrow into the tree to live and feed during the colder months, emerging as adults in the spring to mate and start the process all over again. The only way to stop the beetle from spreading is to cut down and destroy every infested tree.

The beetle is about one to one-and-a-half inches long, with a shiny black body, white spots and very long, black-and-white striped antennae. Signs of the beetle are dime or pencil-sized holes, usually in the upper trunk or branches, and piles of frass -- sawdust and insect waste -- where branches meet the trunk or at the base of the tree.

Sites For Beginners:

  • Neighborhood Open Space Coalition's Treebranch Network -- Among the areas covered by this longtime advocate for New York City open space are greenways, community gardens, parks, the waterfront, and Gateway National Park. Subscribe here free to the electronic version of Urban Outdoors Bulletin, an excellent source of news about parks and related issues.
  • NYC Department of Parks and Recreation -- It's easy to look up any park location, facility, program, or event at this site. You can also take a "virtual tour" (actually, more words than pictures) of several important parks in each borough, or design your own park by playing the NYC planner game. The "Daily Plant," circulated within the department, offers an inside look at park programs and events. Various park permits and applications, including a request for a street tree, can be printed and submitted through the site.
  • OASIS -- An interactive site that lets you view NYC land use maps or aerial photos by borough, neighborhood, community board, or zip code, then zoom in on details like parks, community gardens, or vacant lots and obtain zoning and ownership information. There are some inaccuracies, but users can help update the information.
  • Partnership for Parks -- A joint initiative of the City Parks Foundation and the NYC parks department. Under "What We Do," there is information about the Bronx River and other projects, citywide volunteer events, small grants programs, and many other efforts that help communities support and build constituencies for their parks.
  • Trust for Public Land -- This national open space group has increased its focus on urban areas in recent years. It has helped save community gardens and negotiated the purchase of several new state parks in the city recently. The site provides frequently updated information on the trust's projects and open space issues nationwide. Look under "Research Room" for urban land conservation and federal and state funding.
  • Urban Parks online -- An electronic toolbox for people working on city parks issues, from the Urban Parks Institute (part of the Project for Public Spaces, a NYC non-profit that aims to build community life through public spaces). The site brings together ideas from all over for creating, funding, and maintaining urban parks, and highlights park places and park news from around the country.

Other Recommendations:

  • Americans for Our Heritage and Recreation -- AHR is dedicated to strengthening the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, an important source of funding for urban parks and recreation. The site also has links to the House and Senate web sites, and a listing of all the projects, by state and by county, that have received money from the fund.
  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden -- Visiting this site is the next best thing to visiting the garden: Exhaustive but well organized, it offers virtual tours and everything you would ever want to know about the garden, as well as gardening information and access to the resource center and library.
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation -- The organization that is creating the Brooklyn Bridge Park posts the park's master plan, as well as an overview of the planning process and a trove of background material.
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park Coalition -- More information from a coalition of community groups that is working to create a Brooklyn waterfront park. The list of links is an excellent resource.
  • Car-Free Central Park Campaign -- This site for a campaign by the pedestrian and bicyclist advocate Transportation Alternatives lays out arguments for banning cars from Central Park's loop drive and provides the latest news on the issue.
  • Central Park Conservancy -- The official web site of Central Park, with news, events, tours, programs, and more.
  • Green Guerillas -- An organizer of grassroots activism to protect community gardens, this group also offers generous hands-on help: plants, supplies, advice, and volunteers.
  • GreenThumb -- New York City's GreenThumb program has been supporting community gardens for more than 20 years with information, technical assistance, materials, and funding. Check the site for grants, events, information, and links to gardening organization and individual community garden web sites.
  • More Gardens! Coalition -- This site has information on efforts to protect community gardens and a list of NYC gardens with links.
  • New York City Audubon -- Focuses on the city's wilder open spaces: Look here for wetlands and wildlife habitat protection, volunteering, and, of course, birding.
  • New York City Environmental Justice Alliance -- A network of grassroots groups working for healthier environments in low-income areas and in communities of color. Its Open Space Equity Campaign helps community-based groups with land use planning, organizing and advocacy to green their neighborhoods. Download a draft of its Green Cities proposal for a state urban environmental investment program.
  • New York Restoration Project -- A lively site from Bette Midler's group, which has been restoring parks in upper Manhattan and has helped save community gardens.
  • Prospect Park Alliance -- Park visitors can look here for park history, destinations, and recreation information.
  • Take a walk, New York -- Sign up here for free one-hour guided walks in some of the city's great and far-flung parks and greenways, sponsored by the New York City Department of Health and the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition.
  • Waterfront Park Coalition -- A project of the New York Conservation Education Fund, the coalition has created an inventory of waterfront park opportunities, assists local groups, and develops funding strategies.

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