Defenders Sharpen Environmental Review of Museum Project

April 6, 2016

The American Museum of Natural History’s proposed expansion into Theodore Roosevelt Park to build a $325 million science center has triggered a range of concerns as the environmental review of the project gets underway. 

Once again, the Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park, which succeeded in getting the museum to take 50% less parkland for the center, are in action. They participated in a lively “scoping session” on April 6 when the public, for the first time, could comment on the proposed scope of the environmental impact statement that the museum must produce under the direction of the New York City Parks Department.

 

In both oral and written comments, the Defenders sought to deepen and sharpen the EIS by plugging gaps and reducing ambiguities. Above all, we emphasized the need to preserve the park’s role as a tranquil gathering spot in a high-density neighborhood.

We also raised questions about the sheer size of the center and its grand entrance, the accuracy of museum attendance projections, loss of canopy trees, increased congestion (both vehicular and pedestrian), access to the park during three-year construction phase, and other issues. 

Click here to see the complete written submission.

Park Defenders Win A Victory But Concerns Remain

The Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park Inc. has succeeded in blunting the American Museum of Natural History’s proposed massive expansion into Theodore Roosevelt Park  Street at 79th Street. The museum’s revised conceptual design for a six-story science center and grand new entrance would take substantially less parkland than originally indicated. Initially, the AMNH says, about 40% of the new structure would have occupied parkland. That has been reduced to 20% — a significant victory.

However, our organization still has much to do. Above all, we are dedicated to preserving the park’s treasured role as a tranquil, intimate gathering place for the community – a “sweet spot” for residents of the high-density Upper West Side.


We call on the museum to:

Redesign the park area between 79th and 80th Streets to retain fully its unique role as the neighborhood’s backyard.

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While the proposed science center would still take parkland, there is ample opportunity to recreate an oasis that matches or exceeds what is being lost. At stake is not merely dirt but how the park functions for the people who use it. The interests of the community are paramount and its representatives must be at the table as active participants in the redesign process.

Preserve more trees than currently proposed in the museum’s plans.

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In particular, we urge the museum to revise the layout of a proposed underground service driveway that would remove two mature canopy trees with trunks more than two feet in diameter, one of them a majestic English elm.

Re-examine the new building’s layout to see if the structure can be reduced in size.

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While the AMNH argues that the proposed configuration is needed to solve internal circulation issues, schematic plans are still being drawn. We urge the AMNH to consider ways to lessen the building’s impact on the tone and texture of this small park.
Animated aerial view of proposed museum expansion.

Minimize the impact that the new building’s added visitors will have on the character of the park.

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We are concerned not only about increased congestion in an already crowded neighborhood (pedestrians, cars, buses, food carts), but also about the new entrance creating much more foot traffic in the park itself.

Protect the environment from the project’s potential adverse effects, both during and after construction.

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Among an array of concerns are noise, air quality and hazardous material removal.
The AMNH is a justly famous institution. We are not anti-museum. We are pro-park. We want to work with the museum on questions of mutual concern. At the same time, we will continue to be vigilant defenders of this precious urban haven.

We’re happy to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park Inc.
Information and comments: info@saveteddyrooseveltpark.org

English elm tree imperiled by underground driveway construction.

Voices of Concern

Individuals and organizations from around New York City and the nation have raised serious concerns about the proposed taking of parkland for the expansion planned by the American Museum of Natural History.

The Municipal Art Society of New York

Landmark West!

The American Society of Landscape Architects, New York Chapter

The Committee for Environmentally Sound Development

Central Park West Preservation Committee

The Austin Condominium, Board of Directors

Park Belvedere Condominium, Board of Directors

Billie Jean King, international tennis champion

Sig Gissler, former administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes and journalism professor, Columbia University

Martha Frick Symington Sanger, author & great-granddaughter of Henry Clay Frick

Stuart Blumin, professor emeritus, urban history, Cornell University

Paul Friedberg, FASLA, landscape architect, 2015 ASLA Medal Winner, the American Society of Landscape Architect’s highest award

Thomas Balsley, FASLA, landscape architect, 2015 American Society of Landscape Architect’s Design Medal Winner

Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, landscape architect, designer of Brooklyn Bridge Park and portions of Hudson River Park

Adrian Smith, ASLA, landscape architect, park designer, Trustee, American Society of Landscape Architects

Terry Meehan, CEO, Meehan and Associates

Peter P. Blanchard III, with Sofia A. Blanchard, author and land conservationist; founder and Board Chair, Greenwood Gardens, Short Hills, N.J.; Board member of Maine Coast Heritage Trust; member of the Board of Trustees, The Frick Collection, New York City

Four Views of Museum's Target Area

TARGET AREA:  Where precious parkland and towering trees would be lost to construction. (photo by Dave Greenberg)

Click on photo to enlarge image.

BIRD’S EYE VIEW: Expansion site seen from nearby 79th Street roof deck.

Click on photo to enlarge image.

TREE LEVEL: Museum expansion site seen from 79th Street during Sunday farmer’s market.

(photos by Piero Basso)

Click on photo to enlarge image.

STREET LEVEL: Approaching site on 79th Street at corner of Columbus Avenue.

Google Earth’s Image of Museum Greenery

WHERE TREES ARE A TREASURE: Google Earth’s view captures green canopy surrounding American Museum of Natural History. At least nine stately trees are threatened by the museum’s expansion onto parkland near 79th Street entry at Columbus Avenue. The vital role of trees in the adjoining neighborhood, planted through the years on side streets by block associations, is also visible upon closer look. No wonder “save the trees” is the community rallying cry. (Image provided by Sam Leff of 79th St.)
Graphic designer: Haruka Aoki