Neighbors Organize to Defend Teddy’s Park
Defenders Spotlight Shortcomings in Museum’s Environmental Review
June 15, 2017
Two leaders of the Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park challenged the American Museum of Natural History’s environmental impact statement at a public hearing tonight on the museum’s proposed incursion into the park.
Here is the text of their comments:
I am Lydia Thomas, president of the Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park Inc:
We were formed in 2015 by citizens alarmed at the American Museum of Natural History’s proposed expansion into the park for construction of the Gilder Center.
We succeeded in getting the museum to take 50% less parkland for its project and to save two majestic trees targeted for removal. We have also participated in a proposed redesign of the park’s affected west side. But we still have major concerns. Above all, we want to preserve the park’s vital role as a community gathering place for the densely populated Upper West Side.
The draft of the environmental impact statement is wide ranging but seems to resolve every issue in the museum’s favor. From loss of parkland to increased congestion it concludes there is “no significant adverse impact.”
What’s missing in the analysis?
MASS OF THE GILDER CENTER
We believe the massive structure and its monumental entrance lobby will harm the tone and texture of our small park. In the draft, every alternative to the plan is rejected because it supposedly fails to meet the museum’s needs. However, we don’t think the museum addressed our proposal. We urged the museum to solve its interior “circulation” problems with a less imposing structure, to reduce the shadows cast by a 115 foot high, 245,000 gsf structure and make the entrance less of a magnet for throngs of visitors, especially on busy days. Having studied proposed floor plans, we are confident that architects could easily meet that objective. Unfortunately, architectural imagination has given way to inflated institutional imperatives. We sadly wonder to what extent the huge lobby reflects a desire to accommodate fund-raising parties and increase restaurant and gift shop business all in the name of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Reconfigured spaces for gathering and the opening of adjacent fenced-off lawn areas under a “managed public access” plan are attractive in principle. However day-to-day management is imperative to prevent damage (for example, after heavy rain). In an era of limited budgets, where is the assurance that the museum and Parks Department would provide sufficient resources to develop and sustain both the redesigned area and the accessible lawn space? If the current maintenance of the park is a harbinger of what will be, then the future is not promising.
I am Ronald Flesch, member of The Defenders board of directors. I am an architect by profession:
The draft EIS juggles various estimates, failing to provide a clear picture of how the public will use the 79th Street entrance in years ahead. As far as we can tell, the museum estimates that more than one million visitors annually will use the entrance, roughly double today’s flow. What is the source of such estimates? The museum mentions its own projections and the vague experience of other institutions. What methodology was used to reach the figures? What comparable projects were examined? We are left to guess. Furthermore, the estimating does not go past 2021. It’s going to take three of those years to build the Gilder Center! To what extent will increased New York City tourism and construction of more Upper West Side condos affect attendance and park use beyond the next four years? The questions bear on congestion and how well the park can serve as a neighborhood oasis. Remember, too, that when thousands of visitors use the 79th entrance, unlike other museum entrances, they beat a footpath through our neighborhood, affecting quality of life.
The museum’s 36-month plan raises an array of issues, from noise abatement to removal of hazardous material. Neighborhood groups must be involved in monitoring construction. The Defenders are especially concerned about safeguarding trees as large trucks move through the site. The museum promises protection. But questions remain. For example, to what extent would limbs be removed to make way for trucks, affecting tree configuration? Meanwhile, where will scores of construction workers park in an already crowded neighborhood? And where will already troublesome school buses park? The concerns go on and on.
THE HUMAN FACTOR
The draft EIS relies on a bureaucratic manual and low quantitative standards to measure “significant adverse impact.” However, many of the neighborhood’s concerns are qualitative. For example, the yardstick of parkland per 1,000 residents does not truly measure the role of Teddy Roosevelt Park. The museum is unnecessarily usurping part of the park to be used as the foyer for its new front door. In real life, this is a park where the neighbors come to rest, play and renew themselves. Let’s never forget the human factor!
Crucial Environmental Review Ahead for Museum Expansion
June 4, 2017
The American Museum of Natural History’s controversial plan to expand into Theodore Roosevelt Park is heading into its final stage.
The Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park urge you to attend the important public hearing on the environmental impact of the museum’s proposed new six-story science center, which will remove a quarter-acre of parkland. The hearing will be held on Thursday, June 15, at 6 p.m. in the museum. Enter at the Columbus Avenue entrance off 79th Street.
The hearing, in effect, will be the public’s last chance to air concerns. It will focus on a draft environmental impact statement produced by the museum under the direction of the city Parks Department. The draft covers issues ranging from diminished parkland to traffic congestion. For the first time, the project’s 36-month construction plan will also be addressed.
We hope you will review the draft, available on the Parks Department website. And then attend the hearing.
Crucial Environmental Review Ahead for Museum Expansion
March 16, 2017
The winter has come, then gone, then come again.
While we wait for the season to decide its direction, we also await publication of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the American Museum of Natural History’s proposed expansion into Theodore Roosevelt Park to build a new science center. Prepared by the museum under the direction of the New York City Parks Department, the EIS is due this spring.
In the meantime, the Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park would like to review how far we have come in this struggle to preserve our park’s precious open space. The Defenders:
- Led the way in alerting the neighborhood to the museum expansion;
- Organized a costly town hall meeting attended by 300;
- Played a significant role in getting the museum to take 50 per cent less parkland for its project;
- Employed an arborist and saved two majestic trees slated for removal;
- Served as an important force in re-designing the park so that, if the expansion occurs, we will reduce damage to the park’s role as a gathering place.
We also have called on the museum to further reduce the “mass” of its project and to deal with impending congestion issues. And we have testified at public hearings on the draft of an EIS and on the application to the Landmarks Commission.
Our work continues. We will be ready this spring when a public hearing is held on crucial environmental issues and the final development of an EIS.
The months ahead will be challenging and your participation in this effort will be essential.
Thank you again for your contributions and for being active in defending our neighborhood resource.
Defenders Name Lydia Thomas as New President
July 30, 2016
Lydia Thomas, a businesswoman and 44-year resident of the Upper West Side, is the new president of the Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park.Her election by the Board of Directors was unanimous.
A former teacher, Thomas is founder of Power Thru The Clutter, LLC, a firm that helps people better organize their space and their lives. She succeeds Adrian Smith, a landscape architect, who has served six months as president.
“Lydia has all the attributes we need in a president,” Smith said. “She is calm, highly capable and committed to making sure that Teddy Roosevelt Park will serve as an urban oasis in a crowded neighborhood.”
Formed last July after the American Museum of Natural History proposed a major expansion into Theodore Roosevelt Park at 79 th Street, the Defenders have played a significant role in preserving the park’s role as a community gathering place. Most notably, the museum now would take 50% less parkland for a new science center and entrance, and would save two stately canopy trees initially threatened by an underground service driveway associated with the expansion.
The Defenders – and especially Smith with his landscape design skills — have also played a leading role on a special Park Working Group that has proposed a redesign of the park on the museum’s west side, off 79 th Street. Despite loss of some parkland, the redesign would enhance the park’s ability to serve as the neighborhood’s tranquil backyard.
“We’ve made some important gains,” Thomas said, “but we still have work to do. In particular. I’m concerned by the sheer size of the project and the need to reduce further its impact on this small park. We also will firmly register our views as the project moves through the government review process.”
Stuart Blumin, a 79th Street resident and emeritus professor of American history at Cornell University, will replace Smith on the Park Working Group. Smith is taking a position with the city’s Parks Department managing projects on Staten Island. He will remain on the Defenders Board but, under city guidelines, must relinquish a spokesman role.
May 6, 2016
In a letter to the president of the American Museum of Natural History. the Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park has reiterated its belief that the museum’s imposing proposed science center is too large an intrusion into the intimate park. The letter calls for further modification in the project’s size and sweep.
April 6, 2016
The Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park is pushing to sharpen and deepen the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will evaluate the American Museum of Natural History’s expansion into the park. We have submitted a statement to the New York City Parks Department that lists key concerns.
Oct. 16, 2015
The New York chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects has issued a letter opposing the American Museum of Natural History’s proposed major expansion into Theodore Roosevelt Park. The project is “not in the best interest of the city,” the ASLA concludes. Read the letter here.
Oct. 13, 2015
The prestigious Municipal Art Society of New York has weighed in with some very important questions and concerns about the American Museum of Natural History’s proposed expansion deeply into Teddy Roosevelt Park. We welcome the organization’s involvement. Read statement here.
Oct. 6, 2015 – 7:00-9:00 PM
Learn how the proposed expansion of the American Museum of Natural History could significantly affect the park, the environment and our neighborhoods. Read press coverage here.
Hosted by: Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park, Inc.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015, 7:00-9:00 PM
The Fourth Universalist Society
160 Central Park West at 76th Street
Event support by LandmarkWest! and the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development.
Press Gets an Earful
July 20, 2015
News media are covering the backlash to the museum expansion plans. At left, reporter interviews Nadine Gill who walks through the park every day. She says: “It takes my breath away as a beautiful piece of music, lifting the spirit.”
Street Warriors in Action
July 12, 2015
Backlash grows as Upper West Siders learn of the American Museum of Natural History’s plan to devour a chunk of Theodore Roosevelt Park for a major expansion. On Sunday, three protesters (Marj and Dave Greenberg and Mary Gissler) signed up supporters at the farmer’s market on Columbus Avenue. Many neighbors were unaware of the museum’s plan.