On West 20th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues you can find a quarter-acre open lot, something that is increasingly hard to come by in the city. However, its future remains uncertain. With great demand for both affordable housing and green space there is a debate brewing over the future of the lot currently occupied by the Department of Sanitation (DOS). Over the past year, Friends of 20th Street Park has evolved into a growing, concerted effort to demand that the lot be converted into a much needed park. With a district population in a neighborhood that ranks last on open space scores and grew over ten times the Manhattan average in 2009, the area is long due for some greenery.
Friends of 20th Street Park began as a small group of local citizens concerned about the future of the 10,000 square foot lot at 136 West 20th Street. The movement has recently grown to over 2,000 supporters and is gaining momentum as people draft letters to their representatives.
The argument for affordable housing is highly valid, given the many unfinished high-rises and vacant buildings in the area, however, open spaces are few and far between. The more than 2,000 children in the Chelsea area have to walk over 1/2 mile to reach the nearest playground. Rather than simply requesting that 136 West 20th Street remain open, the Friends Steering Committee has actively worked to research local options for affordable housing. Their list of possible sites titled, “Working Draft of Alternate Affordable Housing Sites to 136 West 20th Street” has grown from a dozen to 23 properties. Four are government-owned buildings and the rest are privately-owned/potential Housing Asset Renewal Pilot Program (H.A.R.P.) candidates.
One such building at 201-207 7th Avenue (170 West 22nd Street) is a perfect example. Four, five-story residential buildings that are city owned are listed as “Tenant Interim Lease” (T.I.L.). This means the government took them over from a landlord who mismanaged or didn’t properly maintain the buildings. Residents, most low-income, are given the opportunity to buy or lease their units at a subsidized rate. Matt Weiss, President of Friends at 20th Street Park, stated:
This property, just two blocks north of the park, seemingly has the most potential as an alternative, since the city already owns it. We continue to be puzzled by H.P.D.’s [New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development] intent to develop costly new construction on 20th Street [the vacant Department of Sanitation site] when this property continues to be a blight and should be redeveloped into a source of community pride instead.
Because the lot is already in city hands the transfer would require the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to handle an inter-agency transfer of the land from DOS control to Parks and Recreation. On the Friends of 20th Street Park webpage, a clear plan is outlined for how to get permission for the park. Regular updates keep citizens aware of upcoming events and those interested in joining can find numerous options for how to help.
Local businesses have jumped on board, displaying signage such as as “20th Street Park — Make It Happen!” and “Imagine a Park on 20th Street,” with an arrow leading people to the lot. The independent Lyons Wier Gallery, the world famous bridal salon, Kleinfeld and the Rubin Museum of Art have all showed support. In fact, on November 13th, a Kids Art Show at the Preschool for the Arts will display selected children’s visions for future park. Any child between 8-14 years old can submit their ideas between October 10 through November 7 and work will begin to be displayed online on October 15th.
Even City Council Speaker Christine Quinn seems to be responsive to the group’s call. In a September report to District Four, she recognized the importance of both affordable housing and green space. In addition, the initiative directly fulfills Bloomberg’s PlaNYC goal of having a park within a 1/2 mile and 10 minute walk for all New Yorkers. If successful, the Chelsea neighborhood would celebrate its first new playground in over 40 years!
All images © Amanda Silvana Coen for Inhabitat