Planting Ideas for Chelsea’s Next Green Oasis | chelseanow.com

Planting Ideas for Chelsea’s Next Green Oasis

Councilmember Corey Johnson, second from left, listens in on one of the group sessions the Parks Dept. organized to determine design priorities for the park. Photo by Yannic Rack.

Councilmember Corey Johnson, second from left, listens in on one of the group sessions the Parks Dept. organized to determine design priorities for the park. Photo by Yannic Rack.

BY YANNIC RACK | A new park coming to W. 20th St. is starting to take root — at least in the minds of the Chelsea residents eagerly awaiting its arrival, who turned out by the dozens to pitch in with their ideas of what the green space should look like.

The 20th Street Park, which will fill an empty parking lot between Sixth and Seventh Aves., is set to open its gates in 2019 after almost a decade of grassroots advocacy, a fight for funding, and a lengthy planning process.

“Neighborhoods need parks, it’s plain and simple. And soon, you’ll have a brand new space here in the heart of Chelsea,” said NYC Department of Parks & Recreation Commissioner Mitchell Silver, speaking to the crowd at the first design scoping session for the project, held on the night of Tues., Apr. 12, at PS 340 (Sixth Ave. & W. 17th St.).

Close to 100 neighbors showed up to the meeting, which was organized by the Parks Department, together with local elected officials and Friends of 20th Street Park, the non-profit organization started by local residents (20thstreetpark.org).

“It feels incredible to be here,” said Matt Weiss, who started the group and the quest for the park in 2010 after he found out that the quarter-acre lot would become available after six decades of use by the city’s Department of Sanitation.

Seating space such as this was a big favorite at the design meeting, and will therefore likely find a place at the 20th Street Park. Image courtesy NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.

Seating space such as this was a big favorite at the design meeting, and will therefore likely find a place at the 20th Street Park. Image courtesy NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.

With the help of volunteers, the Friends collected over 4,000 signatures, lobbied the city to designate the space as parkland, raised $500,000 in private funding, and eventually secured enough community support to receive $1 million through Councilmember Corey Johnson’s 2014 Participatory Budgeting process. A $4.3 million commitment from Parks to build the green space, announced at a Nov. 8, 2015 ceremony, sealed the deal.

“This is the beginning of a very exciting process but also the culmination of years and years of hard work and effort,” Weiss said.

Although Chelsea has the High Line at its westernmost section, the neighborhood is chronically starved for green space when compared to other parts of the city.

It ranks 58th out of 59 city community districts for the prevalence of parks, according to the city, and the area between Fifth and Seventh Aves. has the lowest proportion of green space relative to developed land in Manhattan.

“We were just keenly aware that there weren’t any green spaces around,” said Weiss. “This took on a life of its own because it struck such a cord with people in the community.”

Matt Weiss, who started a grassroots campaign to plant some green on his Chelsea block more than five years ago, addressed a crowd of neighbors and parks advocates at a scoping meeting for the planned 20th Street Park this week. Photo by Yannic Rack.

Matt Weiss, who started a grassroots campaign to plant some green on his Chelsea block more than five years ago, addressed a crowd of neighbors and parks advocates at a scoping meeting for the planned 20th Street Park this week. Photo by Yannic Rack.

At the scoping session, after a brief introduction, the space-starved neighborhood residents were broken up into small groups to brainstorm ideas, each one led by a landscape architect from Parks and equipped with maps and cutout models of possible features, including tables and chairs, water elements, plantings, and playground equipment.

Sixteen-year-old D’En Vargas suggested a multi-use basketball court to his group — an idea that wasn’t so warmly received.

“Without that, a lot of teens won’t come — they go to the park to play sports. It would be uniting us with everybody else,” said Vargas, who lives in Queens but spends a lot of time at his grandmother’s in Chelsea.

The debates were spirited — and not always satisfactory for everyone. D’en Vargas, 16, second from right, encountered staunch resistance against his idea for a multi-use sports field on the small plot. Photo by Yannic Rack.

The debates were spirited — and not always satisfactory for everyone. D’en Vargas, 16, second from right, encountered staunch resistance against his idea for a multi-use sports field on the small plot. Photo by Yannic Rack.

“This is more of an older group, so my opinion is currently being shot down,” he confided later. “But I’m still fighting for it.”

Not all of his fellow parks enthusiasts came equipped with a special wish list, however.

“Honestly, just having a park there would be so great,” said Robin Lockwood, who has a four-year-old son and lives on W. 17th St. between Seventh and Eighth Aves.

“But most importantly I’d like green space, even though I have a kid — he loves green space, too,” she added after a moment’s reflection.

After a one-hour discussion, each group presented their top picks to the room, with front-runners ranging from classic choices such as playgrounds and quiet green space, to more out-there options including an educational garden and a mural.

The majority of those in attendance also favored ample seating — for lunch breaks and friendly neighbor chatter — and some type of water feature. Almost everyone opposed a comfort station, which would take up a good chunk of the small space.

There was widespread support for some type of water feature, like this spray shower at another park in the city. Image courtesy NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.

There was widespread support for some type of water feature, like this spray shower at another park in the city. Image courtesy NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.

“I think there’s a lot of overlap in this room,” said Councilmember Johnson, whose early support of the garden helped propel the project. “We’re getting there,” he noted of the hard-earned forward momentum.

Now armed with the community’s input, the Parks Department will return to Community Board 4 with a concept design in mid-July, and aims to have a more finalized schematic design ready in the fall. Demolition on a small building still standing on part of the lot will begin early next year so the garden can be planted in time for its 2019 opening.

For Weiss, who had just had his first son at the time he started advocating for the park six years ago, and now has two more toddlers at home, starting the actual design phase seemed almost too good to be true.

“The running joke was always that this park will be built, and my kids will be off to college,” he said. “Now it seems like, thankfully, they’ll still be little ones by the time it’s done.”