Height Victory Makes Fence Advocates Stand Tall | chelseanow.com

Height Victory Makes Fence Advocates Stand Tall

BY SEAN EGAN | Last week, it was revealed that the NYC Parks Department has agreed to let the fence at Clement Clarke Moore Park (10th Ave., btw. W. 21st & W. 22nd Sts.) remain at its current height of seven feet — providing an example of how community advocacy can influence city-laid plans.

This decision came to light when Matt Green, Deputy Chief of Staff for Community Affairs for City Councilmember Corey Johnson, sent an email on July 20 to the West 400 Block Association.

The height of the fence became the subject of controversy in March, when the Parks Department presented its plans/designs to renovate Clement Clarke Moore Park to Community Board 4’s (CB4) Waterfront, Parks, and Environment Committee (WPE). While the community was pleased with much of the redesign, they took issue with the Parks Department’s plan to shorten the wrought iron fence that surrounds the park from seven feet to four — in accordance with its Parks Without Borders initiative, which sees lower (or no) barriers as a way to make parks more welcoming and usable.

An example of what a four-foot fence might look like, as provided by the Parks Department. Critics noted this size fence would be easy to scale, and help facilitate crime. Photo courtesy NYC Parks Department.

An example of what a four-foot fence might look like, as provided by the Parks Department. Critics noted this size fence would be easy to scale, and help facilitate crime. Photo courtesy NYC Parks Department.

This was an immediate source of contention, as both committee members and residents present noted that the fence was necessary to keep the park safe after dark, as the space was frequently misused prior to the installation of the fence. 

Community outpouring against shortening the fence’s height could be found in the pages of this very paper, as an article covering the WPE meeting (Changes Coming to Clement Clarke Moore Park; March 16, 2016) prompted a number of responses against shortening the fence. “Decreasing the height to four feet will make the fence easily scalable and revert the park to a haven for crimes of opportunity and the pissoir it once was,” read one strongly worded reader comment submitted by Maya Hess on the chelseanow.com version of the article.

“We didn’t hear anything and we began to push a little bit,” said Allen Oster, a member of WPE and the West 400 Block Association, of the aftermath of that meeting. It was then that advocates contacted Johnson’s office to help navigate the issue, and Oster noted that his “office was very proactive in supporting us in this.”

For their part, CB4 issued a letter to the Parks Department in early May, cataloging their suggestions to the existing park plans, noting specifically that they wanted the fence height maintained, stating they were “worried about safety concerns that may arise if the fence is removed.” 

According to Oster, communication continued for a while between the groups advocating for the seven-foot height — such as the West 400 Block Association and Friends of the Park — and the Parks Commissioner and Johnson’s office, who exchanged a few letters. It was also kept in the public eye at meetings of said groups, and eventually, the fortuitous news arrived.

The matter of park design and fence height doesn’t seem to be going away, however. The debate continued on in the case of the recently funded 20th Street Park (140 W. 20th St., btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.). At a July 15 WPE meeting, while presenting preliminary plans for the space, the Parks Department again proposed a four-foot fence, which WPE bristled at. It remains to be seen if this community feedback will be incorporated in the final plans come the fall, though Friends of 20th Street Park’s Matt Weiss is confident that compromise with Parks is possible, and that they “will find a reasonable middle ground or solution in time.”

Referencing the situation at Clement Clarke Moore Park, Oster noted that the months of meetings and correspondence “ended up being a good experience for everyone, I think. The residents, the city administration, and the Parks Department came together, and hopefully we can now go on and work toward the renovation. It might take a while, but we’re looking forward to getting a new and improved, modern Clement Clarke Moore Park.”

A view of the park’s current fence, as seen in the presentation given to CB4 in March. Residents fought in favor of the taller height, citing safety issues. Image courtesy NYC Parks Department.

A view of the park’s current fence, as seen in the presentation given to CB4 in March. Residents fought in favor of the taller height, citing safety issues. Image courtesy NYC Parks Department.