Police and fire investigators are looking into a series of unfortunate incidents in Seward Park during the past week.
Last night, Wednesday just after 9 p.m., a fire was reported outside the bathrooms on the east side of the park. No one was hurt, but today both the girls’ and boys’ bathrooms are closed. There’s still a strong smell of smoke in the area, there’s a hole in the ceiling of the girls bathroom and the electricity is out.
A shopping cart and other items belonging to a homeless woman were burned in the fire. Those charred items were piled up on the curb near the park entrance on East Broadway this morning.
According to the 7th Precinct, officers responded last night to a report of a fire in the general area. The police report indicated a trash can fire at the corner of Essex and Canal streets. Six or seven teenagers (ages 14-15) were seen nearby before the fire started. [It’s unclear whether there were two fires, one on Essex Street and one in the park, or whether the initial information just got garbled.]
On Tuesday night, several teens set a small fire in a corner of the park during a showing of Singin’ in the Rain. It was quickly put out. The same evening, the front doors of the Seward Park Library were damaged. While they were quickly repaired, the public library’s security team is reviewing security camera tape to find out who might have been responsible.
This morning, we walked through the park with Amy Robinson and Carol Anastasio of the Seward Park Conservancy. The homeless woman had been camped out with all her belongings in the garden on Wednesday, and according to park staff, had been there on Tuesday, as well, and had refused to move. Robinson called 311 and alerted Community Board 3. A staff member from the Department of Homeless Services tried to visit the woman this morning, but she wasn’t in the park today.
Community Board 3 is working on setting up an inter-agency meeting (involving Parks, police, Homeless Services, etc.) to address this week’s incidents. One major concern amongst members of the Seward Park Conservancy is that there’s no park staffing after 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The bathroom door should not have been open when the fire occurred last night, since the park closes at dusk.
We have contacted the Department of Parks, Homeless Services and the Public Library for more details. We’ll update this story if and when we hear back.
The organizers of tonight’s showing of The Wizard of Oz in Seward Park have had to cancel the event. As you’ve probably heard, we’re expecting thunderstorms and strong winds this evening. There’s still an outdoor film to look forward to later in the summer. The Metrograph, Seward Park Conservancy and Henry Street Settlement bring you Singin’ in the Rain Tuesday, Aug. 21.
You’ve seen their exhibition in Seward Park. Now it’s time to celebrate “Mom & Pops of the L.E.S” with photographers James and Karla Murray. The official opening festivities take place tomorrow (Saturday) from 1-3 p.m.
On Saturday, James and Karla will be talking about the exhibition — their motivations for it, and what they hope park visitors will gain from seeing the iconic storefronts. “Mom & Pops of the L.E.S” is set up in the southeast corner of the park. There will be free pickles from the Pickle Guys and candy from Economy Candy.
Beginning today, there’s a new community-focused art exhibition in Seward Park. Here’s the Facebook invite:
We invite local residents and immigrants to the launch of the trilingual newspaper project, Round Robin, in Seward Park with resident artists Art Parley, an art collective formed by Sue Jeong Ka and Mélissa Emily Liu! Come by during Art Parley’s Open Studio hours to learn about the next six weeks of activities and workshops around Round Robin, an ongoing socially-engaged project to build spaces for cross-cultural solidarity and understanding through storytelling, conversation, and empathy resonant to participants from diasporic communities in #Chinatown, #LES, and #TwoBridges. The Round Robin Neighborhood Archive and Library will be available during all Open Studio hours, activities, and workshops. Come read the first ever trilingual issues of Round Robin along with other collected materials related to issues of immigration and gentrification.
You can visit the mobile studio, set up in front of the Seward Park Library, today from 3-9 p.m. It will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as well as weekends (noon-6 p.m.) through Aug. 15.
“Mom & Pops of the L.E.S.” is a “rectangular wood-frame sculpture consisting of near life-size photographs” of four independent neighborhood businesses, most of which no longer exist. James & Karla will begin installing the sculpture next month on a parcel in the southwest corner of the park. It will be up for a full year.
Because the project, including fabrication of prints that will hold up during the harsh winter months, is so expensive, the Murrays have launched a Kickstarter. Here’s more from their pitch:
Each of these four shops… a bodega, a coffee shop/luncheonette, a delicatessen, and a newsstand represent small businesses that were common in the Lower East Side and helped bring the community together through people’s daily interactions.When viewing the near life-size photographs one can get a visceral sense of the impact of these losses on the community and on those who once depended on the shops that are now gone. The installation is an artistic intervention and a plea for recognition of the unique and irreplaceable contribution made to New York by small, often family-owned businesses. These neighborhood stores help set the pulse, life, and texture of their communities.
The fundraising goal is relatively modest: $3,250. The deadline is June 19. Here’s the link to the Kickstarter campaign. There’s also a special Instagram for the project.
1/10th scale miniature of “Mom-and-Pops of the L.E.S.”
If you’re an artist with a passion for community engagement, here’s an opportunity you’ll want to consider.
Applications are now being accepted for Studio in the Park, a six-week residency program located in a 150 square foot mobile studio. This year, one of the studios will be located in Seward Park on the Lower East Side.
You may have noticed artist Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong’s In Retrospect, a piece recently installed in front of the Seward Park Library. Coming up tomorrow (Saturday) at 5 p.m., there will a public conversation in celebration of the sculpture, which is part of the city’s Art in the Parks Program.
The artist will be on-hand to co-moderate the discussion. Other participants include: librarian Andrew Fairweather, Lower East Side historian Joyce Mendelsohn, architect Ron Castellano, local tenant leader Daisy Paez and architect/educator Alexis Kraft. The conversation will focus on the history of the Lower East Side and of Seward Park, and look at the transformations in the neighborhood and in the library building across the decades.
Local residents will start to see changes in Straus Square during the next several weeks, as the neglected area at East Broadway, Rutgers Street and Canal Street begins to look more like a full-fledged pedestrian plaza. The changes were outlined last night at a meeting of Community Board 3’s Parks Committee.
As previously reported, the community board has already approved the closure of a one block section of Canal Street alongside Seward Park. Last night’s presentation before the parks panel dealt with design and programming aspects of the plan. Seward Park is about to undergo a $6.4 million renovation as part of the Parks Without Borders Program. The idea behind the Straus Square changes is to make the plaza feel like it’s an extension of the park.
Tim Laughlin, president of the Lower East Side Partnership, walked community board members through the plan. His organization is teaming up with the Parks Department to operate the plaza. Temporary seating will be installed in the next few weeks. Benches will be created using jersey barricades (see the rendering below). A more permanent and elaborate plaza setup will be in-the-works in the spring of 2018 (funding needs to be locked down for that).
Laughlin said the Citi Bike station currently located alongside Straus Square will be temporarily removed (probably at the end of this month). It hasn’t been decided for certain where it will be relocated. One possibility is the wide sidewalk on Rutgers Street adjacent to Wu’s Wonton King, a Chinese restaurant. In response to concern from committee members, Laughlin offered assurances that the heavily used station would not be eliminated. It will likely be out of commission for 2-4 weeks.
Another feature of the plaza, to be implemented next year, will be a bike repair operation from Recycle-a-Bicycle and Bike New York. It will be established in a shipping container set up in the plaza. Recycle-a-Bicycle gave of a storefront on Avenue C this past spring after 17 years on the LES, so the operation will mean a return to the neighborhood for the not-for-profit organization.
The repair station will be a regular presence in Straus Square during warm weather months. In addition to bike repair, classes for children and adults and other free programs will be offered. Recycle-a-Bicycle and Bike New York already provide similar services in seven city parks. Staff members, said Laughlin, will be “eyes on the street,” and be able to assist in breaking down plaza elements like bistro chairs and tables at the end of each day.
In a previous meeting, members of the Seward Park Conservancy raised questions about traffic congestion in the area. City officials conducted a survey that indicated the stretch of Canal slated for closure is used by a lot more pedestrians than cars. In the new configuration, vehicles will continue on East Broadway, rather than having the option of veering off onto Canal. They’ll turn onto Rutgers/Essex Street. In response to the concerns, the Department of Transportation is conducting a traffic study to evaluate the impact of the proposed changes.
Last night, Carol Anastasio, one of the leaders of Seward Park Conservancy, reiterated the concerns about traffic. But she was generally optimistic about the plan. “We believe something good has come from this design even though there’s not much money (to work with right now).” The conservancy does not want to see granite blocks used in the plaza (they’re a prominent feature of some other plazas in the neighborhood).
The parks committee approved a resolution in support of the changes. The area will be resurfaced at the end of this month with installation of the interim seating taking place in July.
This afternoon we’re posting the presentation delivered to Community Board 3 last week for the redesign of Seward Park. The $6.4 million initiative is part of the city’s Parks Without Borders Program, which is meant to better integrate parks within their neighborhoods.
The main focus of this project is a space dubbed, Library Plaza, currently a desolate area in a de-mapped portion of Jefferson Street. Before CB3’s parks committee, designer Chris Crowley said the plaza would become an inviting public space with new pavement, a meadow, a small amphitheater, benches, tables and chairs and game tables.
The Parks Department will also be repairing the pavilion along Essex Street, removing excess fencing and improving accessibility to the park. Overall, the project will eliminate many of Seward Park’s fences and drop the height of the perimeter fence to four feet. An exercise/fitness area will be added next to the basketball courts, which are currently (ever so slowly) being renovated. The crumbling sidewalks around the park will be replaced.
Amy Robinson, head of the Seward Park Conservancy, spoke in favor of the plan. She called the design “gorgeous,” and said it will, “offer this historic park new life.” Robinson noted that the Seward Park Conservancy is ramping up fundraising for the Schiff Fountain on Essex Street (it will be restored in a later phase of construction). Emma Culbert of the SPaCE Block Association raised safety concerns about the lower fences, saying the “neighborhood can get pretty sketchy as soon as it gets dark.” Crowley said he recently met with cops from the 7th Precinct, who stated that fence height would likely not impact crime in the park. Culbert responded, “I respectfully disagree.”
Crowley said the plan will go to the Public Design Commission in June. Construction is expected to begin after Labor day 2018.
City planners and the Lower East Side Partnership won preliminary support last night from Community Board 3’s Transportation Committee to close a section of Canal Street alongside Seward Park. It’s part of a larger plan to create a more inviting and functional public plaza at Straus Square.
Seward Park is about to undergo a major face lift through the city’s Parks Without Borders program. The Straus Square initiative is meant to complement that renovation, making the area feel like it’s part of the park. The idea is to close off Canal Street between Essex Street and East Broadway, extending the plaza to the edge of Seward Park. A bike share station and taxi relief stand would be relocated.
A survey by the Department of Transportation found that this section of Canal Street, adjacent to the F Train stairwell, is used by many more pedestrians than cars. The city plans to direct all traffic along East Broadway, allowing vehicles to turn right onto Essex Street.
Slide from community board presentation. Straus Square is depicted in the bottom left portion of this diagram.
City officials are planning to move the taxi relief stand to an area just beyond Canal Street, where it meets East Broadway. The change would mean losing two metered parking spaces. The Straus Square project is expected to be completed by this summer. According to the presentation, the area would be maintained by the NYC Parks Department and “program partners,” meaning the LES Partnership. Next month, CB3’s Parks Committee will be asked to weigh in on the design for the public plaza. Last night’s discussion was centered solely on transportation-related issues.
Conversations are already underway with neighborhood groups, including the Seward Park Conservancy. Representing the organization last night, Linda Jones said the conservancy is “pleased to be collaborating” on the project. She also voiced several concerns.
First off, she said, the group wants to make sure that closing off this stretch of Canal Street won’t cause more traffic congestion on East Broadway. Jones noted that there’s already heavy bus (city and private) traffic in the vicinity, and she urged transportation planners to thoroughly study the potential impacts of the street changes. Second, she said there’s concern about moving the taxi relief stand to the east, near the Seward Park Garden, where it would be a more conspicuous presence. The conservancy suggested a more appropriate spot would be on Rutgers Street, below East Broadway. Finally, Jones said the conservancy worries that the plaza will not be properly maintained. The organization wants assurances that staff and funding will be dedicated for this purpose.
In its draft resolution, the transportation committee decided against asking the city to move the taxi relief stand away from the park. It did, however, call on designers to use materials that would discourage skateboarders from taking over the area. One board member, Yaron Altman, noted that the Delancey Street Plaza has been commandeered by skateboarders.
Following the meeting, LES Partnership President Tim Laughlin said his organization is committed to working with community groups on both the design and maintenance plan for the plaza. The Partnership oversees the nearby Division Street Plaza (at Ludlow Street) and the Delancey Street Plaza. Responding to complaints about the condition of these areas, Laughlin said plans are in place to upgrade both plazas. The Division Street triangle was initially renovated as part of a demonstration project, he said, and it will be spruced up along with Straus Square. Improvements on Delancey Street will take place when construction on Essex Crossing site 2 winds down next year. That project will coincide with the city’s installation of protected bike lanes on Delancey. Laughlin said the Partnership is working on securing funding for maintenance of the plazas.
On a related note, the Parks Department is ready to unveil plans for the larger Seward Park project. That will happen at tomorrow night’s meeting of the Parks Committee. The meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the BRC Senior Center, 30 Delancey St.
As you may know, the city is getting ready for a big improvement project at Seward Park. The historic Lower East Side space was awarded $6.4 million through the Parks Without Borders Program. Lots of people have been weighing in about what they’d like to see as part of the redesign. Among them: several young activists making the case for a statue paying tribute to a woman or women.
At two community meetings held during the past few months, Lower East Side Girl Scouts have spoken up in favor of the idea. There are very few statues dedicated to women in New York City parks. Recently we met with three of the girls – Thea Diongson (Troop 3012), Ella Goodman (Troop 3012) and Sasha Leitner (Troop 3724) – in Seward Park to talk about how the idea came about.
We’re told the next step will be talking with the team at the Seward Park Conservancy about possibly collaborating on the statue project. The scouts want to focus on honoring immigrant girls and women. While there has been some talk of naming the statue for social worker Lillian Wald, who co-founded the park, the current thinking is to have the community vote on a few different options.
We’ll keep you updated on this fledgling campaign!
Here was the scene a short time ago in Seward Park. Crews are getting started on the long-awaited resurfacing of the basketball courts.
At a recent community board meeting, Parks Department officials said the project was set to begin on Monday. A couple of days ago, we noted that nothing appeared to be happening. TLD reader Aan LeNoble pointed out to us yesterday afternoon that construction crews had finally arrived. They were back out in the park this morning, putting up a chain-link fence around the courts.
City Council member Margaret Chin allocated $600,000 for the resurfacing three years ago. The project is expected to take about three months.
A $6.4 million improvement project in Seward Park will create an inviting plaza in front of the public library, open up and expand the garden on the south side of the park and make entrances and fencing less foreboding. These were some of the details revealed by city designers during a meeting Feb. 16 of Community Board 3’s Parks Committee.
Seward Park was one of the winners of the Parks Without Borders competition last year, which is focused on, “reimagining the role of parks in communities by redesigning where they meet the streets and sidewalks.” A community visioning session was held last fall and landscape architect Chris Crowley and his team have been working on schematic designs. He expects to unveil them publicly in a couple of months.
The plans were generally well received. One sticking point could be the height of fences. Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver is determined to lower them in parks citywide, while some community members have pushed back against the idea for safety reasons.
Slide from Parks Department presentation.
Before launching into his presentation, Crowley said, “This is not the design,” but “just a little bit about what we’re anticipating to do.” The goal, he explained, is to make the park more welcoming, to “make it look great from the outside,” and to create “vibrant community spaces.”
The main focus of the project is what’s being dubbed, “Library Plaza,” a barren asphalt corridor created when a section of Jackson Street was closed off many decades ago. Designers are somewhat limited in what they can do in the area because there’s still a sewer system under the street and no actual construction can take place on the plaza. They’re envisioning new permeable surfaces, tables, chairs and, perhaps, an area for community performances.
The design is expected to include the removal of fences around the garden and an expansion of the greenery behind the neighboring bathhouse. The redesign will make it easier for people to walk from the library into the main park area. A series of chain link fences surrounding the bathhouse will be taken out and there will be better access into the basketball courts on the north side of the park.
The project will also include replacing the sidewalk bordering the park, on East Broadway and Essex streets. Right now the crumbling surfaces on the two streets are different (hex-box on Essex, regular concrete on East Broadway). The new sidewalks will be made up of a single material and steps will be taken to alleviate drainage problems, especially on the southern border of the park.
The upcoming project will not include the restoration of Schiff Fountain, the broken down relic on Essex Street [the Seward Park Conservancy is in the midst of raising money for that multi-million dollar initiative). But Crowley said he hopes to set aside some money to improve the plaza area around the fountain. Top priorities include: reducing fencing, adding new foliage and repairing bluestones.
Straus Square, located just to the southwest of the park, is another area that was at one point being looked at for improvements. Designers were evaluating whether it could be made more appealing (there’s no place to sit in the square and has always felt disconnected from Seward Park.) At last week’s meeting, it was announced that Straus Square will not become part of the current project. But as a separate initiative, the city’s Department of Transportation may close off Canal Street alongside the park to create an expanded pedestrian plaza. The plan would require the city to move an existing taxi cab rest area.
Most of the discussion at the parks committee meeting concerned the possibility of lowering fences at Seward Park. “We’re contemplating lowering the perimeter fence,” said Crowley. “We’re looking at that situation. We’ll listen to your feedback on that one.”
A couple of public speakers pointed to child safety concerns in the middle of the park. “In the center there,” said one parent, “you have a very large children’s playground that will have no fence around it, so how do you propose to keep our children safe?” Crowley raised the possibility of keeping Seward Park’s southwest gate closed, so that kids can’t run out into the street. “We will work with you to make sure that the kids are safe,” said Crowley. “The last thing I want to have is a hazard for children. Parents need to keep an eye on their kids but we don’t want a situation where children can run out in the street.”
Amy Robinson, president of the Seward Park Conservancy, noted that the park is currently operated on a “dawn to dusk” schedule. She asked if the hours might be changed if the fences are lowered. Crowley said the department would work with the community to determine hours but that the park would still be locked when it’s closed. Although it would be easier for people to hop the lower fences after hours, Crowley said police would be called on to step up enforcement in the park and to ticket trespassers.
Another conservancy leader, Linda Jones, said, “the fence is an extremely emotional issue in our community. I can envision the fence being lower or not even existing. It would be gorgeous. But I also think people are very fearful. We do have a homeless population. We do have drug users who use the park, and occasionally leave needles.” Jones added, “I’m not taking a position one way or the other, but it’s something we really have to think about.”
The issue of high fences has already become an issue elsewhere in the neighborhood. City Council member Rosie Mendez and the community board have been critical of the city’s decision to lower the fences in Tompkins Square Park. A public meeting will be held this evening on the subject. The Council member has started a petition, urging the Parks Department to reverse course. Earlier this month, the 9th Precinct’s commanding officer said he was opposed to the plan.
During the committee discussion, CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer said she didn’t understand why the Parks Department seemed open to having a dialogue about fence height at Seward Park when it resisted community input at Tompkins. “In other parks,” said Stetzer, “you’re forcing the community to have lower fences when they don’t want to and it makes no sense to me.” Stetzer said the department was being “inconsistent.”
Mitchell Silver (second from right) at a community meeting on the Lower East Side last fall.
Crowley said “Parks Without Borders” is a program, “calling for lowering fences (citywide). This is what we’re thinking the commissioner is going to want (on the Lower East Side).” He added, “we may have to adjust this one (if there’s community opposition). It may come down to a commissioner determination.” Bill Castro, Parks’ Manhattan borough commissioner, also responded, saying, “You can call it inconsistent if you wish,” but fence height is determined on a case-by-case basis in each park. He also said NYPD leadership has been briefed on the “Parks Without Borders” plans and has offered its support.
Stetzer continued to press the issue, however. “I’m sure you heard us all gasp when you said the commissioner” would be the decider when it comes to fence height. “Are you saying that despite community input… if the community really wants something one way, the commissioner can still overturn it, or he may disregard the community input?”
Castro replied, telling Stetzer, “I am confident we can work it out. I don’t want people to get alarmed about this.”
“We want to work with the community,” the borough commissioner explained. “Community boards are advisory, however we like to work with them. We take their recommendations seriously. But the commissioner has the final say on things, which is appropriate. We have a very good track record working with the community.”
The Parks Department is expected to return to the community board with a schematic design for Seward Park in April.
City Council member Margaret Chin wants to know why the renovation of basketball courts at Sara D. Roosevelt Park, paid for by Nike, happened so swiftly while other projects, funded by the Council, have been languishing for years.
Earlier this month, Nike and Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver debuted the Stanton Street courts with great fanfare. While community activists were pleased that the renovation took place, they were unhappy about the lack of community input. They weren’t even told the project was happening until and hour or two before a ribbon cutting ceremony.
On Nov. 15, Chin wrote a letter to Silver expressing concern over the lack of communication with her office, Community Board 3 and the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition (a community advocacy group). Chin added, “I am particularly troubled at how quickly the Parks Department approved and completed this corporate-funded project when capital renovation projects funded through the City Council’s discretionary capital budget remain unfinished for years.”
Back in 2014, Chin allocated $600,000 in discretionary funding to resurface the courts at Seward Park. The project had been a priority of CB3. Local residents have been complaining for years about the drainage problems on the courts (even a small amount of rain renders the courts unusable). The community has been waiting ever since for the improvements to be made.
In her letter, Chin noted that Department of Parks officials recently told her that the project was “still in the procurement phase.” She also mentioned that DeSalvio Playground in Little Italy, another project she funded, has been on indefinite hold.
Nike courts on Stanton Street.
Referring to the Nike courts, Chin told Silver:
…a corporate-funded public space seem(s) to have taken priority over public projects that received discretionary funding and community support. In the future, I hope to see the same, if not greater, urgency from the Department of Parks and Recreation to complete capital projects and other renovations funded by the City. Furthermore, it is my wish that the Parks Department to be more transparent to local advocates when large-scale changes are being made to any public parks throughout the City.
CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer said Parks Department staff mentioned during budget consultations over the summer that they were trying to get Nike to pay for the Stanton Street courts. But there was no public presentation before the community board and no notice that construction was actually happening. The Nike courts include a mural by KAWS (aka Brian Donnelly), a Brooklyn artist. The community board, said Stetzer, is normally asked for input about public art initiatives on city property.
As previously reported, City Council member Rosie Mendez vented at a CB3 meeting earlier this months about a lack of communication from the Parks Department. At the time, she brought up several projects in her district, including the renovation of a playground in Tompkins Square Park. Mendez and the community board have urged the city to reconsider plans to lower the fences around the playground (they’re concerned about safety and about worsening the park’s homeless problem). Since that meeting, Parks Department officials have reaffirmed their decision to lower the fences, in spite of neighborhood worries.