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Seward Park Suffers From Neglect; Local Group Forms Conservancy

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Seward Park is not only one of the Lower East Side’s most heavily used public spaces, but as this country’s oldest municipal playground, it also has historical significance. Mayor de Blasio recognized this fact last spring when he used the park as a backdrop to announce Mitchell Silver would be his Parks Commissioner.  But in recent months, neighborhood activists say, the park has suffered from neglect and is on a downward slide.

We recently got a detailed look at some of the maintenance issues with Amy Robinson and Linda Jones of the Friends of Seward Park.  During our walk-through,  it was obvious that weeds were crowding out plant beds, trash was strewn throughout the pathways, mosaic tiles and sculptures were chipped and mice and rats had overtaken an area along Essex Street (see the video below).

Robinson and Jones have complained about the situation, and they say, Parks Department staff agree more attention needs to be paid to Seward Park, but it never seems to happen. “We do not know the reason that this particular park is left in such disrepair,” Robinson said, “right now it’s dangerous, and sometimes it’s a little scary because of the rats and it’s dirty and unwelcoming.”  Jones added, “you could have more supervision of the staff. They (park workers) don’t always know what they’re supposed to do.”  In the past, they explained, there was at least a part-time gardener, but no more. Robinson said the park “is not a pleasant place to work because of the state that it is in… So there’s a lot of disillusionment when (Parks employees) get sent to Seward.”

In the last few weeks, Community Board 3 District Manager Susan Stetzer has been trying to help get the attention of the Parks Department. After a walk-through of her own, she observed, “I was appalled to see the conditions and the lack of maintenance there.”

Mayor de Blasio with Mitchell Silver, New York's parks commissioner, at Seward Park.
Mayor de Blasio with Mitchell Silver, New York’s parks commissioner, at Seward Park.

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A rat refuge on Essex Street.
A rat refuge on Essex Street.


The Friends of Seward Park and the local SPaCE block association have asked CB3 to make Seward Park a priority in its annual budget recommendations to the city.  They want to see the installation of better trash cans, tree pruning, a plan to rid the park of rats and repairs to the degraded children’s fountain area.  Long-term priorities, for the capital budget, include the restoration of the broken-down Schiff Fountain, renovating the park’s underutilized recreational building and landscaping the area in front of the Seward Park Library.

The Seward Park group is establishing a conservancy, which will have 501(c)(3) status and, therefore, be in position to accept tax deductible donations. “Our objective,” Jones said, “will be to raise some money to help take care of this park and to advocate for the park.” A family foundation has already pledged some money. “If the city funded its parks properly and this park were properly staffed,” Jones continued,  “there would be no need for a conservancy whatsoever, or you could have a conservancy that did nice little extra things. But this park is not basically cared for so I think we’re going to have to do things like help get an exterminator, to get more staff for the park or buy garbage cans. We’ll have to do things that the city ought to be doing but isn’t doig and isn’t going to do.”

There are some signs of progress at Seward Park. This year City Council member Margaret Chin allocated $600,000 for the resurfacing of the basketball courts. Once again this summer, Friends of Seward Park organized volunteers for cleanup days and to care for the garden that’s just west of the library. But the organization believes a lot more can be done to care for a valued community asset. As Robinson put it, “our objective is to maintain and make the park enjoyable for all people of the Lower East Side.  We think it’s a beautiful park and a special playground and our goal is to make it appealing for all ages.”

For more information about Friends of Seward Park, visit their website.

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  1. Credit is due to Council Member Margaret Chin’s office for organizing volunteers to help out in the last few weeks. A member of her staff, Yong Teo, has been very helpful. He and his volunteers have made good progress cleaning up the Essex Street beds. It is now possible for rat exterminators to see where the rat holds are. We hope that they can get to us soon.

    And we hope to continue this very productive relationship with Council Member Chin’s office.

    Friends of Seward Park

  2. Very useful article. Meanwhile, it is part of what I—and many others—see as a triple problem of governmental neglect of our community.

    First, is the park.

    Second is traffic: the police refuse—and have refused for years—to enforce the law as to East Broadway. By law the only truck traffic that is allowed is that doing local pickups and deliveries. But we have dozens of trucks daily–including late at night—that just use East Broadway as a speedway to do business elsewhere. This is both illegal and dangerous. It is only made worse by the rezoning of Clinton Street as an access route to the bridge.

    The third problem is noise. The maximum the city says it allows is 42 decibels of ambient sound. But the DEP has actually tested it (on East Broadway, near Jefferson) and it averages about double that. Including very late at night. DEP, by law, should be requiring the people who own the very loud roof machinery to baffle that machinery, or otherwise repair the clearly malfunctioning machines that are depriving people of sleep at night and Quality-of-Life during the day through this brutally high level of noise.

    So–bravo to Lo-Down for highlighting one aspect of how our community has been neglected by the city. I hope they will follow through on the other two issues, as well.

  3. Great story. Thank you for highlighting the group’s efforts to improve park conditions. We look forward to working with the CB and elected officials to address key issues.

  4. In February you said the noise was quadruple. A 50% reduction to just double the limit sounds like a great improvement!

    (Seriously, though, the Governeur noise is indeed ridiculous, although I’m not sure what it has to do with park upkeep.)

  5. Micah, thanks for confirming what everyone knows: that the noise from Gouverneur is, indeed, as you say “ridiculous.” As for the quadruple vs. double matter, it still can “peak” at quadruple, but rather than go into the details, I just decided this time to mention the basic situation 24/7—which is double the city’s max.

    Meanwhile, as to why I mentioned it at all, in commenting on the park story, it was simply (as you know from my earlier post) to say that the neglect by the city of the park is part of a larger pattern of disregard of our community, which takes in, also, not enforcing the law as to traffic regulations and noise regulations.

  6. Sorry but between $600,000 or much higher for a co-op with an estimated monthly cost of almost $3000 is rich people. My family of 3 will have to stay in our 1 bedroom rent stabilized apartment until we can get out of NYC. Why did I think working in museums was a good career – I should have gone into finance or weapons design.

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