Saturday, April 16, 2005

Five by Five Revitalizes Morningside Park

Five by Five Revitalizes Morningside Park
By Lauren Melnick
Spectator Staff Writer

April 15, 2005

After a period of neglect beginning in the 1980s, Morningside Park is well on its way to recovery thanks to the joint revitalization efforts of Friends of Morningside Park and the NYC Parks Department. Last week, Morningside Park received the attention of the Five by Five program in which, for five days, resources and crews from the five boroughs are assigned to one park and its specific needs.

The program, which is run by the City Parks Department, has been in effect since 1987. Its resources, which are based purely on displayed need, are used infrequently, and Morningside Park is the first park in 2005 to reap its benefits.

Understaffing was one reason behind Morningside’s selection as a priority recipient for inter-borough resources. “In Central Harlem, [Morningside] is one of the largest parks. We lost a lot of seasonal staff early last fall and did not have enough people for the fall leaf clean up,” said District 9 Parks and Recreation Manager Tricia Daniel.

The Morningside Heights community has also addressed the park’s need for revitalization. “Lately there has been a lot of interest in the community, concern over the amount of usage the park gets, and backing from the Friends of Morningside Park,” said Namshik Yoon, chief of operations for Manhattan Parks. “This program provides a way of concentrating efforts to improve the maintenance for this specific facility.”

In preparation for the Five by Five, Daniel and Park Supervisor Cheryl Grice discussed and identified which areas of the park needed to be addressed and compiled a list of top priority concerns. The list included log removal, forestry, spraying, clean-up and mason work, graffiti removal, weed treatment, and pipe rail fencing.

But expectations for the Five by Five were not met when a contingent of Parks Department crew did not show. “For the Five by Five, we asked districts to lend us staff for a day,” she explained. “We hired seasonal workers and anticipated that 60 people would come in, but only half as many showed up.”

“The crew that did show worked on tasks that were not priorities, such as painting benches and trash cans. We could have gotten volunteers to do that,” said Brad Taylor, vice president of the Friends of Morningside Park. “We are thankful for what has been accomplished, but we were expecting more.”

The crews had stopped painting as of last Thursday and focused on other tasks like raking and bagging leaves and cleaning up debris. In addition, the crews began to address high priority concerns like clearing logs from the upper areas of the park and pruning trees.

“There was a bit of a misunderstanding,” Yoon explained. “This was a spring clean-up in which we were training a bunch of new employees, not a Five by Five. We hadn’t finished hiring and processing our entire staff in the time span we had, and could not complete everything in five days.”

As a result, four representatives from the Friends and park officials affiliated with Morningside attended a meeting last Friday with Bill Castro, Manhattan Borough commissioner of Parks and Recreation, to discuss the current and future undertakings of Five by Five.

“The meeting went quite well,” Taylor said. “While the Park did not get a traditional Five by Five last week in terms of staffing levels, the Commissioner has committed to completing the tasks on the list and given us a time line for doing so.”

As of Monday, forestry crews were able to clear trees behind Morningside Park’s ballfields and areas around 119th Street. But for further forestry efforts, specialized forestry crews will be hired. Funds are still needed for log removal, which will cost $50,000 to $70,000. Railing repairs and blacksmith work will be completed before Memorial Day, as will plumbing and flooding issues, which have created icy conditions on the paths during the winter. Drain cleaning on the upper pathways is necessary, as is the continuation of graffiti removal, which was partially completed.

In addition, by this fall the second half of the 116th to 122nd Streets and Morningside Drive sidewalk renovation project should be complete. Morningside Park will also be receiving a Parks Enforcement Patrol officer once the next class of PEP officers is processed. They are authorized to give out summons to anyone who violates NYC park codes, including graffiti, excessive noise, being in the park after park hours, and barbecuing.

“The park looks cleaner now than I’ve ever seen it,” Taylor said. “I believe that everyone connected with revitalizing the park realizes its historic significance and I think [State Park Commissioner] Castro really wants to see it become one of the premiere parks in Manhattan, which it was when it was built in the 1890s.”

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