Open Space Challenges of Life on the Upper East Side

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Councilmember Dan Garodnick and other panelists discuss ways to increase public park space According to a recent New Yorkers for Parks' survey which counted the amount of open space, and rated open space quality with 15 standards, the Upper East Side failed on all 15 counts. The Upper East Side has one of the smallest percentages of open space in the entire city. This was a sobering fact for the dozens of community members who came out to the open space forum last week. Only 44 percent of Upper East Siders live within walking distance of an outdoor space, and 20,000 residents are not within walking distance of a park. Councilmember Dan Garodnick, Fred Kent, president of the Project for Public Spaces, Holly Leicht from New Yorkers for Parks and Dan Barish from the Lowline Project (a future subterranean public park) spoke about the problem. "We are being deprived of greenery and public space that we need for our health and quality of life," said Barbara Rudder, the co-chair of the Community Board 8 Parks Committee. "We need a community that's more than just a blur of high-rise buildings, we need a place where adults and families can go to take a rest from urban life." Kent, who helped create the plazas in Times Square, riled up the crowd with inspirational images from street life in cities across the globe. He said that open space does not necessarily have to lie within parks or playgrounds. In fact, Kent said that urban communities need to start small with public plazas and lively sidewalk spaces. He suggested creating unique seating and selling food in small public spaces, so that people linger, instead of just hurrying from one building to another. "Public spaces are the only things we truly have," said Kent. "Otherwise a city is just a bunch of streets and buildings." But creating these public spaces does offer several logistical problems, including getting funds and city government approval. Garodnick spoke mostly about these issues in terms of projects like the East River Esplanade, which desperately needs repairs and revamping, and Andrew Haswell Green Park, which will be refurbished if the Memorial Sloan Kettering-CUNY center is built. The Councilmember said that the City needs to figure out exactly where public spaces would be most beneficial. "To find these areas of New York that don't have as much benefit for cars, but would benefit people, that's what we need to do," said Garodnick. Despite the clear greenery problems on the Upper East Side, Leicht feels all is not lost. She said that after doing a survey in the similarly greenery deprived Jackson Heights, the community got together and built a new plaza and a brand new park within one year of the survey's release. She believes that they should hold the Department of Parks and Recreation responsible for the upkeep of already-existing public space, and encourage privately-owned institutions to open up their spaces to the public. She also suggested opening up schoolyards to the public, closing off certain street areas to create cafes and public plazas, and capitalizing on neighboring recreational spaces on Randall's Island and Roosevelt Island. What do you think? Email us at for ideas on how to improve the Upper East Side's open spaces.

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