What About Parks?

After having interviewed Gary Giordano and Joe Addabbo about their take on the development of the Ridgewood Reservoir, we decided it would only make sense to ask someone from Parks and Recreation– the agency, not the show– about the process.

It turns out it is much more difficult to express the opinions of an agency than the opinions of an activist or politician. The Parks employees that I spoke with on the matter stressed the complexity of the issue, and reminded me that Parks is a public agency concerned with providing the people of New York with… parks. As Senator Addabbo reminded us, the longer a city agency waits to start a project that requires construction, the more expensive it will ultimately be due to the ever-rising cost of materials.

Complaints about the redevelopment plan for the Ridgewood Reservoir seem to be as extensive as the plans themselves. The aims of each activist group are slightly different, ranging from no change at all to the construction of an educational center and guided tours. Across the board, however, many activists don’t want a shorter fence; they don’t want the lights to move to the other side of the path; and they most certainly don’t want the reservoir open to crime, or to be razed and filled for ball fields.

As it stands, the Parks redevelopment plan includes replacing the current seven-foot fence with a four-foot fence. When I asked the Parks employee about this puzzling move, he reminded me that nearly anyone could easily walk through the gaping holes in the current chain-link fence. A four-foot tall fence would serve to keep small children from wandering too close to the water, while also allowing people to gaze into the reservoir. Will people hop the fence and do drugs, play paintball, and swim in the pond? Probably. But many people already do. Design is important; but maintenance and patrolling are equally important.

The plan also aims to move the dilapidated lamp posts that now rest on the street side of the path onto the reservoir side, in efforts to shield the park wildlife from the harsh lights at night. This would require a sizable– and to some, unnecessary– expenditure, because all of the lights are already wired to sit on the existing side. Critics have said that this money could be better spent elsewhere; but since the money has already been allocated for the Ridgewood Reservoir, it makes sense that it be used on adequate lighting. The current lampposts sit with broken bulbs. If they did have working bulbs, it would make sense that they would project light into the reservoir, which might disturb the wildlife.

One of the most angrily contested aspects of the redevelopment plan was the mention of filling the reservoirs and putting ballfields on top. This idea was never meant to discount the unique importance of the natural richness of the Ridgewood Reservoir, it was only ever meant to serve the needs of the surrounding community. However, the enthusiasm over this plan has died down substantially, and it seems that concerned people on every side of this issue agree on one thing: the ballfields in neighboring Highland Park should be restored and better maintained before any ballfields are put into the Ridgewood Reservoir. For now, it looks like that option is off the table.

When we first started researching this project, it looked as if Parks and various activist groups were facing off against each other, trying to decide what to do with the Ridgewood Reservoir. Upon looking a little more closely, it is clear that Parks is in charge of actually spending the money, but must respond to the community groups that have vested interests in the project. After talking to some people from each side, it looks more like there are a few groups who are much more vocal on the issue than others, and that the “louder” groups are more prone to getting their agendas passed. One voice that is rarely heard on this issue is that of the people who live around Highland Park and Ridgewood Reservoir on the Brooklyn side. It could be that, while many people there would appreciate a sanctuary, more recreational space would more directly improve quality of life. This would be hard to measure, especially since there are no do-overs when it comes to altering a naturally-occurring environment. But the needs and desires of community members should be considered as much as or more than activists who are interested in the future of the Reservoir, who are often involved simply because they have the time and money to be so. As the summer progresses, I hope to be able to present even more sides to this story.