Parks Without Borders presenters have repeatedly described the north side of the park heavily used by residents as “underutilized", or "sparsely used.” This has caused outcry by residents at Community Input Meetings.
Parks Without Borders presenters said that the plaza design proposal is in line with what Olmsted and Vaux intended at the northwest corner of Fort Greene Park.
— by Michael Gruen, President of the City Club
The City Parks Department is planning to do some major work in the Park under its "Parks Without Borders" program. The general concept of the program is to remove fences and walls that create barriers between parks and their neighboring streets. They have selected eight projects under this rubric, one of which is Fort Greene Park. FGP actually has necessary retaining walls around most of the park because of the rather steep terrain. But at the north-west corner there is a low stone wall with fairly dense trees on both sides that does not block access so much as view into the park.
The Parks Department wants to remove that wall and most of the trees, in large part, it appears, to provide a view into the Park so people outside can see the Prison Ship Martyrs' Memorial that stands at the top of the hill at the center of the Park. Other related work includes removing approximately 54 trees out of about 125 in order to open the view, a great deal of very necessary repair work on terrain and surfaces that have eroded, improvement of barbecue areas and tables, etc.
Much of this (such as follows "a great deal" just above) is extremely necessary and advantageous for the community. However, much of it is unnecessarily environmentally damaging (particularly the tree removal) and very unsympathetic to the character of the Park. This takes a bit of historic explanation. The Park was begun around mid-19th century. Soon after, Olmstead and Vaux took over the design and created a very attractive bucolic array of winding paths up the hillside. Their plan included a relatively modest memorial to the Martyrs (prisoners taken by the British during the Revolution) and a pair of stairways up the northerly side of the hill to the monument. This created a mixture of styles -- bucolic and monumental -- but one they carried off very well by not exaggerating the monumental. In the early 20th century, McKim, Mead & White were engaged to redo the monument. They made it much more grandiose, turned the pair of stairways into a single stairway 100 feet wide, and created a very formal promenade leading toward the stairway. In my opinion, that disrupted the pleasant Omstead and Vaux fit of styles and turned it into a clash. However, over the following decades, there were gradual modifications, and much growth of trees, that tempered the clash. The styles are now made quite compatible because, in a bucolic Olmsteadian manner, the approach to the monument is a bucolic experience. You see nothing of it from the street or as you enter the Park from the north-westerly corner. But as you walk further, you catch glimpses of stairs and memorial column. The experience becomes similar to walking along a hillside winding path and finding a new surprise at every turn. Gradually, the entire monument is revealed and it becomes breathtaking, something that will not happen if you see the whole view from the street and, if a tourist, can check that off your list and go on to Juniors or whatever to experience the next site without having even entered the Park.
The City Club is working with local residents to try to get design modifications that will maintain the existing character.
Parks Without Borders presenters said that the trees they plan to remove are "at the end of their lives", "not going to last very long anyway", and that they are taking the opportunity to remove them.
The Parks Department misrepresented the health of the 58 mature trees marked for removal -- a total of 71 trees will be endangered, including an additional 13 due to extreme pruning and adjacent excavation under their Parks Without Borders redesign plan.
There are 129 trees within the scope of work. NYC Parks plans to remove 58 trees -- only 9 for condition. The other 49 healthy shade trees will be removed for the plaza design. Many of the trees are 50-60 feet tall, providing shade to our neighbors.
NYC official report requested by FOIL says only 9 trees out of 58 will be removed for condition. NYC Parks Without Borders Presentation gives the impression that many more trees are "at the end of their lives."
A Parks Without Borders presenter said, "“There are some trees planted in the 70s that will need to be removed. They are Norway Maples. They are at the end of their lives. They are in fact illegal to plant in two states. They are an invasive species and we will be taking the opportunity to remove them".
It should be clarified what it means when Norway Maples are called Invasive. These trees have been long naturalized in the USA, and were popular for their quick and easy growing habits and for their shade. Now they are generally not recommended for these same reasons, meaning that they are aggressive and can out compete native trees. That could be a problem in a forest or a meadow but not an issue in a controlled environment like a park where the trees have not been an issue for the last 40-50 years.
Also, their dense shade and dense roots discourage herbaceous plants from growing around the tree. This is why they are not recommended for planting in a forest, where you would want to encourage a natural growth pattern. But in a controlled setting, like a city park or backyard, where maybe you might want a grove of trees and no undergrowth, they might be fine.
In summary, Norway Maples are generally not planted anymore, but that does not mean that you should go out and remove a mature tree.
Handout of NYC Parks Without Borders Summer Outreach Program at Fort Greene Park
NYC Parks argued that the trees planned for removal block the view of the monument, and were planted too closely together.