Harlem Welcomes Improvements to Montefiore Park
The small park at Broadway and 137th Street, which feels like more of a pass-through for students hopping off the 1 train and heading up the hill to City College, doesn't have one. All the grass is fenced in so there's no place for kids to run and no fountain for them to get a drink. Without a water hookup, the association has a hard time keeping up its plant beautification projects.
"The park is used as a corridor and not a park. The idea is to make it into a real park, a destination where people can gather," said Palma, whose mother founded the association.
Now, after years of planning, the park will get a water fountain and much more as part of a $6.4 million expansion through the Department of Transportation's Public Plaza program.
Under a design revealed Wednesday night, Hamilton Place from 136th to 138th streets will be closed off from traffic. At 136th Street and Hamilton Place, there will be a large public plaza that stretches at least a block. At the same time, the park will grow east onto the now-closed portion of Hamilton Place, doubling in size.
The fenced-in grass is a remnant of the 1980s crack epidemic when the city tried to deter the use of the park for nefarious activities. The 1980s are gone but there are still a few problems. One afternoon, only a few seniors sat on benches lining the park while a homeless man stood nearby and cracked open a beer.
The association hopes the changes will draw more residents and students to the park, making it a lively, relaxing and safe place to catch some sunshine or take a break after tackling the neighborhood's hills.
The park will gain a lawn that people can access along with at least 20 new trees and a community planting area. The lawn will have a series of curved walls for seating, and an information kiosk. More seating and lighting will be added as well.
"This will make it a very enjoyable green space where people can interact and kids can run and jump on the lawn," said Barbara Nikonorow, the Montefiore Park Neighborhood Association's co-leader.
"We want people to enjoy a reprieve in nature at this very busy urban intersection," she added.
The group didn't get everything it wanted. The timeline for the project is later than originally expected, with the design not expected to be finished until 2015 and construction at least a couple of years later.
To keep the park active and to help small businesses, organizers wanted kiosks. A playground or water feature for children and a clock were also ideas that came out of community brainstorming sessions, but they are not included in the current design.
Nikonorow said ongoing maintenance costs were an issue in some of the features the association and others wanted in the park.
"We don't have a conservancy in place to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to care for the park, but maybe one day we will," added Nikonorow. "It looks great given the financial constraints."
Organizers believe the park is key for the continued transformation of the neighborhood, which is seeing new restaurants and more young families moving in. The area also stands to see greater change in the coming years as Columbia University continues with the expansion of its Manhattanville campus.
"We are a neighborhood association, not a park association, so we believe revitalizing the park is one way to help revitalize the neighborhood," said Palma.