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UES Starved for Open Space, Residents Say

By Amy Zimmer | June 28, 2012 7:16am
Marcos Duran, 28, relaxes in Lefferts Garden, in Central Park. Despite the park's proximity to the Upper East Side, residents say they don't have enough open space.
Marcos Duran, 28, relaxes in Lefferts Garden, in Central Park. Despite the park's proximity to the Upper East Side, residents say they don't have enough open space.
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DNAinfo/Maya Shwayder

YORKVILLE — The Upper East Side is starved of open space despite the area’s proximity to Central Park’s 843 lush acres, many residents believe.

Community Board 8’s Parks Committee is planning a forum next April in partnership with the nonprofit New Yorkers for Parks to discuss how to squeeze more green spaces into the neighborhood or better utilize what’s already there.

But before that happens, New Yorkers for Parks is planning to undertake an "open space index" of the area, assessing it in 15 categories, such as the number of athletic fields and playgrounds per capita, percent of permeable ground surfacing and tree canopy. 

The results are expected to be presented at the forum.

"We've used these as very local tools for communities to use for advocacy and determining open space needs," New Yorkers for Parks Executive Director Holly Leicht said, noting that the organization's report cards on community districts found East Side neighborhoods lacking in open space.  

"There are a number of things worth exploring in spaces that already exist," Leicht noted.

"There’s an ongoing question on how to make Randalls Island feel more accessible to people as a resource. There are a fair number of privately-owned public spaces [in the area], but they tend to be underutilized."

The Upper East Side, for instance, has 97 privately owned public spaces, accounting for a total of 51,000 square feet, or roughly 1.8 acres of open space, according to the Department of City Planning.

Residents, however, have complained that some of them aren’t being maintained properly for public use.

There’s also the East River waterfront, Leicht noted, but a big chunk from East 38th to 60th streets is not accessible to the public and the remaining stretch north is deteriorating, hard to get to and, in places, squeezed very narrow by the FDR Drive.

Manhattan's City Council District 4 — which spans from Stuyvesant Town to Murray Hill to the Upper East Side and Carnegie Hill along Central Park (but excluding the park) — ranks 51 out of 51 in terms of parkland acres per resident, according to a 2009 report from New Yorkers for Parks.

The area ranks 49 in terms of city parks and playground acres per child.

Manhattan's City Council District 5 — which runs from Turtle Bay to Yorkville and Roosevelt Island — ranks 45 out of 51 for park acres per resident and 38 for parks and playground acres per child.

"They are definitely dismal in terms of open space," Leicht said.

Community Board 8 Parks Committee co-chairwoman Peggy Price echoed those concerns.

"There is not enough public space in our district," Price said at a meeting this month. "We will be able to compare [our open space] to other districts. [The index] will be the introduction to our forum and give us some ammunition."

New Yorkers for Parks has already conducted an open-space index for the Lower East Side and East Harlem and had been planning to fill in the gaps on the East Side even before Community Board 8 members approached the organization about the forum, Leicht said.

The organization's request for funding from the City Council for the studies of Districts 4 and 5, which would cost roughly $40,000 in total, was approved on Tuesday.

The fieldwork would take 15 days of combing through streets block by block, and analyzing the data would take several months. The gathered information would be looked at with and without including Central Park.