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Lack of Open Space Makes UES Look Like 'Urban Slum,' Critic Says

By Victoria Bekiempis | April 26, 2013 10:48am | Updated on April 26, 2013 11:43am
 Despite their close proximity to Central Park, Upper East Siders and activists say they are starved for open space, and that the lack of greenery has reached a "crisis" level.
Despite their close proximity to Central Park, Upper East Siders and activists say they are starved for open space, and that the lack of greenery has reached a "crisis" level.
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DNAinfo/Maya Shwayder

UPPER EAST SIDE — The Upper East Side is so lacking in open space that it has made Manhattan's richest neighborhood one of the poorest green zones in the city — and even prompted one critic to call it an "urban slum."

Residents and activists decried a reported lack of greenery on the Upper East Side at a Community Board 8 parks committee forum Thursday night — with one key advocate claiming that the area has the worst open space stats in the city.

Holly Leicht, executive director for non-profit New Yorkers for Parks, said the organization compared neighborhoods' open space by assessing 15 criteria — such as athletic fields, community gardens, and play areas.

"All 15 features fail" on the Upper East Side, she said of the new statistics.

Leicht further explained that the amount of active open space — used for activities such as sports or play — should hit 1 acre per 1,000 residents, but only reached .07 acres per 1,000 in the neighborhood.

"That's shocking," she said. "Of all the districts we've done, this stands way lower than others."

And passive open space — areas for sitting or relaxing, for example — should be 1.5 acres per 1,000, she said.

"Yours is .26 acres," she told residents attending the meeting. "You fall quite short. I think it's not unfair to say it's sort of crisis proportions."

Even taking into account Central Park and Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS), Leicht said the new data did not bode well for the neighborhood. The easternmost portion, she said, is particularly underserved, as some 20,000 neighborhood residents near Second Avenue don't live within walking distance of any park.

"Fewer than half of CB8 residents — only 44 percent — live within a 10-minute walk to Central Park," she said.

Fred Kent, founder and president of Project for Public Spaces, had similar sentiments, recalling his reaction to the dense scenery en route to the meeting.

"I came up First Avenue on a bus from NYU Hospital, and it was horrendous. It was awful. I have to say it was almost like an urban slum," he said. "There's just no real sense of place on that street, and it's a crisis."

Some solutions floated at the forum — the panel of which also included City Council Member Dan Garodnick and Lowline Project Founder Dan Barasch — included repairing the Esplanade and considering CUNY-MSK's controversial proposal to revamp Andrew Haswell Green Park if it gets zoning changes that will let it build bigger and sink more parking spots.

The Department of Parks and Recreation, which maintains the publicly owned open spaces on the UES, did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

What was certain, however, is that the forum served as a battle cry to frustrated residents who have long lamented these concerns.

"We need a community that is more than just a blur of high rise buildings — where our trees aren't constantly being removed to make way for more construction and even more cavernous streets," said CB8 Parks Committee co-chair Peggy Price, who moderated the panel along with co-chair Barbara Rudder. "Other communities from the Bronx to Brooklyn have been standing up to demand more open space, but we need it too."