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Tiny UWS Green Space to Get $300K Overhaul

By Emily Frost | April 30, 2014 6:55am
 The West 71st Street pocket park is crumbling, Parks Department staff said. 
Septuagesimo Uno
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UPPER WEST SIDE — It would be easy to live in the neighborhood for years and never cross paths with the small public park on West 71st Street known as Septuagesimo Uno.

Nonetheless, the 92-foot-long parcel of land between West End and Amsterdam avenues will get a $300,000 renovation that will include new benches, pathways, trees and other plantings under a major overhaul of the green space, Parks Department officials said.

The park was once a vacant lot, but was transformed into a public park known as the "71st Street Plot" in 1969. In 2000, the green space saw a nearly $15,000 renovation accompanied by a name change (Septuagesimo Uno, means "71" in Latin).

Though Parks staff visit the park daily to unlock the gates and empty the trash, it is the residents who've invested time and money into Septuagesimo Uno and treat it almost like a community garden, Parks Department representatives said. 

"We heard from volunteers that they thought they would like to see a revitalized park," said Steve Simon, Manhattan chief of staff for the Parks Department. "They thought it was looking a little downtrodden. We thought it was a good idea to help beautify their efforts."

The park, which houses a flowering cherry tree and a smattering of daffodils and tulips in mostly barren beds, will get a renovation that will make it greener and more welcoming, according to plans presented to the community Monday. 

The funding for the renovation was set aside by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer when she was the district's councilwoman, Simon noted.

Parks Department landscape architect Leatt Beder-Galtier lives on Upper West Side and said she was gratified for the opportunity to embellish the park. 

"I passed here all the time and never even noticed the park," she said. "It’s a really unique space; we don’t really have anything else like it."

Her design will make the park more accessible by completely redoing the uneven and crumbling brick flooring that makes it hard for those in wheelchairs or with strollers to enter. 

To prevent flooding, which park-goers said was a problem, permeable brick pavers and new drains will be installed, Beder-Galtie said.

The renovation will include 10 new benches to replace the six existing ones, and will fix the damaged flower beds and beef up the plantings.

Three new flowering trees will be added and overgrown bamboo at the back of the park will be cut back, Beder-Galtier explained.

To ensure the park, which is locked at dusk, remains safe, a taller chain-link fence will be added at the back, she added. 

Currently, residents who care for the garden bring in water themselves, but a new hose will be added during the renovation. The hose will be kept locked, but neighbors who frequent the park will have access to it, Beder-Galtier said.

"There are people who’ve put a lot of time, energy and money into the park. We want them to... feel like it is part of their garden. The plants that are [already] there can stay," she said. 

Linda Marthis, a longtime resident of the block, said the park revolves around enjoying and caring for the plantings.

"It’s a very low-key park. The love of the park is its vegetation and its cascading trees. People just browse in and out," she said. 

Marthis and other residents want the Parks Department to keep the focus on making it greener, even if that means subtracting some of the proposed new benches. 

"That park is so special, it’s so cozy, it’s so vintage," she said. "It’s such a lovely look at New York as it once was."

Klari Neuwalt, chairwoman of Community Board 7's Parks Committee, which reviewed and approved the plans Monday evening, also pushed for lighting that would help extend the park's hours into the early evening. 

Board member Mark Diller suggested solar lighting could be built into the ground as it is on the Columbus Avenue streetscape.

Simon agreed to consider solar lighting, but said using regular electricity would be prohibitively expensive. 

Because the park sits in the West End-Collegiate Historic District, the design will next go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission for approval. The renovation is expected to begin in the spring of 2015, Simon said.