Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"Taking Away Parks – An Alarming Trend" New Yorkers for Parks 03/10/06

Taking Away Parks – An Alarming Trend
by Allison Farina of New Yorkers for Parks, March 10, 2006

What is Parkland Alienation?
Parkland alienation is a fancy term to describe the legal mechanism by which a public park ceases to be used as such. In New York State, courts define parkland alienation as the use of parkland for non-park purposes.

In many ways this procedure of decommissioning a park is every park advocate’s nightmare. One moment a green safe-haven exists in which city dwellers can delight, and the next moment this public place of assembly, expression and rejuvenation is gone for use as something else such as a parking lot, office building or industrial composting facility.

Sometimes a park is taken for another public purpose (water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx) and other times the new use involves a private profit-making venture (new Yankee Stadium in Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks, Bronx). We may agree or disagree about whether the new use is necessary or valuable to society but the common denominator in each instance is a net loss of parkland to the public.

The Public Trust Doctrine
What are park goers to do when a beloved park, beach, playground or natural area is threatened by parkland alienation? There is a reassuring ring to something called the Public Trust Doctrine that is supposed to guard against these public condemnations with its theory that certain lands and parks are held in trust for people and posterity. Its legal origin dates back centuries, from England and before that, Rome. Despite its long existence, in a perpetually evolving city like New York, more is needed to combat the ever-expanding sports franchises and notions of eminent domain. New York, and especially New York City, needs more clarity, a more public process and guaranteed restitution in order for The Public Trust Doctrine to live up to its name and legacy.

Without legal reform of parkland alienation it will be nearly impossible to protect our priceless resource from disappearing. With little certainty under the law, no mandatory mitigation and even less public discourse surrounding the taking of a park, protecting it is a difficult thing to do.

New Yorkers For Parks’ Involvement with Parkland Alienation
New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P) is the only independent watchdog for all the City’s parks, beaches and playgrounds. Through our continued leadership in research, policies and partnerships, we raise awareness of the importance of parks to communities and affect changes to the parks system to increase its resources and efficiency. Our goal is to drive effective solutions that ensure greener, cleaner, safer parks for today and for future generations.

For nearly 100 years, NY4P and its predecessor organizations have looked to promote and protect parkland. In fact, our immediate predecessor organization, The Parks Council, was plaintiff in a lawsuit concerning the siting of a water filtration plant within Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. In 1999, and after a long battle, the New York Court of Appeals strengthened The Public Trust Doctrine in ruling that the City indeed needed State Legislative Approval if it wanted to proceed with constructing a filtration plant within the park. The Parks Council used a reactive approach – suing -- to obtain this partial victory. In 2004, our organization became more proactive in trying to identify and track which parks were being officially, and unofficially, alienated. We found that many parks are being siphoned off for another use by the city or private entity. Most recently NY4P has opposed the Yankee Stadium plan since public discourse on the matter occurred well after Macombs Dam and Mullaly Parks were alienated and because of insufficient mitigation issues.

Parks should be the last place we look to condemn. Unfortunately, it is the cheapest available land in our shrinking city. NY4P believes the only way to slow down the loss of parkland is to pass laws that ensure an open dialogue with the community before a park is alienated, require mitigation for the lost public good and provide clear guidelines as to what is a proper and temporary park use. We hope to bring together a committee of legal experts in a working group to assure maximum effectiveness of any future proposed legislation.


At 11:02 AM, Anonymous samantha tee said...

Finally someone is talking about this. The city and the Yankees think they can just come in and take these people's parkland. Sure, by law they can, but we need to change the law. Until then, it's time for the city and the Yankees to get creative about greening the South Bronx.


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