"Plastic Parks" MetroNY 04/17/06
Is synthetic turf a wise move?
by patrick arden / metro new york
APR 17, 2006
UPPER WEST SIDE Four acres of new athletic fields opened in Riverside Park last week. From a distance yesterday the $3.9 million project looked lush and green, but a closer inspection of one of the soccer fields at 107th Street revealed thin plastic strips poking out of loose rubber crumbs.
Bill Crain holds the rubber crumbs that serve as “soil” in one of the new synthetic-turf fields in Riverside Park yesterday. (Photo: Bill Lyons/metro)
Deborah Peretz’s children liked to run on the springy surface, but she was concerned about the acrid scent. “You can smell the rubber,” she noted.
Two years ago Bill Crain tried to stop the Parks Dept. from using synthetic turf. The director of Citizens for a Green Riverside Park collected 600 signatures and brought the petition to the office of Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, where he came upon a display case dedicated to what he calls plastic grass. “It was like an altar,” Crain said.
“When we can grow real grass, we much prefer to,” explained Amy Freitag, the department’s deputy commissioner for capital projects, who said synthetic turf has mostly replaced asphalt and football and soccer fields. “We find the amount of demand in the city far exceeds what the grass fields can take.”
Crain said the real problem is maintenance — the fields in Riverside Park were last refurbished 12 years ago. He’s worried that the use of synthetic turf will grow, as the city buys into an easy solution to its lack of funds for regular park maintenance.
While Freitag was “not aware of any additional plans to add synthetic turf in Riverside,” Crain has attended meetings of community boards 7 and 9 when two separate plans for synthetic turf were discussed, including a spot near 63rd Street where “people simply sit and relax.” Synthetic turf is also slated for Yankee Stadium’s replacement parks and the Brooklyn War Memorial in Cadman Plaza Park.
“It’s like ‘the Blob’ — the thing that keeps expanding unless we stop it,” Crain said. “We want to preserve what little nature is left in the city.”
Fake grass saves money, parks, city says
UPPER WEST SIDE For his fight against the city’s use of synthetic turf in Riverside Park, Bill Crain located an environmental lawyer who happened to live in his neighborhood.
“I initially didn’t think the problem was that serious, but I got involved because it was my community,” said Joel Kupferman, executive director of the New York Environmental Law & Justice Project. “Then as I researched more and more I became more and more upset. Rubber is a dirty business with bad chemicals. When kids slide into this turf, the rubber crumbs come up, and they ingest it.
“We should be looking at the whole life-cycle of the product. There is a disposal problem, so they’ll have to send it somewhere and make that someone else’s problem forever. Also, if this stuff catches on fire, it’s toxic — there are noxious fumes.”
That makes him worried about drainage, too, as the Riverside Park playing fields overlook the Hudson River.
The Parks Dept. thinks these problems are overstated. Out of its 800 athletic fields, only 67 have been slated for synthetic turf.
“Where we now have asphalt or dirt fields, we’re putting synthetic turf that people love,” said Keith Kerman, the Parks Dept.’s chief of operations, who notes that synthetic-turf athletic fields in Manhattan get 50 percent more requests for play than natural-turf fields. While the synthetic turf will get hotter in the summer, he said, “It’s certainly cooler than asphalt.”
Kerman said the average synthetic-turf field will last for 10 years, compared to five years “at best” for grass. “A synthetic-turf football field costs about $1.4 million to install, while a natural grass field costs $700,000,” he explained. “Since to really maintain the quality you have to do the grass twice, from a capital standpoint over a ten-year period they more or less cost the same. But there is very little maintenance cost for a synthetic-turf field.
“These fields are alleviating maintenance concerns and letting us dedicate maintenance costs elsewhere,” Kerman said. “They’re less expensive in total and most of the cost is capital. The truth is, if we got additional resources, why wouldn’t you want to put them elsewhere anyway?”
“They always say they have to redo things because there’s not enough budget for maintenance,” said Kupferman. “They build something with a great capital outlay, and what happens in five years? They won’t maintain it, so it will look horrible.”