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In 1895, Frederick Law Olmstead, the genius who created Central and Prospect parks and other famous parks elsewhere, said, “The survival of our park system requires the exclusion from management of real estate dealers and politicians and that the first duty of our park trustees is to hand down from one generation to the next the treasure of scenery which the city placed in their care.”
The increase in our urban population and the technological congestion in modern cities makes it clear Olmstead’s admonition more than 100 years ago is more pertinent today. But when it comes to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, it not only falls on deaf ears but upon a large group of fools who masquerade as public officials, oblivious to the fact that even during the Great Depression public parkland was considered sacred and inviolate, not for sale or barter.
A case in point and one that would cause Olmstead to have convulsions in his grave, is Flushing Meadows. Since the administration of the late former Borough President Donald Manes through and up to our current Bloomberg administration, FMCP has been up for grabs by all sorts of fat cat real estate and special interests aided and complicit with myopic politicians who have not the vaguest understanding of what urban parks are all about and that once parkland, a non-renewable resource, is given away it is lost forever.
City residents have every right to be concerned and protest the malfeasance being inflicted on FMCP (“Packed meeting questions Flushing Meadows plans,” Flushing Times, Sept. 20-26). It will be recalled that Manes, who disgraced the office of borough president in facing criminal charges, wanted to cut down more than 100 trees and build a grand prix racetrack around Meadow Lake. The plan was endorsed at the time by our current borough president, Helen Marshall, then a public official, as well as others and he wanted to turn the park into a Meadowlands sports complex to be named after himself.
Since then, the United States Tennis Association was given a significant piece of the parkland upon its promise not to seek more land. That promise was as worthless as a dead tennis ball. It sought and was given more land and currently seeks more as well as the right to increase the size of its stadiums, an environmental blight. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ill-advised Willets Point Plan will take some parkland and cause an egregious impact on the park.
On the horizon is the prospect of a private, for-profit soccer stadium without hearing any expressions of opposition from any public official. It should also be noted that Citi Field, when initially built, was and still is on parkland. The billboards on its current stadium for which it receives substantial income, is an environmental horror. Unlike any other park in this city, the city allows parking for pay on grassland when the USTA and the New York Mets are in play, something that would not be tolerated in any other municipal park.
Manes’ dream of a sportsplex in lieu of a much-needed and used park, may well come to pass, in which case it should be named after him, since the demise of the park would be criminal and celebrate his abysmal term in office. Can anything be done to prevent this from happening? The answer is yes. The people of this city and, in particular, Queens must take Olmstead’s admonition seriously.
They should insist Flushing Meadows be removed from the city’s jurisdiction and turned over to a professionally trained park administrator supported with tax dollars and with the specific obligation to exclude all politicians, real estate and special interests from any say in management of the park.
Residents of this city, wake up if you want to save Flushing Meadows for yourself and generations to come. You must insist that anyone seeking public office be denied your vote unless they support the preservation of the park as a park.
Benjamin M. Haber
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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