n meadow

City officials have commandeered a public basketball court at the North Meadow Recreation Area in the middle of Central Park around 97th street and are using it for parking. And the inside of the rec center is also being converted to Central Park Conservancy offices. Now some of the people who have used the space are calling for it to be restored to the public.

“The change slowly started from a public recreation center to an unlicensed parking lot with offices, garage repair shop, park department and park enforcement space over a 30 year period,” wrote Abe Pitsirilos, a local resident and handball player who has pushed for the spaces to be returned to public use. “It has gotten out of hand in the last 10 years. With the kids recreation rooms changed to conservancy space.”

north meadow3“The players group that play racket ball, hand ball and tennis have had petitions and meetings with the conservancy, community board 7, council members. Congressmen, senators with limited results. They park on the basketball courts because they can and the city or park commissioner will not stop them.”

Neither the city nor the conservancy responded to our inquiries. Mark Levine, a local city councilman who also chair’s the council’s parks committee said he has been looking into the issue and wants the public to have more access.

“I very much want this to be restored to public use,” he said in an interview. The conservancy told Levine’s office that the rec room and multipurpose room, which were once public spaces (there was even a publicly available climbing wall inside)  haven’t been used for public recreation for almost a decade. The conservancy is now turning the rec room into offices, while the multipurpose space may be used for educational programs in the future.

Stephanie Pitsirilos wrote this summer that the basketball courts have been clear on some days, but they always seem to get filled up with cars again, keeping people from playing. “What’s baffling about this is that this is clearly a basketball court, with seemingly new nets installed. That was the intention here, so it’s not like we’re asking for the city to transform a space that was once delegated for vehicles to be used by pedestrians (although those causes are sometimes just too).”

north bballThe photo at right shows the courts when they’re open.

The cars, she adds, are a danger to people playing nearby too, because they are constantly coming and going in highly trafficked areas.

Upper West Sider Sue Susman started a petition to “save Central Park’s North Meadow facilities from privatization” that had 276 signatures last we checked.

“The Central Park Conservancy is increasingly converting  facilities in the North Meadow to offices and private meeting rooms not accessible to neighborhood people who have no other recreational outlet.  The rec room & climbing wall are gone; the basketball tournament area is usually a parking lot; cars drive across the handball courts. Hazardous pesticides are being stored just outside.  The landmarked North Meadow facility has been altered outside and in.  The Conservancy should augment public facilities, not destroy them.”

Abe Pitsirilos says that he sees the good the conservancy does in other areas, but that he considers the group a “bully” in this case.

Stephanie says that losing the center and the outside area is a blow to the neighborhood.

“North Meadow has always been a part of our lives. Siblings went to nursery school there, I taught at their summer camp. That rec center is a meeting place for old residents, new residents, a fading Upper West Side.”

She says she’s hoping Levine will get back to them with good news about making sure more space is available to the public. “Our calls and questions have remained unanswered from his office, even when the issue was raised in person. That said, we look forward to any support in getting our courts back.”

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 24 comments | permalink
    1. David S says:

      There’s an easy solution to the parking issue at least – just play basketball there. After a few cars get dents or broken windshields from getting whacked with a basketball, folks will start parking elsewhere.

    2. jill s says:

      they park and drive like the park is their provit kingdem.

    3. SR says:

      Get an attorney and sue. Public space is public space.

    4. Kgbuws says:

      How about all of the Conservancy vehicles that drive around during the hours when the rest of the park is closed to vehicular traffic? They zip around, too close for comfort to bikers and take pedestrians/joggers by surprise. I think if they have to move around during the day to get things done, they should go at a snails pace with flashers flashing.

    5. Sean says:

      The conservancy will ultimately privatize the park. You will have to pay to get in and pay to use “services”.

    6. Pedestrian says:

      The Conservancy response is so disingenuous. “It hasn’t been used by the public for a decade.” Of course the fact that the public might have a lot to do with it.

      The Conservancy doesn’t own the park but you’d never know it the way it the way it commenders public space.

    7. Ellen D says:

      It would be a true shame to lose those basketball courts. My son has been playing on them for years – it is a place where all different kinds of New Yorkers convene. A true melting pot that you don’t see at the courts in private places like The JCC, nor the courts in the NYCHA houses along the UWS.

    8. Mike says:

      Ummm, just stop supporting the conservancy until they figure out what’s important.

    9. Lydia pitsirilos says:

      Bravo to both my husband and my daughter for fighting for the rights of the public. This is a special space for recreational actives.

    10. L. W. says:

      Shame on the Central Park Conservancy.
      All staff or visitors should use the same private parking facilities as the rest New Yorkers.

    11. sandra says:

      As a member of the conservancy and a lover of the park, I am appalled at the highhandedness of the conservancy’s actions and their non-responsiveness to the public.

    12. Lilly K. says:

      I am so glad that there is now a petition to return this area of the north meadow back to the recreational center that it used to be. I used to take Tai Chi (with Instructor Derrick) and Yoga classes (with Instructor Susan) in one room and there was a full gym in another room beyond the restrooms that was close to where the Park Rangers used to have their office. I used this facility every Saturday for many, many years. It was great.

      Other friends of mine brought their children to the rock climbing room — directly across from our yoga room where they could keep a watch eye through the glass windows and doors – while they got in their exercise. Another friend, a handball fanatic brought her two children and played handball on the courts directly outside of these three recreational rooms. It was almost nine years ago that I showed up for my tai-chi, yoga and gym classes and I was told by Cheryl (the then manager) and Norma (the Assistant Manager – who was since moved to work in the Conservancy Gardens where she handles the wedding parties who arrive to take photographs), that we were going to have to find another place to workout. We got a petition going then to save the rec center but nothing changed the minds of the Parks Department senior personnel. So I am delighted that someone has re-opened this travesty.

      I used to ride my bike over every Saturday morning — across the 97 Street trans and workout. It was great. After that I tried to play tennis, but you can’t get a court there with so many people waiting and waiting since Park West Village took away their courts to make way for a new development.

      I hope someone is now willing to listen. The police department have a whole new park precinct that was renovated and expanded more than ten years ago. They can park there. Also, why can’t they utilize the old bridal paths since they abandoned horse back riding more than twenty years ago? The park belongs to the people and with more people per square inch in this neighborhood now we surely need someplace in nature to rejuvenate ourselves.

      While you are at it, can someone make sure that more free concerts are held on the north meadow. This space just goes abandoned every summer. I will sign the petition today. Thank you.

      • rteplow says:

        Lilly K.

        A minor correction to an otherwise good post: the Claremont Stables closed in 2007, and then there was a short-lived attempt to bring back riding in the park by trailering in horses from Westchester. The good news is that riding has returned to the park. Here is a link:


        I know this because my husband is a volunteer guide for them.

        • Steen says:

          This is wonderful info, Lilly K., thank you! I miss seeing the horseback riders in the park. My daughter took one of the last Claremont rides in the park and she said it was magical. I’m glad others will get the chance to ride there.

          • rteplow says:

            Glad you feel that way, Steen. My husband rode on Claremont’s last day and was heartbroken. I’m really happy to see horses back in Central Park. Hope your daughter has a chance to ride there again.

    13. Bgreen says:

      Is there a link to a petition that someone can post? I am sick of the liberties the conservancy takes, and their control of the park. Their vehicles are dangerous and have almost hit me and my dog on numerous occasions, and their employes often treat people rudely. They shod not have jurisdiction over any part of this public park, and they should be monitored and controlled as their money is controlling the park. Central Park cannot become another corporate controlled space in NYC.

    14. Susan Resnick says:

      Please keep this area open to the public.

    15. Mike Martinez says:

      Nice job Abe you and Stephanie did a good job
      Keep me informed.

    16. Anna says:

      I also took Tai Chi in the rec center in the winter (we moved outside in warm weather) for many years until we had to make room for the teens. I have had to stop since we no longer have a convenient indoor place to practice. I am shocked that this public space is being usurped for private use. The Conservancy and police do a lot of good for the park but should not be taking away the purpose of the park-to provide a safe place for the public to enjoy nature and physical activity!

    17. Woody says:

      The Conservancy could rent office space outside the Park.

      But maybe they think citizens should rent space outside the Park to use for tai chi, yoga, climbing walls, and basketball games?

    18. DJ says:

      I also resent the “advertising posters” appearing lately on Central Park playgrounds and lampposts urging park users to contribute to the Conservancy. We don’t need more signs in the park–this is obviously a public relations effort on their part. In reality it is an affront to the concept of free public space.

    19. Carlos Arango says:

      I was just forwarded an article which appeared in The West Side Rag concerning the encroachment into a long standing recreational space, in existence for generations of community residents, The Central Park Concervancy and The City of New York are perpetrating on the community.
      First of all, kudos !! to the Pitsirilos family for their militancy in spearheading this crucial community effort.
      What the Concervancy and the city(park rangers) are doing to the 97th st. Recreational space is nothing less than an affront to the concept of public space. I am an active user of those facilities for many years, and have noticed the erosion of public space being perpetrated by these agencies.

      cc: Helen Rosenthal. City Council
      Mark Levine. City Council