The Margaret Mead Park is currently surrounded by fences.

By Carol Tannenhauser

The American Museum of Natural History’s expansion project includes a plan to open up areas around the museum that are currently fenced-off, so people can walk through them.

In fact, the proposed addition to the museum “would result in a net increase in the amount of publicly accessible space in the park,” according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) issued by the NYC Parks Department in May.

This is different than adding new public space, such as the acre that was added by the Ross Terrace, when the Rose Center was built in 2000. Here, space would be opened, not increased.

It’s still remarkable considering how much of the opposition to the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation has been and still is about the loss of 11,600 square feet – about a quarter of an acre – of Theodore Roosevelt Park, the NYC park in which AMNH is located.

“We have nowhere else to go… this is all we have,” said Margaret Mead, the legendary anthropologist, writer, teacher, and faculty member at the AMNH from 1926 until her death in 1978.

No doubt Mead was referring to the planet, but her words apply (although they do overlook the lawn on West 77th Street!). To find a way to open additional parkland to the public, the museum would turn first to the Margaret Mead Green, named in her honor, which runs along Columbus Avenue, between 79th and 81st streets.

“Specifically, as part of the proposed project, the enlarged, approximately 27,137-square-foot Margaret Mead Green lawn, which is currently fenced and not open to the public, would be made available for managed public access in a manner consistent with and supportive of the current character of Theodore Roosevelt Park,” the DEIS says. “It is anticipated that the lawn would continue to be fenced, access would be available through one or more public gates, and plantings and other improvements would be made within the lawn area. The Museum, in consultation with NYC Parks, would develop a proposed operating and maintenance plan for providing and managing public access to the lawn while also protecting the grass and surrounding plantings (e.g., during reseeding, wet conditions, etc.).

A rendering of a new path in Margaret Mead Park, via AMNH.

“In addition,” the DEIS continues, “a portion of the lawn area adjacent to the Columbus Avenue sidewalk between West 78th Street and West 79th Street would be made available for public access. This approximately 6,400-square-foot lawn is located behind the Park boundary fence, between the existing entrance to the Museum’s West 78th Street service driveway and the proposed new entry paths in front of the proposed Gilder Center. The Museum, in consultation with NYC Parks, would develop a proposed operating and maintenance plan, as well as a design for any needed improvements (such as seating), for providing and managing public access within this area while also protecting the grass and surrounding plantings and maintaining security along the Museum’s service driveway.

“The Museum also would consult with the Park Working Group as plans and designs for these two areas are developed for presentation to NYC Parks. These enhancements would respond to the project’s loss of open space by increasing the amount of publicly accessible open space available to park users, resulting in a net increase with the proposed project.”

Dr. Cary Goodman, who has been fighting against the Gilder Center from its inception in 2014 – and is currently running for City Council from District 6, mostly on an anti-museum-expansion platform – commented, “Only in an alternative universe does subtracting parkland result in additional public park. It is where the climate-deniers on the museum’s board dwell.”

All are invited to comment on or question the DEIS at a public hearing to be held on Thursday, June 15th, at 6 pm, in the Lefrak Theater at the museum. Enter on 79th and Columbus Avenue. Written comments will also be accepted until June 26th at the addresses below:

Owen Wells, Director of Environmental Review
New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
The Arsenal, Central Park
830 Fifth Avenue, Room 401
New York, New York 10065

Telephone: (212) 360-3492
Fax: (212) 360-3453
Email: owen.wells@parks.nyc.gov

Photos by Carol Tannenhauser.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 24 comments | permalink
    1. Wijmlet says:

      Will this new space be trashed?

      • Cato says:

        “Will this new space be trashed?”

        Is this New York City?

      • Nat says:

        I’m concerned the area will be filled with picnickers and their Shake Shack/food vendor remains (followed by rats).
        There are already overflowing garbage bins near benches along W.77th St and Columbus Ave from 77-78th St. Now we’ll have them inside the park as well.

        • Spence Halperin says:

          I am not sure what you mean. Today there are plenty of places for people to come, sit, and litter,and guess what? They don’t. PLUS this park is meticulously maintained and I doubt this will cease.

          • Kate says:

            But “today” was a Thursday. The weekends right now with the heightened tourist season and events means a majority of the trash bins are overflowing on all sides of the museum. There is also trash and food left on benches constantly (which my dog loves… unfortunately). I don’t think any of this will change with the museum expansion… the museum rightfully attracts a lot of visitor traffic that don’t understand this park is the “front and backyard” equivalent for a lot of us. I just wanted to point out what I think the original poster was intending: a solution for the heavy tourist traffic in the area in question, and what new considerations will be made to balance it for the betterment of the community and residents. The museum and city absolutely do a lot to maintain the balance m, and it has a real affect during the week with lower numbers, but on the weekends it’s disgusting. Over holiday weeks it’s disgusting. Shake shake chips in. I’ve seen their employees out tidying the sidewalks around the museum by their location. It’s a people problem, but I do agree that a better solution for it should be in place along with the expansion given that these designs will invite more of it.

    2. Karen says:

      Thanks for this update. I think increasing access to current space does count in the overall calculation of available park space for the public to enjoy. I appreciate the attempt to balance competing needs and interests…and am very excited about the museum’s expansion.

    3. Ish Kabibble says:

      This all sounds reasonable. How about upgrading the dog run from a dust bowl? Money allocated for improvements over 3 years ago!

    4. Igor says:

      Mr Gorbachev, tear down that wall

    5. Gretchen says:

      Only a died-in-the-wool NIMBY could now find fault with this. If it doesn’t meet with their NIMBYSaurus standards, well, there’s the Adirondacks, where they will have plenty of open space.This is, um, a city

    6. Dr. Cary Goodman says:

      This is a GREAT city and a wonderful neighborhood over-filled with museums and suffering from dirty air. What about putting the expansion in another neighborhood? What about a design that uses alternative energy like the new Cornell Center on Roosevelt Island? What about a upholding our city’s democratic tradition by discussing such an important issue with the community before giving the proposed project tens of millions of tax dollars?

      • Paul RL says:

        So…the Upper West Side is now “overfilled with museums”? I had to read that multiple times to believe my own eyes. The reasoning behind your opposition to the AMNH expansion gets weirder by the day.

      • Zulu says:

        Can you explain how you make the connection between museums and dirty air? If you’re going to say: “because of buses” the next logical thing for you must be getting rid of schools, field trips, acces-a-ride and MTA buses amongst other things.

      • Gretchen says:

        “Overfilled with museums…” Fake news, or are you from Arkansas? Hey Cary, if you get some free time, take a stroll down Museum Mile on the Upper East Side. This strip alone beats the UWS museum count by at least 20 to 1.

    7. Paul RL says:

      Hooray AMNH! Our neighborhood will benefit greatly from the Gilder Center, and the additional plan for the park is icing on the cake.

    8. Steve Anderson says:

      It is simply unacceptable to continue to leave gated off from any access the entire southwest quadrant of our park, at 77th Street and Columbus Avenue. At a time when we are losing green space, we must call upon the Parks Dept to open up this beautiful area for all to enjoy.

    9. Bob Lamm says:

      Cary Goodman’s comments are fascinating. He says our city is “over-filled with museums”? Which ones should we get rid of? What should we replace them with? More banks? More bars? He asks: “What about putting the expansion in another neighborhood”? Classic NIMBY. Is Goodman pretending to be a progressive? Is NIMBY part of the “democratic tradition” he speaks of in such glorious terms?

    10. GG says:

      I love this plan and this museum so much that I wouldn’t mind if they demo’ed a couple of those surrounding apartment buildings and made the expansion EVEN BIGGER!!:)

      Now…which building does that doctor live in? kidding, kidding…I kid because I love.

    11. Barbara Adler says:

      It is sad that valuable neighborhood papers like WSR continue to spout the inaccurate statements made by Cary Goodman. They are false and misleading. Many in the community and throughout the world avidly await this incredible new building, bringing with it new exhibit space,educational spaces, a more usable park, and spectacular architecture.

      • Bob Lamm says:

        I’d love to know what Barbara Adler’s concept of journalism is. As is obvious above, I do not support Cary Goodman’s overheated polemics about the museum expansion. But Ms. Adler seems to suggest that the West Side Rag should only publish comments that are “accurate.” How will each comment be evaluated for accuracy? Both critics and supporters of the expansion should have every right to comment here.

      • Jay says:

        WSR loves NIMBYs. Without NIMBYs there wouldn’t be anything to manufacture selective outrage about around here.

    12. Jerry says:

      Great to open these lawns, except it will mean more space for people to drop their disgusting Shake Shack trash all over the place.

    13. Margaret says:

      Honest question. Why is the anti- group concerned about the construction kicking up chemicals at this one site?

      I don’t get it. Is there something at this particular site that freaks them out? I made it through only a short part of last night’s meeting, because I thought the speakers seemed unreasonable. Clean air is vital, yes, but the UWS has a long history of construction sites providing useful buildings. Plus, we have way too many heavy trucks polluting the air. Why not turn their alarm to the insane number of private carting trucks that troll the neighborhood?

    14. M. says:

      Over the years, there has been an inordinate and unequal amount of development on the NORTH side of the AMNH. What about the closed off green space along West 77th Street? It would seem that the residents of that block have more clout than anyone ever imagined.