Lawns Surrounding Museum of Natural History to Be Opened to Public in Pilot Project

The Southwest lawn at Teddy Roosevelt Park, soon to be opened to the public for the first time in memory.

By Carol Tannenhauser

Two young women stood in the enough-already April chill, jiggling babies in snowsuits, about 30 degrees and a “range fence” between them and a picnic on a green lawn with their children. They were in Theodore Roosevelt Park, home to the Museum of Natural History. For as long as anyone can remember, it’s been a “look-don’t-touch” green space, with all its lawns fenced off.

That is about to change.

“Beginning Memorial Day Weekend and running through September 30th, as part of a pilot program, the Parks Department will open two lawns in Theodore Roosevelt Park: the Northwest Lawn, at 81st Street and Columbus Avenue, and the Southwest Lawn, at 77th and Columbus,” said William Castro, Parks Department Manhattan Borough Commissioner, at a recent meeting of the Parks & Environment Committee of Community Board 7.

“The lawns will have two entrances each and operate from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., five days a week. Two of the seven days a week, they will be closed and rested. (The lawns will “rest” on different days.) If it rains, they will be closed to allow them to dry out. They will also be aerated and re-seeded every month, for four days. And, they will be designated “passive areas,” Castro emphasized. “The idea is for people to go there, relax, lie on the grass, enjoy them, but they will not be for any kind of sports or pets.”

The two young mothers were thrilled at the prospect. “Perfect for babies,” one said. “You can lay out a blanket and you don’t have to look out for dog poop!”

The opening of the lawns aligns with the Parks Department’s city-wide Parks Without Borders initiative. A spokesperson told WSR that Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver was “inspired by Parks Without Borders when he considered the lawns around the museum, as the design concept addresses providing New Yorkers with access to all available park spaces.”

A map of the lawns. Click to enlarge.

The co-chairs of the Parks & Environment Committee differed in their opinions of the project.
“Outside of our great parks, we are starved for public space,” Ken Coughlin said. “Any more that we can create is welcome. I’ve always wondered why these sections of the park were closed. I’m very happy.”

“I have a different view,” said Klari Neuwelt. “I think it’s not by chance that this location was chosen. I think it’s troublesome that a fair amount of very scarce Parks Department resources were put into this pilot, money and personnel that could well be used on other parks that have far greater needs than this one.”

The budget for the project was not available at the meeting, but Castro said that “two to three additional seasonal Park Enforcement Officers will be hired. These will be people in Parks uniforms, with walkie talkies. They won’t be peace officers who can give out summons and make arrests, but we’ve used them in a variety of venues and they’ve worked out very well. They will provide a uniformed presence and be there every day the lawns are open to enforce the rules of the park, make people feel comfortable, give out information, and help open and close the lawns. They will patrol the entire park — interior and perimeter — so, the entire park will benefit.”

Funding for the project will come from the Parks Department and money allocated by the museum. As WSR reported last November, “The museum has committed to spending at least $100,000 a year for at least 10 years to manage and maintain the park.”

The Northwest lawn.

Peter Wright, president of Friends of Roosevelt Park, a nonprofit that has co-managed and co-funded the park since 2002, said “the organization has taken no position on whether the lawns should be opened or not. What we’re saying is, if you’re going to open any lawn, you need to upgrade your turf and tree management. Last year, eight branches fell in our park and hit three people. We recommend that the Parks Department allocate the funds for upgraded turf care, upgraded tree care, and litter control. If they’re going to do what it takes, then, give it a shot. It’s a pilot project, so let’s see. It could be a good thing.”

“Obviously, we’ll all be able to tell,” Castro said. “It will be right out there for everyone to see: the condition of the grass; how we’re maintaining it; a record of any issues. Primary are the lawns. Will they be able to sustain people being on them?”

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 41 comments | permalink
    1. lynn says:

      I don’t understand why everything in this area has to be a PROJECT. My coworkers and I have been enjoying the quiet open space surrounding the Met Museum for 20+ years. Why can’t the same be done over here without all the drama?

      • Ish Kabibble says:

        What drama? Geez, someone has to whine about something….

      • AG says:

        Well it’s the Upper West and everyone is particular about everything over here, and that’s part of why we love it. But also, as far as the “projects” go, based on what I read I think I can put up with a little “drama” if it means branches from 100+ year old trees are not at risk of falling on me and my family. No thank you- I might just stick to the middle of Sheep Meadow…

    2. Spence says:

      Too bad the Park Enforcement Officers won’t be able to ticket people who allow their dogs to roam off the leash, outside of the dog park. I promise there will be dogs on the grass, and mothers, there will be poop on the grass without effective enforcement. I’ve used this park for well over 30 years and I know whereof I speak.

    3. Toni Stanley says:

      Did I miss something here….is not the museum planning a huge expansion project that would virtually put those park areas out of commission for quite some time?

      • Jon says:

        The proposed museum expansion project takes up a small sliver of TR Park: the strip from Columbus/79th to the glass entrance. The rest of the park — including every big lawn north and south of the museum — will be unaffected. In my opinion, all the outrage about the expansion has been baffling because very little actual green space will be affected; a few trees and some patches of green that have always been fenced off.

        • dannyboy says:

          “All the outrage about the expansion has been baffling because very little actual green space will be affected; a few trees and some patches of green”. – Jon

          Privatizing public space is a slippery slope to get on.

    4. Nj says:

      Sigh… without the right planning this will be a disaster and it looks like a plan to say this is a dangerous area we must get rid of it. Yes, a bit pessimistic, but I don’t trust any city agency.

    5. BillyNYC says:

      Excellent!!! I moved here into my brownstone in1968 and everything was open up until mid 70s. Than some jerk on West 77 Street came up the idea to close down the entire park from the public to save the grass.
      With my thanks to Gayle our Manhattan Borough President and CB 7…!!!
      Let be there Park!!!!!

    6. kathleen Treat says:

      Let’s hope this is a gift that comes without strings. We must ensure that ALL the green spaces REMAIN intact for public use.

    7. TRP says:

      People will bring their dogs to these open areas rather than use the dog run that is available to them. On occasion, I have seen people lift their dog over the fence of the closed lawn. Are Park Police going to monitor?

      • Lulubelle says:

        The dog run is fenced and dogs go off leash there. On leash dogs are allowed in Central Park so what’s the problem aside from the fact that you’re genetically deficient for hating animals ?

    8. Patricia fox says:

      The park and its surrounding areas are a breeding ground for rats that have been out of control for years ……i hope this issue will be addressed!

      • BillyNYC says:

        HELLO !!!!
        The Park has been 99% rat free for the past two years!!! it’s time that you wake up lady !!!!
        Do you see those $2,000 garbage disposals that the Robert Mclean the NYC Parks – Supervisor and the New York City Parks Department put in? The park has been rat free for the past two years thanks to CB7 and ‘us’ concern neighbors in-the-hood.

        • Red says:

          Go take a look (from the sidewalk) amongst the plants on the sw corner – there are rat burrows there, a sign of their underground nests. I guess your 1 percent is living there … only I think your 1 percent had grown.

    9. dannyboy says:

      “The museum has committed to spending at least $100,000 a year for at least 10 years to manage and maintain the park.”

      Opening it for public use is a good first step. Funding it, a second.

      More to come, I hope.

    10. Debbi says:

      I don’t care if it is public space. I care very much that it stays GREEN. My thought

      • Johnny UWS says:

        agree with you, isn’t there 850 acres of public space across the street? in our rush to create more places for people to be we may be sacrificing our need for just a few acres of quite open “green” space, within our grid of towers and commerce.

    11. Jon says:

      This is a tremendous idea! And, by the way, this will open up significantly more green space than will be taken away by the new Gilder building. Can’t wait to enjoy it!

    12. Rob G. says:

      I hope Carrie Goodman, William Raudenbush, and all the other members of “Community United” are banned from the park, at least until they apologize to the museum and the rest of the neighborhood for their protracted temper tantrum about Gilder Center expansion.

      • Mark says:

        Umm, that’s not how America works.

      • dannyboy says:

        “’Community United’ are banned from the park”

        Is this the liberal UWS?

        Is this America?

        What is going on?

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        i hope Rob G. realizes that improvements to community usage of TR Park are in large part due to the activists. They put pressure on the Museum to be sensitive to community needs. This is Community Politics 101.

        Rob G. should be thanking them, not deriding them.

        • Rob G. says:

          @Bruce E. Bernstein, I would agree with you and would kiss their feet if their only agenda was to open the rest of the park. But their main goal was (and still is) to derail the Gilder expansion, and they would be dancing in the streets if they were successful. So while this result may be a positive side-effect, it was unintended and therefore these “activists” will be getting no thanks from me.

    13. UWS_lifer says:

      No Dogs Please!!! Thank you.

      We know you all love your precious little pooches but COME ON, PEOPLE. Is it really unreasonable of us to not want animal excrement all over the place? Show our common spaces some respect.

    14. MTS says:

      I don’t get it. Central Park is literally right across the street.

      Plenty of grass and trees over there, folks.

      Suitable for babies, mommies, and everyone else.

      That $100,000 a year from the museum’s budget would be put to better use if they allocated it toward a program that would defray the ridiculous cost of their special exhibits and events, making them more accessible to low income New Yorkers, instead of using it to provide extra picnicking space to local residents who don’t care to walk across the street to the park.

    15. Jimbo says:

      This doesn’t change the impending disaster of when rhe museum moves its main entrance to Columbus Avenue.
      Yesterday Central Park West was practically at a standstill due to school bus activity. How will it be when it’s Columbus Ave, our main southbound thoroughfare?

    16. Steve says:

      I’m finding this humorous. Those on 81st who have been opposing the planned construction because they love the park (as long as it’s not used) are now going to be beset with people actually using the park. Oh the horror.

      Next they’ll start complaining about dogs…

    17. Jane says:

      Homeless people and off leash dogs will surely make use of this nice clean green space.

      • dannyboy says:

        “This nice clean green space” is not exclusive for the use of people above a certain income, is it?

        Homeowners only then?

    18. Red says:

      Perhaps the Parks Dept should check for rat nests before they open the southwest lawn. There are large burrows amongst the plants in the sw corner-Columbus & 77th!

      • BillyNYC says:

        That has to be taken care of…shake shack is responsible for all that. The rest of the areas of the park is clean of rats thanks to the New York City Department of Parks the past two years.

    19. yoma says:

      Great but only in NY would it cost $100,000 to un-fence some lawns. WTH? Really?

      This city is insane.