Green Thumbs Work on Verdi Square Renaissance


Photo by Aleya Lehmann.

By Michael McDowell

Upper West Siders who live in the West 70s know that when the snow melts on the Ansonia it’s time to plant the crops. And with the daffodils in full bloom, vine-ripe tomatoes are merely a few months away.

But the daffodils haven’t been blooming in Verdi Square—until this year, that is.

Spring has come to the neighborhood, and its arrival may nowhere be as pronounced as it is in Verdi Square, at Broadway and 72nd Street, where an enterprising set of neighbors and friends are bringing the “oasis of green” they envisioned to life.

“It’s dramatic, isn’t it?” said Ada Ciniglio on a recent Saturday morning, as more than a dozen gardeners and volunteers planted native species such as wild geranium, blue mistflower, swamp azalea, maple leaf viburnum, and, of course, the distinctive ostrich fern, in a newly cleared space near the statue of Giuseppe Verdi.

Ciniglio and Aleya Lehmann are two of the organizers behind the speedy transformation of a once-neglected transit hub into what is fast becoming an attractive public park. Their organization, Friends of Verdi Square, with the blessing and assistance of the Parks Department and Partnerships for Parks, launched its rehabilitation effort only last fall.

“The rats and the weeds, it was wretched. Now, even the statue is looking happier,” said Lehmann. “We have a tentative date for ribbon cutting: Saturday, June 29th,” she continued. “We’ll reopen the space, and invite the community to come and see what we’ve done so far.”

The northeast corner—or, the Woodland—will soon have a landscaped sitting area.

“It will have Bryant Park-style chairs and cafe tables,” Lehmann said.

“Pretty soon, you’ll be having breakfast here, in this garden,” a green-thumbed volunteer nodded.

Readers should note that rodent remediation has occurred.

Across the way in the northwest corner of the square, a sunnier space, which will remain closed—the Glade—will have different types of flowering plants. In between is the “Parterre”—the sets of stone benches adjacent the gardens—where the group will manage seasonal plantings and organize programming.

“The programming is meant to be free, and initially we’re envisioning activities for parents and kids. We’ll start with once a month in July, and see how it goes,” said Aaron Harnick, who is leading the effort.

“Everybody who wants to get involved, we’re looking for volunteers to sing songs, or read stories, anything like that,” he said.

Those who are interested should contact info@friendsofverdisquare.org.

Others, who may want to get their hands dirty, are also encouraged to join. Every Saturday, from 10 p.m.-12 p.m., a diverse group of gardeners is at work, and has been since January 19. The reward for their labors? Donuts.

“He comes all the way from 59th,” Ciniglio exclaimed, as a man wrangled a sedge.

All of the plants in the gardens are to be native, and have been donated by three city nurseries.

Ciniglio and Lehmann both praised the Parks Department, and especially Commissioner Mitchell Silver, Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh, and Manhattan Commissioner William Castro.

“We could not be in here without Parks, and they would likely not be making a lot of progress without our volunteer support. It’s a collaborative effort, absolutely collaborative,” Lehmann emphasized.

“They’re thrilled to have us and we’re thrilled to have them,” Ciniglio said.

A request for comment from Parks has not yet been returned. The Rag has also contacted Le Pain Quotidien, which operates a kiosk in the square.

“We’re forming an advisory business council. There are 40 businesses on the perimeter of this park, and we’re going to ask them to help support our work. We’re also going to have an individual membership drive,” Lehmann said.

In a city where the canine-inclined have begged for the renovation of their dog run for more than six years, the rapid transformation of Verdi Square—in less than a year—is nothing short of remarkable.

As morning wandered into afternoon, volunteers nibbled on donuts and surveyed their work. Ciniglio is looking forward to warmer months.

“On a hot summer day, you’ll find shade here,” she smiled.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 9 comments | permalink
    1. AC says:

      Pretty gutsy people. That place is a breeding ground for rats!

    2. Ish Kabibble says:

      Good point about the dog run. City and Parks Dept jerking it around again. Now it’s a July groundbreaking. Until July, when the jerking around will kick into high gear.

      Great job on Verdi Square folks!

    3. Patrick says:

      I’d like to know a little more about what they did for rat remediation.. my understanding is that there was quite an active colony there.

    4. Lis Anderson says:

      I remember when I, by myself, cleaned glass off that statue, when I was part of our Block Association. Glad to know that there is this wonderful, well-organized group, that took it even further.

    5. LuluT says:

      A huge Thank You to all those volunteers. You are appreciated.

    6. JC says:

      I walk my dog there for years – as she drags me there to hunt for the rats, though I never let her catch them. I will very happy for her to be bored in her search going forward. Previous comment re rat colony is correct. The rodent to visitor ratio was way too high. Unfortunately reality is it’s mostly due to transitory visitors who leave leftovers on the benches / floor without a thought or care about anything else but their own laziness. Until that is addressed this may be an on going swim upstream. Having said that – thank you so much to the crew that had taken this task on . As a long time UWS you have have my sincere appreciation. Let’s hope Panic in Needle Park loses out to Beauty in Verdi Square.

    7. Deborah says:

      Yes, I would also like to know about the “rat remediation”.I never walk down that block because rats are constantly popping out and I am terrified of rodents. What, exactly, has been done?

    8. t says:

      “In a city where the canine-inclined have begged for the renovation of their dog run for more than six years, the rapid transformation of Verdi Square—in less than a year—is nothing short of remarkable.”

      Let’s see….
      Neighbors organized, bankrolled, hunted down a massive rat colony, and are on their hands and knees providing the sweat equity to transform a sliver of public space that is shared by thousands of neighbors and other commuters daily.

      The “canine-inclined” privatized a chunk of Teddy Roosevelt Park under a commitment to maintain said Dog Run. Then they whined about its condition for most of a decade in order to extort public funds from electeds and the Parks Department to build them a “state of the art” facility. Now they’re whining about how much it costs (of TAXPAYER MONEY!!!) and how long their puppies will be displaced?
      WSR please enlighten: what exactly is remarkable about the difference between these two?