Since September 2005, Church Square Park (CSP) has had grass and trees eliminated from three areas of its Northwest quadrant, replaced by a kiddie park, monkey bars and Astroturf. These desecrations were all executed with no public notice or hearings.
Since $100,000 was spent to replace grass with Astroturf, I have advocated the passage of an ordinance to prevent changes to Hoboken's public parks without public notice, hearings, and consensus.
Councilman Peter Cunningham's plan to introduce such an ordinance has met resistance from the Roberts Administration, who opted instead to hire a consultant, the Project for Public Space (PPS), to stage a public process to determine what changes should be made to the parks.
In a slide presentation at the 2-20-08 City Council meeting, a PPS consultant gave a disturbing indication of PPS's direction. First, most PPS examples were conversions of derelict urban wasteland into highly active, commerce driven "destinations" covered with artificial surfaces, programmed activities and surrounded by food vendors. There was no discussion of the value of preserving green and natural park space such as CSP, which has been integrated into the community as a park for well over a century. Nor was there a discussion of how PPS would hold sufficient public hearings to attract a wide spectrum of citizens or how decisions concerning preservation or elimination of green and natural park space would be made on the basis of a true public consensus.
Primarily on the basis of a one-day "workshop", PPS consultants would choreograph and steer the process for deciding the fate of both existing and proposed new parks, and their subsequent recommendations would then be implemented by the City.
A natural concern is that the agendas of City consultants are determined by those that hired them, not by the will of the majority.
The Roberts Administration has already demonstrated their willingness to transform the parks into specialized activity spaces without concern for the public. Their decision to try to replace a democratic public notice, hearing and consensus process with a steered PPS process suggests a new strategy of using consultants as a PR tool to justify their elimination of natural park space.
The Roberts Administration characterizes their elimination of natural green space as a benefit to the children who need programmed recreational space. The over-development of the last 20 years has overloaded the City's recreational resources, and hopefully the voter-approved acquisition of new public space will address those needs. But we must also remember that green grass has historically been used by children for both organized and spontaneous play, so there is really no basis for conflict between parents who want space for their children's active play during daylight hours and other residents (including children, parents and adults) who want a green oasis and retreat from the polluted concrete urban environment. Hoboken's century-old parks attest to an ancient understanding that humans evolved from and need a green and natural environment for peace, contemplation, play and rejuvenation.
Thus, the need is greater than ever that Councilman Cunningham's "no changes to our parks without public notice, hearings and consensus" ordinance be immediately enacted and that no PR process be substituted for the democratic public process needed to determine the fate of our parks.