Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mayor Bloomberg, Environmentalist

Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke the other day at a U.N. conference on climate change and said all the right things, among other things comparing the threat of global warming to terrorism. And it’s true that that some of his environmental policies, such as banning smoking in most public places and pushing congestion pricing, are at or beyond the cutting edge. But that’s not all environmentalism is about. It’s also about species and habitat preservation. It’s about controlling development. Mayor Bloomberg was at the U.N. not because when he leaves the mayoralty in 2009 he wants to follow in Al Gore’s footsteps. He wants to be in charge, the boss. If he’s not going to run for president, then perhaps he’s considering a run for governor in 2010 against an unpopular one-term incumbent. So it’s fair to ask: would a President Bloomberg open up federal parklands to ATVs or development as ski resorts or golf courses? Would a Governor Bloomberg act as forcefully as Governor Pataki did to preserve Sterling Forest? We need not speculate idly: unlike most big-city mayors, Mayor Bloomberg has a record on similar issues. And that record gives little reason for comfort.

On the Brooklyn-Queens border there is a somewhat ratty park called Highland Park, and in that park there used to be a reservoir, part of the city’s water supply system. Two of the basins were abandoned in 1959 and over the years grew into forests; the entire complex was abandoned in 1990, and the third basin is now a lake. The entire 50-acre area has become home to many species of birds and other animals, some endangered. But the Mayor’s Parks Department is fighting hard, over the opposition of environmentalists and even the community, to pave over the complex, or at least the largest basin, in Astroturf and use it as a ballfield.

Which brings us back to our little blog. A previous generation of Parks Department officials designated certain areas in the parks as “forever wild”, with the stated goal being “to protect and preserve the most ecologically valuable lands within the five boroughs.” In other words, these areas are nature preserves. Prospect Park has a preserve as well; the map is here:

It may have changed by the time you read this posting—unfortunately, this designation is not legally binding—but as of now, that preserve (the crosshatched area) includes a piece, towards the bottom of the map, jutting into the lake on the right side of a squiggly line. The squiggly line is Wellhouse Drive and that crosshatched area is the Peninsula. The Peninsula—all of it, including the woodlands, not merely the meadow—is, as you may recall from our prior posts, now an officially designated “off-leash area”. The Bloomberg administration may be the only government, anywhere in the world, to have turned protected, “ecologically value land” into an unfenced dog run.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe says that his department is committed to protecting wildlife. We'd like to see some evidence of that.

Major Bloomberg, environmentalist? We don’t think so.

UPDATE: See this article in the April 2 NY Metro:

NEW YORK. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has declared April as MillionTreesNYC Month. But to accomplish his goal of planting 1 million new trees by 2030, New Yorkers might have to buy most of the saplings themselves.

Residents near the Ridgewood Reservoir wonder why all the emphasis is on “new.” they’re fighting a proposal to raze 20 acres of dense forest to put down artificial turf fields. Yet, as the neighborhood around Yankee Stadium learned in a court ruling, “Trees themselves have no legal protections.”

Former Parks commissioner Henry Stern pushed for a law to punish the destroyers of trees. Nowadays it’s likely to be the city that’s pulling the chain saw.

“I’ve never seen an administration so intent on the destruction of trees,” said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates. “It’s open season.”

Tree muggers

Here’s a partial list of recent hatchet jobs:

Randall’s Island: thousands

Macombs Dam and Mullaly parks: 377

Washington Square: up to 32

Highbridge Park: 51

Union Square: 14

We took a walk in the Massapequa Preserve today. Dogs, leashed or otherwise, are not allowed in the park, as signs clearly say. Nonetheless, in two hours, we counted 16 dogs, all but two of which were unleashed to boot. This not a new problem and at least the authorities are supposedly committed to fixing it. But we saw no indication that they were trying.

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