On March 1, the Common Council of the Roosevelt Island Resident Association (RIRA) unanimously adopted a resolution on the protection of the ecological and wildlife balance at Southpoint Park. The 7.5-acre park is subject to enhancement proposals to be finalized by RIOC this month. Roosevelt Island residents had the opportunity to contribute ideas and views to the redesign process throughout 2016 and this year, as part of the Community Plan for Southpoint Open Space.
Indeed, green spaces constitute the uniqueness and specificity of Roosevelt Island, in a city of concrete and staggering human density. According to Island not-for-profit Wildlife Freedom Foundation, whose mission it is to protect wild animals and their habitats, Southpoint Park is both a crucial habitat and part of a vital migration corridor, the Atlantic Flyway, for many of the over 470 wild bird species that live in or spend time in New York City.
Most of those species inhabit or visit Roosevelt Island. They include Black-Crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets, Woodcocks, Brants, Downy Woodpeckers, Red-Headed Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Mallard Ducks, Mourning Doves, Laughing Gulls, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, Double-Crested Cormorants, Northern Cardinals, Finches, Red-Tailed and Cooper’s Hawks, Rock Pigeons, American Kestrels, Crows, Ravens, Gold-Crown Kinglets, Black-Throated Warblers, Cerulean Warblers, North American Flickers, Barn Swallows, American Coots, as well as hard-to-spot Peregrine Falcons and spring-migration-arrival announcers Eastern Phoebes.
Southpoint Park is also home to numerous wild mammal and marsupial species, such as the Eastern Gray Squirrels, North American Raccoons, Opossums, and Little Brown Bats. The Park is also a cat sanctuary, and hosts dozens of cats. Many of these species play an important role in the ecosystem of the Island and protecting human health by keeping rats, cockroaches, mosquitoes, and other insect populations under control.
Southpoint Park, as we know it today, was designed recently, in 2011, through a $13 million project, which included stabilizing the Smallpox Hospital, the city’s only landmarked ruin. It called for the creation of a natural, open green space, and was the result of large consultations with residents and public participation. Major construction was rejected in favor of a wild oasis that would help retain the rapidly diminishing historical character of the Island and preserve a great green open space for the enjoyment of residents, visitors, and wild animals.
It is in this spirit that the RIRA Common Council passed the resolution on Southpoint Park. Insufficiently protecting Southpoint Park’s existing layout threatens to destroy its fragile ecological balance and what has been, for years, a corridor and sanctuary for many species. The new suggested plans for redesigning the park do not sufficiently protect the natural beauty of one of the rare existing green spaces left on the Island.
Southpoint Park is beloved for its beauty, its meditative simplicity, and its proximity to nature and the waterfront. There is simply no need to take this successful design and diminish it by crowding it with unnecessary reshaping, constructions, and attractions.
While acknowledging RIOC’s willingness to enhance the Island parks and its welcomed inclusive and participatory approach, the Common Council recommended that no major alteration be made to the current design of Southpoint Park, but only minimal adjustments, such as replacement of benches, adding benches and trees, plants and flowers, as well as expanding water access.
The Common Council also called upon RIOC to take a comprehensive view and lay out a masterplan for the future of all Island parks’ enhancement, to preserve natural green spaces. Some of the proposed attractions and current suggestions for Southpoint Park could find their way to the Lighthouse Park, a park that actually requires urgent infrastructure repair.
All Roosevelt Islanders have their own views as to how Southpoint Park could be enhanced or left untouched. The decision by the Common Council is not prescriptive about the final outcome, but wants the ecological and wildlife balance to be the primary concern at the center of any final plan.
As the Island opens up increasingly to more residents, buildings, retailers, and concrete, preserving as much green space as we can is essential. We trust that, for the benefit of all, younger and older, long and newly established residents, we can all agree on the need to protect SouthPoint Park’s ecosystem, its green and natural beauty. If you do agree, why not pass on the word and share your views and ideas at SouthpointOpenSpace@gmail.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Lawson, Chair
RIRA Planning Committee