Selling and Giving Away NYC Parks

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The practice of selling, or even giving away, public parkland and historic sites to private developers has become a disturbing trend in recent years. Attorney Jim Walden has taken several of these cases to court, including one involving Brooklyn Bridge Park, as well as the current case of the New York University expansion taking over public open space. He'll look at what the law says, and what can be done to protect these public spaces.


Jim Walden

Comments [34]

Luke Camery from Greenwich Village

The Village made NYU into a desirable institution and now NYU is attempting to destroy the Village. How ironic. NYU is about to successfully turn itself back into a 3rd tier school.

May. 29 2013 05:58 PM
A. Salo

Thanks for this invaluable program. And thanks to Jim Walden's heroic efforts.

Sad that politicians are allowed and so willing to give away public land, especially public parkland, that should be preserved in perpetuity for our children and children's children.

Apr. 29 2013 11:49 PM

The NYU plan is an obvious horror. I'm terribly depressed that Bloomberg, Quinn and The Villager fight for it.

And let's not forget we have a children's zoo named for a tobacco baron, Central Park's Tisch Children's Zoo, brought to you by Lorillard Tobacco Co.

We're teaching our kids well--money will buy _anything_.

Apr. 26 2013 03:55 PM
Hilaria from Brooklyn

What about Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park? Another example of what used to be a free place to play and is now a play where you can stand in line for the priviledge of paying $2 to sit down and do nothing.

Now I hear there's news to take away the Audobon Center at Prospect Park:

And don't forget Atlantic Yards, where we were "promised" public open space.

Apr. 24 2013 09:50 PM

This was a great show covering an issue that gets little press. Parks, urban open space, and green space are a non-renewable resource. The 'corporatization' of open space means plazas, narrow walkways, shallow planters and trees in buckets.

Apr. 23 2013 10:31 PM
Stephanie from Manhattan

thanks for a great show on an important topic. The Upper West Side seems to be seeing a lot of this land grab of sorts, as one of the commentators has pointed out in one example. Our affordable housing buildings have had their playgrounds ripped out, gated or used for trash storage, or in the case of NYCHA, are being sold for luxury high rise construction. Couple this with how our parks have stricter permits for usage (permits for using the baseball fields, tennis permits, etc), having access to physical activity resources is becoming a commodity in NYC, not a public infrastructure essential to healthy living. I brought this up in the recent TEDMED2013 conference...

Apr. 23 2013 05:31 PM
Joe from Manhattan

Transportation Alternatives hijacks thread. Myopia is their hallmark. Great job, Walden. Wish you were running for Mayor.

Apr. 23 2013 05:17 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Agree with sentiment that NYC parks should be managed solely by the Parks department. Unfortunately, all of our parks are now for sale to the highest-bidding private entities for corporate events that close them off to taxpaying residents--or worse, as is being proposed to Pier 40 (a site that's both public parking and soccer fields for youngsters), luxury housing bifurcating contiguous park land.

Apr. 23 2013 04:34 PM
Davey Farragut from North End of Madison Square Park

And let's not forget Shake Shack in the corner of Madison Square Park. Why is a greasy, smelly, overpriced, trendy McDonald's---a private business---in a public park? Ridiculous!

Apr. 23 2013 03:42 PM
Canonchet from Brooklyn

And finally, to shed further light on Walden's agenda, which puts into question his self-depiction as a pro bono defender of public parks on high-minded behalf of the public at large, this is from "DNA" today:

Anti-Bike Lane Lawyer Offers to Help Foes of Queensboro Bridge Plan
April 23, 2013 9:08am | By Victoria Bekiempis, DNAinfo Reporter/Producer
UPPER EAST SIDE — Days after the city announced plans to bolster bicycle paths near the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, the lawyer representing opponents of the controversial Prospect Park West bike lane offered to help Upper East Side locals opposed to the proposal. Jim Walden, who represents "two community groups opposed to the two-way, parking protected bike lane on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn" pro bono, fired off an e-mail to members of Community Board 8 offering assistance, New York has learned.

"We were surprised to see DOT’s statements concerning the inherent safety of bike lanes, since recently it was forced by a judge in the Prospect Park West case to release data, which showed a significant increase in crashes after installation of the lane," he said. "If we can be helpful to you in your evaluation of the bike lane on UES, please let us know."

Walden's e-mail came five days after the Department of Transportation told CB8 at a meeting that it would complete the bike route on First Avenue between East 56th and East 61st streets. […]
Walden said Monday that he contacted CB8 because he believed their situation was similar to that of the ongoing battle over Prospect Park West, where he claims car crashes have increased since the installation of bike paths.

Those familiar with bike lane controversies across the city, however, did not take kindly to Walden's e-mail. […]
Eric McClure, a founder of pro bike-lane group Park Slope Neighbors, called Walden's move "chasing ambulances," saying it points to opponents' overall aversion to bikes, not just skepticism about select lanes.

"His clients who have sued the city regarding the Prospect Park West redesign have said over and over again that they're not opposed to bike lanes — only the ones on Prospect Park West — but his action with this proposal on the Upper East Side would clearly contradict that," McClure said. "It seems like it's an attack on protected bike lanes in New York City."

Read more:

Apr. 23 2013 02:55 PM
Canonchet from Brooklyn

From WNYC's own Transportation Nation blog:
Brooklyn resident Jim Walden, the attorney for Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes, held a January 10 fundraiser for de Blasio. New York City campaign finance rules state the limit for a contribution to a mayoral campaign is $4,950, and Jim Walden has given the maximum allowable contribution to Bill de Blasio's campaign. Neither the de Blasio campaign nor Walden would comment on the reasons for his support, though Dan Levitan, a de Blasio spokesman, says "Walden has been a long time supporter of Bill's," dating back to de Blasio's days as a city council member. Levitan says the Public Advocate, if elected Mayor, won't remove that bike lane.
Walden has also given $1,000 to mayoral candidate William Thompson.
Former Giuliani Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro, Walden's law partner, has also given $2000 to De Blasio and $3000 to Thompson. [….]
Jim Walden did not return several phone calls. The lawsuit against the Prospect Park West bike lane -- dismissed by a Kings County Supreme Court Justice in August 2011 -- is currently under appeal.

Apr. 23 2013 02:25 PM
cathryn from NYC

Hi, What an excellent show and so many great comments here at the site (that's where so much real information comes out!). Jim Walden was great and thank you Leonard Lopate and staff for featuring this topic.

fyi, Union Square ... the issue was the restaurant in the park in the historic pavilion - that is currently on hold. Again, an instance where a lawsuit had to be filed to stop it vs. the Bloomberg Admin doing the 'right' thing.

Also, at Washington Square Park, against the wishes of the community, the city is attempting to install a private (unnecessary) conservancy. Jim Walden said many astute and accurate things about the problems with conservancies. Please visit my blog, Washington Square Park Blog, for more info and to voice your opinion at (see: private conservancy).

I am writing a series at my new Huffington Post blog on the "Privatization of the Commons in Mayor Bloomberg's New York." Part I is here:

This is very timely topic and I hope the show will explore it more.


Apr. 23 2013 02:19 PM

Conservancies running our parks are the next horrible development for our parks. There is no transparency in these organizations, no matter what is presented on paper - they survive because of Bloomberg so will do anything Bloomberg wants. This will always be thus with any future mayor, too. We need to get back to a parks dept running all parks. Period.

Apr. 23 2013 02:03 PM
Canonchet from Brooklyn
From march 2011: This morning, Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden continued his media tour calling attention to the lawsuit he filed earlier this month to remove the Prospect Park West bike lane. Appearing on the Brian Lehrer show, Walden tried to distance the group he represents from former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall and her husband, Senator Chuck Schumer. Walden told Lehrer that Weinshall is “not part of the group” suing the city. That may be true in some strictly legal sense, but just a few months ago Weinshall was writing letters to the Times alongside fellow bike lane opponents Louise Hainline and Norman Steisel. (Get your free access to it while you still can.) The paper identified all three authors as members of the bike lane opposition group “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes,” which is now a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Apr. 23 2013 02:00 PM
Oona from Upper westside

What about the "open park at the corner of West 87th St & Amsterdam Avenue? Build with funding from Mitchell Lama HOusing it was 1st turned into a hideous brick flatland, then surrounded by a high metal fence effectively cutting off access to the public. Now it has gone out of the ML program & effectively has become a private ugly space for the residents of 175 West 87th St. Same idea with the "public park" on amsterdam Avemue & W 84th. It was turned over to the exclusive use of a nearby school's garden.

Apr. 23 2013 01:58 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Phil's right:

Leonard - Care to probe Walden on his proposal to destroy the Prospect Park West bicycle lane?

Apr. 23 2013 01:55 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Expect more of this should the electorate, quite foolishly, nominate and elect Christine Quinn as mayor. She sold out her own district (St. Vincent's for private development, Google's further expansion of Chelsea Market to include 4,000+ additional workers, as well as the development that scored her fab loft in the neighborhood. Be very afraid.

Apr. 23 2013 01:51 PM
lucy koteen from Brooklyn

The Mayor is rushing the sale of public assets before he leaves office.
Pacific Street library, Brooklyn Heights Library, Mid-Manhattan library, SIBLE library. Flushing Meadow Park for soccer stadium and much more. It is Bloomberg's going-out-of office Fire Sale. The public are the losers, developers are the winners.

Apr. 23 2013 01:50 PM
Phil from Brooklyn

Is this the same Jim Walden who's suing the city in a cynical attempt to rip out the super-popular Prospect Park West bike path and return that street to a speeding-plagued traffic sewer unsafe for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers alike?

Glad to hear he's doing something positive for a change.

Apr. 23 2013 01:46 PM
Kathleen Younger from South Street Seaport

Help Save The Seaport Historical District and water front from Brooklyn Bridge to Maiden Lane. The city has given Howard Hughes Corp. the lease to the South Street Seaport and will tear down and rebuild pier 17. What they did not tell the public that they will allow them to develop water front !! The Seaport Museum is being pushed out because they don't currently have the funds to repair Sandy damage (22 million).

We need to alert the public. Without the museum and the ships there will be nothing to represent our significant history.

Kathleen Younger

Apr. 23 2013 01:46 PM
ann from Manhattan

Don't forget NYU built Bobst Library on two of these strips years ago. They took those strips without any objections. Why? Cuz the public didn't know its rights. Now we're learning. Thank you for talking about this.

Apr. 23 2013 01:42 PM
Judith Francis

"Explicitly" as well as "implicitly dedicated as a park" would mean that the litigants SHOULD have won the case against the Brooklyn Bridge Park's plan to build private housing inside that park. But the courts went against that Public Doctrine case because the judge said the land hadn't been designated per se as a park. So, how should communities fight private housing inside our public parks in the future if the use of the space is supposed to be for a park (that is and was the purpose of BBP in the beginning) yet if the land isn't formally designated?

Apr. 23 2013 01:38 PM
antonio from bayside

There's a police station in central park, does that count too?

Apr. 23 2013 01:38 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

There is also the example of the seizure of parks for the latest version of Yankee Stadium.

Apr. 23 2013 01:37 PM

I'm curious if Mr. Walden knows anything about plans to build houses in a section of the Greenbelt in the Richmond Town area of Staten Island.

Apr. 23 2013 01:33 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

There is so much selling off of the public realm these days: The selling of libraries and shrinkage of the library system with its intentional underfunding as a “starve the beast” sort of excuse to do so (See the Citizens Defending Libraries campaign in opposition), the similar selling of schools and public housing playgrounds.

What is common to so many of these schemes is the shell games that are involved.

In the case of Brooklyn Bridge Park it is totally absurd that the development theoretically “in the park” doesn’t pay taxes for police, schools, fire protection, etc. And, the Brooklyn Bridge Park is under the control of the mayor, not the city. That’s all part of a shell game.

BTW: The 42nd Street Central Reference Library where they are proposing to demolish the research stacks is on park land.

Apr. 23 2013 01:32 PM
Jim B

Does Tavern On The Green fit into this story?

Apr. 23 2013 01:29 PM
Rhoma from South Village

One of the most pernicious aspects of the Bloomberg administration has been the giveaway of public land to developers. NYU's administration and real-estate board of trustees has already won approvals from the City Planning Commission and the City Council to appropriate public land for questionable academic purposes. Christine Quinn and Bloomberg were both instrumental in riding roughshod over public opposition to the NYU plan. The community has fought back, and thanks to Jim Walden for talking about this very important issue that has affected and will continue to affect any quality of life in New York City. This is no small issue: we're talking about health, air, light, and local access to publicly utilized greenspace in underserved communities. If we can talk about local food, we can also spend some time talking about and arguing on behalf of local greenspace, light, and air.

Apr. 23 2013 01:25 PM
Charlie from East Village

Will any of the 2013 mayoral candidates stand up for the gardens against the developers?

Apr. 23 2013 12:11 PM
Oliver Hennessy from New York CIty

To make it simple, Mayor Bloomberg along with Christing Quinn, Amanda Burden, Margaret Chin and 49 of the 50 City Council members are horse thieves by stealing our public property from the citizens of NYC. Lets not kid ourselves these incredible valuable lands are not being sold at fair market value, or sold to the highest bidder, they are being given for free or vertually for free to big time real estate developers. NYU has been given carte blance by Michael Bloomberg and Christine Quinn. For sure John Sexton and the NYU Board of Trustees do not care about the community they reside in, they only care about their real estate portfolia. As a not for profit University they dont even pay land tax, yet they are GIVEN millions upon millions of tax payer land ... for what? The public gets nothing, while the real estate developers laugh all the way to the bank. Simply shamefull.

Apr. 23 2013 11:46 AM
Lee from Brooklyn

Please address the sweetheart deals that the private organization that co manages North Brooklyn Parks creates for themselves. The Open Space Alliance that runs all North Brooklyn Parks makes an incredible amount of money in concert ticket fees and selling Brooklyn Brewery beer, but returns very little to the parks. As a private org they don't have to open up their books to the public they have been entrusted to serve. They also give away a lot of McCarren open space to the L magazine's music festival, again to sell concert tickets and more beer. Where does this money go? The most ridiculous new arrangement is the giving away of the East River State Park every weekend to the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg. They pay 1500 in rent each day, but their table rental fees gross about 50 grand per day. This is a bad deal for tax paying individuals who have already subsidized these parks. These groups are turning NYC into a year round food court and a homemade Spencer gifts show, concert venues, and al fresco beer halls. Parks should be about open space, not constant consumption and purchasing of food, beer, concert tickets, and tchotchkes. A balance must be struck between monetizing these parks, and allowing them to be real parks.

Apr. 23 2013 09:02 AM
ann pettibone from NYC

It's a real estate grab, plain and simple. Many of the NYU Board of trustees are big time developers, focused on maximum gain one way or the other. If NYU doesn't use the land for (unnecessary) expansion, they can sell it for mega $$$$ once it gets clear development rights. For NYU, it's a win/win. For the neighborhood and for the quality of education, it's a lose/lose.

Apr. 23 2013 12:27 AM
Hubert J Steed from Greenwich Village, NYC

The NYC/NYU Plan to destroy green spaces, park, gardens, children's playgrounds and a dog run is more disturbing because their plan to build skyscrapers in the heart of historic Greenwich Village so poorly defines the use and value of those skyscrapers for the neighborhood, city and world.

NYU has repeatedly been asked to move their facilities, especially the Law & Business Schools, to the financial district where they are wanted and needed for more enlightened business and legal support. And space for the NYU Central Administration seems to be a natural fit for World Trade Central tenants. These moves would relieve serious congestion in the Washington Square area and open space for more advanced educational and cultural programs in Greenwich Village.

NYU's bulging undergraduate programs would be better suited for a new campus on Governor's Island or an outer borough. It's insane to attempt to compress these facilities at Washington Square. One might expect a more caring and thoughtful plan for a major leading institution of higher education.

Apr. 22 2013 11:08 PM
Mara from Brooklyn

Please be sure to address community gardens specifically! Thanks!

Apr. 22 2013 09:23 PM

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