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Biking Dutchman Hijacks Governors Island Planning Meeting

Walking into a presentation by the five finalists vying to design a new Governors Island park last night, everyone thought there were two front-runners: James Corner, who has proposed a "superthick" promenade abutting a dense lawn and a "fog forest" with misters to lead you to soccer fields, and Joshua Prince-Ramus, whose plan calls for a patchwork of parcels around the edge that can adapt to private development. But then Adriaan Geuze, another of the finalists, rode into the Chelsea auditorium on a wood-frame bicycle, and he stole the show. Geuze is a Rotterdam architect with corkscrew hair and, last night, a floral-print shirt, and he got the crowd laughing when his PowerPoint presentation showed a butterfly landing on the island and then spreading into a "poetic pattern" of zany footpaths.

Starchitect Showdown! Will Rockwell or Gehry Build the Better Playground?

It's never too early to start Manhattan tykes on high-end real-estate mania. The Parks Department has just announced that Frank Gehry will be designing a no doubt titanium-clad playground for Battery Park — which puts the L.A.-based starchitect in head-to-head competition with New York's own David Rockwell, the man behind countless restaurant and hotel interiors, some of Broadway's wittiest set designs, and a planned "imagination playground" on Burling Slip, a bit uptown on the East River. How do the two compare? See for yourself.

No Olympics, But Maybe the X Games?

Bike Trail
Not content to sprinkle skate parks amid its acreage, the city will open its first BMX and mountain-bike trail this Saturday in Washington Heights’s Highbridge Park. The three miles of trail includes jumps and a BMX track and will give cyclists a legal place to ride. "We had had mountain bikers riding through historic landscapes, so we had to criminalize it," says Parks Commission Adrian Benepe. "This was a way to come up with a positive use for a remote area of the park." The New York City Mountain Bike Association supported the trail with money and volunteers, and the commissioner hopes the peer endorsement will keep kids from turfing the city's lawn. —Alec Appelbaum All-City Cross Country Race [NYC Mountain Bike Association]

Will Uptown Dogs Run in Downtown Parks?

Not too long ago, we got excited about the imminent Doggy Liberation of New York: In the face of a protracted lawsuit, most city parks without dedicated dog runs would acquiesce and declare "leashless hours" between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. Then came the infuriating news that the new rule would benefit only uptown dogs. Class war! Well, not quite. According to doggy-listserv chatter, there's hope for downtown yet: The Parks Department will do a walk-through of East River Park next week to determine what areas could be designated as off-leash. (Very few, say the dissenters, who find the park far away and inhospitable.) There's also talk of putting in a proper dog run there. Until then, uptown is still for the dogs. Earlier: Doggy Liberation Limited to Uptown Only [NYM]

They Paved Paradise

To make good on his PlaNYC promise of putting every New Yorker within a ten-minute walk of a park, Mayor Bloomberg will need to break out some sledgehammers in Brooklyn. A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey tags the borough as the most paved-over place in the United States. Yup, Brooklyn rocks even more blacktop than Manhattan. It achieves the distinction mostly through its sheer size — 70.6 square miles, only 8 percent of which is parkland. One can see the statistic as yet another wistful reminder that we're islanders living in a finite space — and quickly running out of it. Or, as befits Brooklyn, we can simply shrug: Fuhgeddaboudit, who needs parks, anyway? You can always barbecue on the subway. Trees? Nah. Blacktop grows in Brooklyn [NYDN]

Dan Doctoroff's Dream Lives On, in Queens

Remember when City Hall's plan was for the Olympics to save our city? We had our doubts, and the IOC didn't cooperate, but, even so, Queens residents are still getting one benefit of the plan: A 50-meter pool in Flushing Meadow, originally intended to host the Michael Phelpses of the world, is under construction and set to open to the public by fall, according to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. "It's most ambitious structure ever built in a park," Benepe said of the 110,000-square-foot space, designed by local firms Handel Architects and Hom & Goldman. The Parks Department even managed to squeeze in a separate diving pool, making this the first city property usable for NCAA swim meets. We're looking forward to toting our flippers and goggles on the 7 train. —Alec Appelbaum

PlaNYC Fine Print: Gnarly New Parks, Dude, But Who'll Prune the Trees?

Parks Dept.
Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 blueprint isn't all doom and gloom. To keep the city's projected 9 million inhabitants from cranking their environment-destroying A/C, you’ve got to give them places to play. So part of the plan calls for finishing eight major parks abandoned in decades past — with amenities that might be better suited to ESPN2 than Channel 13. There'll be a salt marsh to explore in the Bronx's Soundview Park, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe told us, and a cricket pitch near the nature preserve in Highland Park, on the northeastern Brooklyn-Queens border. To keep New Yorkers in shape even during the annual monsoonlike rainfalls we'll be experiencing, there'll be a new indoor running track at Ocean Breeze Park, near Staten Island’s South Beach. Community boards will get a chance to submit additional ideas starting this fall.

A Lifeline for the Upper High Line?

Last we checked in, it seemed that the officials were willing to let a successful bidder for the MTA's Hudson Yards site tear down the part of the High Line that runs through it. But now it seems that the old rail trestle, slowly becoming a park, has a better chance of survival. Real Estate Board of New York president Steven Spinola, the developers’ rep in the bidding process for Yards site, tells us that the Hudson Yards Development Corporation showed a presentation yesterday that included a preference for cultural institutions, lots of open space, an attempt at affordable housing, and sympathy for the High Line. “They likely will say to developers: We would like to see the High Line continue, so explain what the ramifications would be of keeping it,” Spinola said. “I think they started off negative about the High Line and they’re now looking to keep it an open question.” Will developers — who must sink more than $300 million just to install a platform over the rail yards — willingly invest around an elevated park? “The High Line, if done properly, can clearly be an attractive amenity for the city,” Spinola says. “A few months ago people said, ‘Of course it’s a problem,’ and yesterday people said, ‘We’ll analyze it.’” —Alec Appelbaum Earlier: The High Line, Suddenly Not as High?

Going to the Dogs

Dog people, rejoice: The city's off-leash rules are finally being codified into ironclad law. Come May 1, most New York City parks will officially roll out the welcome mat for your unleashed beast from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., the so-called "courtesy hours." ("Get-mauled-in-the-dark hours" doesn't have quite the same ring.) As tends to be the case with even the slightest adjustments to our city ordinances, this one is a result of a protracted and vicious court battle. Last year, a Queens civic group sued the city to stop the off-leash practice altogether; after the judge and the Board of Health came out on the dog-lover side, the city put the law on the books instead. With new liberties come new restrictions, though: Be ready to show the mutt's proof of license and rabies-vaccination papers at any time. Or get a cat. Off-Leash Laws Get Final Bark of Approval [amNY]

Governor's Island Is Set to Reopen for the Summer, But Does Anyone Care?

Governor's Island — that slightly mysterious dot of parkland and old, crumbling officers' houses sitting in the middle of New York Harbor — will for the first time ever this summer be open to the public on both Saturdays and Sundays, according to an announcement yesterday from the city-state agency that runs it. Lots of time to spend on lots of pretty parkland with lots of amazing views. But what do actual New Yorkers know about it? We asked a few and were favorably surprised by their answers — not that many are actually planning to visit.

Union Square Rehab: No Year-Round Restaurant

It is, finally, just the sort of weather that makes a vigorous young New Yorker want to frolic — or at least eat and drink — in the great outdoors. Like, for example, at that bar-and-restaurant place inside Union Square. (It's technically called Luna Park.) But wasn't the city planning to do some renovation at the north end of the park, something with that restaurant? Indeed, and yesterday Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe caught us up on the planning. In 2004, he announced plans to complete the Square's beautification by joining the park's two playgrounds and creating a year-round eatery where that weird fortresslike structure now stands, near 17th Street. But after local sputtering, Benepe confirmed to us, Parks has ditched the controversial year-round part.

Governors Island Globetrotters Turn to the Park Service

When the short list of potential Governors Island redevelopment plans came out in January, it didn't include a proposal for a postmodern Globe Theater. But that hasn't stopped project founder Barbara Romer and her supporters from pushing on with the idea. Romer mustered dozens of supporters — including Municipal Art Society majordomo Frank Sanchis — to a National Park Service "listening session" at downtown's Federal Hall rotunda last night, where she pushed for a Norman Foster–designed glass-sheathed Globe in the harbor's Castle Williams, where a museum now stands. The event was organized to collect bold ideas for ten nationwide projects the Park Service will fund in the next decade, and, since Parks controls the fort Romer has her eye on, she's now lobbying to get her project named one of those ten. "The adaptive, culturally used forts are the ones people really visit," she said at the session. "The service will choose projects by May 31, and I think it would be really exciting for New York to be on the list." An added bonus: At least according to the rendering Romer displayed, the project would ensure large, pretty snowflakes for lower Manhattan each winter. Which would be much nicer than last week's slush. —Alec Appelbaum

Brooklyn Bike Path Pedals Closer to Reality

The Brooklyn Greenway Initiative has almost $19 million in federal, city, and privately raised funds to design and develop a landscaped, pedestrian- and biker-friendly promenade along the currently gritty, grubby, and privately owned Brooklyn waterfronts from Greenpoint to Sunset Park. And at a "fun-raiser" in a Columbia Heights tapas bar last night, the organizers announced that they're ready to come up with their first formal development proposals; they hope to have selected a designer by June for the segment alongside the Navy Yard, the first part to be designed.

Central Park Restoration Delivers Ornate Detail, Potential Nookie

In Central Park today, city officials will reopen one of the city's oldest troves of bling. The Bethesda Arcade — that archy thingie under the big staircase down to the Bethesda Fountain — was the only major architecture in Olmsted's 1843 park plan, and it was covered in intricate, custom-made ceramic tiles. And those tiles, over the years, wore and broke. A $7 million renovation has restored them to their original beauty and luster. "It's a combination of spectacular detail," Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe told us, explaining the investment, "and one of the most romantic spots in New York City." Excellent. It's also, we'll add today, the rare spot from which you can enjoy the park even in the pouring rain. —Alec Appelbaum

Kids Do Grown-up Planning for a Chinatown Park

Find the development imbroglio at ground zero childish? Redirect your gaze to Chinatown, then, where some kid-focused planning is progressing in a very mature way. The nonprofit design firm Hester Street Collaborative is rebuilding Sara D. Roosevelt Park — that slab of concrete and turf running from the Manhattan Bridge to Houston Street — by using art exercises to determine what kinds of new fields and seating areas the local kids and elderly need, and the designers celebrated their progress last week at their second annual Chinese New Year party. Collaborative director Anne Frederick says she's still building consensus and won't show off designs yet to avoid ruffling feathers — Larry Silverstein, are you listening? — but her group and the schoolkids it trains have already made a mark. There's talk of making the sidewalk-stenciled names and kid-painted historic signs it set up last spring at Allen and Grand into the basis for a permanent upgrade of the midblock malls. —Alec Appelbaum

Beware of Riprap in Greenpoint and Williamsburg

The city presented its latest plans for redeveloping the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront Wednesday night, and — believe it or not — local activist groups liked the proposals. The new plans include boat launches, picnic grounds, wetland preserves, which are all things — like a more natural-looking waterfront, a bit of which is shown in the rendering above — community groups have been asking for. "I believe they are making a true effort to tune the plan into a community vision," said Laura Hoffman of the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning. She gave props to how the plan integrates Greenpoint Terminal Market artifacts — like old ropes and bricks — into the park's design. (We like this new rendering not least because landscapers call the sort of rocky water-edge depicted "riprap.") How'd things get so lovey-dovey? Team Bloomberg persuaded three developers of waterfront high-rises to turn over open space to the city, and then the city designed with local priorities in mind. The impending towers still give some Williamsburgers the willies, and earlier renderings of the waterfront, warned Jasper Goldman of the Municipal Art Society, "looked like San Diego." But gritty riprap? That's so New York. —Alec Appelbaum

You'll Be Able to Frolic in a Staten Island Dump Sooner Than You Thought

That plan to turn Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill — the city's enormous garbage dump, shuttered in early 2001 by Giuliani and briefly reopened to warehouse World Trade Center detritus — into a giant park will take a decade to complete, the city is now saying. (And, hey, take your time, guy. Last thing we want is to dig up a patch of benzene with our cleats.) But we can't help a little giddiness to learn that we'll actually be able to play soccer on Fresh Kills in a little more than a year. According to park administrator Eloise Hirsh, the 2,200-acre project will go through intensive environmental review this year — but one soccer field, Owl Hollow, sits outside the actual landfill and is currently being bid out to contractors. Park officials are still designing the bathroom (insert stupid gas jokes here), but construction should begin — with tours of the site — by spring. —Alec Appelbaum

Fancy New Seaport Playground Not Actually So New

You'd be forgiven for thinking the new, David Rockwell-designed playground coming to South Street Seaport is the greatest, newest, most fabulous, innovative thing ever — in the last two days, it merited two major articles in the Times, plus a column posted to the Times website last night. And it does sound interesting: With $2 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Rockwell — the nice guy and design wizard who concocted Nobu, Rosa Mexicano, and the sets for Hairspray — plans to fill the Burling Slip playground with things kids can lift and fill rather than just swing, slide, and see-saw. But the idea, while innovative, isn't actually new. In 1997, the nonprofit Design Trust for Public Space commissioned and installed similar interactive-play equipment at community gardens in Astoria, East New York, and Fordham/Bedford. The stuff didn’t age well, says Design Trust program director Stephanie Elson. “Designers weren’t coming with city maintenance and guidelines,” she explains. “One of the lessons was that a formal partnership with the Parks Department is really important.” And that's what Rockwell's plan has got. It's also got researcher Roger Hart, who advised the Design Trust, too. So why all the coverage now? Says one design specialist: “It’s amazing what $2 million can do in this city.” —Alec Appelbaum

City Names Trump Vet High Line Chief

The High Line’s supporters — from celeb friends like Edward Norton to City Hall backers like Dan Doctoroff — always say the elevated rail trestle will feel like a dream park. And now the city's Parks Department has bestowed the dream job of managing the High Line on veteran park planner Michael Bradley. Bradley, 48, previously shepherded design and greenspace commitments at Riverside South, which Donald Trump built on the Upper West Side in the nineties. That job prepared him for the new gig indirectly: Bradley organized the $30,000 purchase of a dead locomotive that kids now play on in his old park. The new gig, however, involves heavier challenges. Bradley’s job description includes surmounting engineering challenges (like installing “a waterproofing, drainage, and irrigation system,” according to the job description) and executing political pirouettes (like fund-raising and ensuring that developers whose buildings touch the High Line provide public access and lavatories and such). He’s also got a wardrobe to consider. “I’ve been thinking I need to get a windbreaker,” he says, disclosing that the Line's logo will combine Parks’ maple leaf with Friends of the High Line’s stylized H. Then there’s working up “criteria for potential connections from adjacent properties” — which means deflating rumors that swanky condos on the Line will enjoy exclusive access. The Caledonia, at 16th Street and Tenth Avenue, is designing a publicly accessible stair and elevator to show how a luxury condo can touch the park without stiff-arming the public. How un-Donald is that? —Alec Appelbaum

Questionable Links

• The city's comptroller has red-flagged a $10 million contract between the Parks Department and Dominick Logozzo, a Brooklynite with serious mob ties; the deal entrusts Logozzo with the management of a city-owned golf course. Best part: Logozzo is also an investor in the Zone Diet, which the Feds claim is a front to hide Mafia profits. [NYP] • Governor Spitzer unveiled his initiatives for New York in his first State of the State speech yesterday, and it left half of Albany slack-jawed. Among other things, the Spitz wants to guarantee health insurance for all children, reduce the cost of worker's comp to boost business, and spend billions on school aid — all that while cutting taxes. Sounds, uh, good. [NYT] • According to a suit filed by "several disgusted janitors," there is hanky-panky afoot in New York's Equinox fitness clubs — as the Daily News puts it, "sleazy gay sex." Gay sex in gyms?! Say it ain't so. [NYDN] • Busta Rhymes turned himself in to the cops on a misdemeanor assault charge, having allegedly roughed up an associate in a money dispute. Not too exciting, but an upgrade over Rhymes's previous brush with the law: a ticket for talking on a cell while driving. [amNY] • And a metallic, gold-colored lump of rock, most likely a meteorite, crashed through the roof of a New Jersey home and embedded itself in the floor, delighting scientists. Okay, progressive politics or not, Jersey is still freaking weird. [NYDN]