C O N T E N T S
I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
II.DESCRIPTION OF PROCESS
III. OVERVIEW OF DEMOGRAPHICS, USE PATTERNS, PERCEPTIONS
How Morningside Park is used
General perceptions of Morningside Park
IV.SUMMARY OF KEY ISSUES
V.A VISION FOR MORNINGSIDE PARK
Attachment A: Survey Results
Attachment B: Activity Mapping Results
Attachment C: Case study
i. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
In July 1999, the Friends of Morningside Park and Project for Public Spaces began to develop a vision for a better Morningside Park by studying the existing activities and uses in the park and listening closely to what people said about how it could better serve the community in the future. It is hoped that the Friends can use this vision to lead improvements to revitalize the park in such a way that it becomes the center of its diverse community. The process included surveys, recorded observations of park user behaviors, interviews, and a public workshop.
The study concluded that Morningside Park is currently used on a regular basis by a cross-section of residents, but is far more popular among young people than old, and among men than women. While playing and watching sports is a primary activity, even more people enjoy the park for its peace and quiet and social enjoyment. Children's programs, concerts, and other events were the most popular suggestions for new activities that would bring people to the park more often.
With the ideas put forward in this document - which are a direct outgrowth of the extensive community outreach described above - we envision a transformed Morningside Park that welcomes the diverse members of nearby communities to come together and raises the profile and definition of the surrounding neighborhoods. Yet, these recommendations do not constitute a Master Plan, but are the beginnings of a process to make incremental improvements based on continuous and increasing input from members of the community. Further, they are a flexible template to be discussed, modified and expanded on by the Friends of Morningside Park and the Department of Parks & Recreation.
The resulting recommendations assumed these underlying principles:
1. Basic maintenance, horticulture and physical renovations must continue to improve before the larger community perceives the park as a community asset. Parks & Recreation will always bear primary responsibility for its care.
2. Citizens and civic institutions must take a more active role in the park and collaborate with the parks department to make improvements. Their most important contribution will be to lead park enhancements that reflect the ideas and talents of local residents, develop new resources, and educate the public about the park.
3. The Park must offer more to local residents, especially activities and programs that reflect the specific desires of residents, both children and adults.
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Manage Improvements by Increasing Organizational Support
- Create a new position, paid or voluntary, to implement the recommendations made by the Friends, coordinate volunteers, supervise children's programs, write grant proposals, and become the face associated with the park.
- Use the field house at the south end as a flexible space where residents can find information about programs and community events, volunteers can store tools and get answers, and children can find balls, games and other play items. The building should provide the office for the new staff person described above.
- Provide better information about the park and the community around it, including park maps and signs at entrances, information on how to volunteer or join the Friends, directional signs, park greeters, a simple newsletter, and a community bulletin board or community information center.
- Encourage institutions to hold activities in the park, such as events, environmental education, concerts, etc. Invite institutions on adjacent streets to be drawn on the park map and become more engaged in the park/Friends in the process.
- Create a Morningside Park Volunteer Program (MVP) to augment the parks department's maintenance capacity.
- Continue to expand the organizational capacity of the Friends by writing targeted grant proposals, hosting exchanges with other Friends groups, and expanding the board.
- Improve security by locating a police substation in the park and encouraging the Morningside Area Alliance to assign their guard to patrol the upper steps near 116th St.
2. Parks & Recreation must commit to improving certain basic conditions to change the perception that Morningside Park is a neglected corner of the city
Parks & Recreation must be urged to devote at least one additional assistant to this park to address its urgent needs, including:
- More frequent cleaning and garbage pick-ups, especially along the upper pathways, in the north end of the park and at the southwest entrance
- Repairing broken light fixtures, water fountains and staircases
- Improving restrooms and keeping them cleaner
- Landscape restoration of eroded areas, pruning of trees and clearing underbrush to create safer sightlines in wooded areas
- More frequent grass-cutting
- Total redesign and reconstruction of 118th St. playground, based on a community workshop, integrating it better into the landscape.
3. Improve entrances to announce that the Park is a welcoming, friendly place, through landscaping, maps and seating.
4. Add new plantings to create a more inviting appearance and attract more visitors. These plantings should be planned in partnership with the Friends and Parks & Recreation so that strategies for design, placement, and maintenance are addressed. For example, we recommend that the design be sensitive to the rest of the park – clusterings of flowers and other ornamentals would be more appropriate than formal garden beds that might be jarring within the context of the woodlands landscape. They should be located placed to draw people further into the park. Community institutions might be approached to sponsor and maintain new plantings.
5. Focus initial improvements in specific areas that already have a built-in constituency.
The south end focal point is defined by the pond, picnic area, field house and ball fields. Suggested improvements include:
- Flower beds inside the entrance at 113th Street and near the pond.
- A knock-down stage for concerts, storytellers, community theater, etc.
- Improved seating areas around the playground and ball fields.
- Food vendors near the picnic area and on the roof of the park building (at sidewalk level) will encourage more people and families to use the park. The rooftop vendor should provide tables and colorful umbrellas to create a sidewalk attraction.
- Enhance and possibly expand the picnic area by replacing turf with woodchips.
- Enhance the toddler playground at 113th Street with more appealing, but inexpensive features such as water hoses, tire swings on trees, balls, jump ropes and games. In the long run, both playgrounds at the southern end should be consolidated, possibly located near the 113th Street entrance.
- Create community-maintained ornamental plantings across the path from the baseball fields, as appropriate to that area of the park (which should be the subject of a larger discussion with Parks & Recreation). This would add interest for children and adults alike.
- Restore the pond and include plant materials that attract bird life, butterflies,
dragonflies, etc. and make this a central element for children's programs.
North End improvements:
- Remove fences, wherever possible, that surround every court and play area.
- Decorate the entire playground area with accent plantings and public art that is user-friendly and interactive.
- Renovate and enlarge the recreation center and make it the site of a wider variety of drop-in activities, and community meetings. Improve the recreation center with paint and greenery and make it clear that residents can use it for parties, meetings, etc.
- Create community-maintained ornamental plantings at 123rd Street on the lawn area under the hill.
- Develop a new picnic or barbecue area on the grass adjacent to the handball courts, to address problems that currently arise because this area is already used for barbecuing. Improvements should include proper ash cans and signs at the base of all trees to discourage dumping ashes.
- A small weekend farmer's market inside the park or along the perimeter
- A park ranger program at Morningside Park would enhance the perception of safety, help the
creation of environmental programs and lead the upgrade of the pond area.
- A dog run, which should be attractive and managed by a group of dog-owners who pressure others to follow off-leash rules. [A major issue raised in the surveys was off-leash dogs and dog litter; on the other hand, dog-owners expressed a need for a place to let their dogs run].
- Two or three additional picnic tables should be installed in small clearings along the path
between the north and south activity centers for groups wishing a quieter setting.
- Staircase activity centers. For example, chess/checkers tables could be built into the steps, especially the lower stairs that look out over the pond.
- New programs for adults, such as early morning exercise classes, and rock climbing
(done with a private operator).
- New children's programs, in partnership with local residents and schools, local artists, music academies, etc.
- Family programs, including seasonal events, basketball tournaments, and concerts.
In July 1999, Project for Public Spaces was hired by the Morningside Area Alliance to identify strategies to revitalize Morningside Park, working in partnership with the Friends of Morningside Park and Partnerships for Parks, with support from the J.M. Kaplan Fund.
This working partnership began to develop a vision for a better Morningside Park by studying the existing activities and uses in the park and by listening closely to what people said about how the park currently serves their needs and how it could better serve the community in the future.
The primary goals of the Morningside Park project were to (1) revitalize the park in such a way that it is truly the center of its diverse community; (2) help put in place a nonprofit organization, comprised of and run by local community leaders, that would work with Parks & Recreation to develop and oversee programs in the park, help to maintain it, and raise outside money for events and improvements; and (3) use the Morningside Park process as a model that can be replicated in additional parks.
The work that the partnership began was an outgrowth of the extensive work already undertaken by the Friends, the Morningside Area Alliance, the City of New York/Parks & Recreation, and area institutions, all of whom have worked for several years to improve the park with additional landscaping, playground improvements, volunteer programs, and public events such as the Common Ground festival held in September for the past two years.
Under the leadership of the Friends of Morningside Park, the partnership will now pursue the necessary resources to implement the strategies outlined below, sustain the momentum generated during this community-wide process, and expand lessons learned to additional parks (Saint Nicholas, Marcus Garvey, and Jackie Robinson Parks) that are part of the Historic Harlem Parks, a coalition of friends groups that shares maintenance, security and programming strategies and jointly seeks resources.
II.DESCRIPTION OF PROCESS
The working partnership conducted a thorough study of existing conditions in the Park and elicited the community's opinions, perceptions, and suggestions for improvements. The process was designed both to gather needed information and to help build interest, cooperation, commitment, and understanding of the positive potential of the park among residents, businesses, institutions, and Parks & Recreation personnel.
This process included several components that are reported on in this memo:
- A brainstorming session with the Friends, Partnerships for Parks, and the Morningside Area Alliance to agree upon goals for the project, begin to identify issues of concern, and identify key stakeholders to interview
- Surveys of local residents and park users to determine perceptions and sensitivities to issues such as safety and security, programs and activities, and maintenance and appearance of the Park. 239 surveys were conducted or distributed by the Friends and analyzed by PPS. Approximately 60% of these were distributed to residents of Harlem and Morningside Heights; the remaining 40% were conducted with users in the park. Of those who participated in the survey, over 100 people volunteered their name and address to become involved with future park projects
- Park user behavior was studied and mapped on two separate days to analyze exactly how the park is currently being used at different times of day. Factors that were considered included, What types of people were using the park? What were they doing? Which areas of the park were they using? Who were they with?, etc. Behavior mapping did not occur along the upper pathways and stairs where park use is lower, but concentrated on the activity centers around the south playing fields, the playgrounds near 123rd Street, and the pathways along Morningside Avenue that connect the north and south areas. These areas were chosen in consultation with the Friends, based on a mutual agreement that they represented the most popular and active areas in the park. One shortcoming of the activity mapping was that the north playground was closed for reconstruction, so that we did not record a typical snapshot of use in this area.
- Interviews with individuals and institutions identified at the brainstorming session. This included local churches, daycare centers, Columbia University, and Parks & Recreation.
- Photographic documentation of existing conditions in the Park, including conditions of open spaces, landscape features, popular uses and activities, pedestrian paths, lighting, etc.
- Preparation of a base map of Morningside Park and conceptual designs developed from our observations, surveys and comments made in the public workshop.
- A public workshop to learn what areas and features were best liked, brainstorm ideas for improvement, and outline specific potential actions. PPS presented a slide show illustrating place-making examples from other cities to begin the brainstorming process.
III.OVERVIEW OF DEMOGRAPHICS, USE PATTERNS, PERCEPTIONS
Our survey of residents captured a very local population that uses the Park on a frequent basis: 50% had lived in the area for more than 10 years and another 12% have been residents for six to ten years. The great majority lived in zip codes adjacent to the Park: 37% resided in the 10026 zip code; 31% in 10027; and 17% in 10025. This has very positive implications, mainly that the opinions and recommendations that resulted through this survey tap a very deep well of experience and knowledge about the neighborhood.
Most respondents represented a family (the mean household size was 3.5 people) and 25% were active in some kind of neighborhood group or association. The response was divided almost exactly evenly between men and women. The age range of survey was quite wide (including 26% under the age of 18), although only 2% of participants were over the age of 65.
How Morningside Park is used
Our activity mapping suggests that Morningside Park is currently used on a regular basis by a cross-section of residents, but is far more popular among young people than old, and among men than women. Fully 73% of Morningside Park users are men, a ratio that remained consistent in all the sub-areas we studied from north to south. It is worth pointing out that a small presence of women is generally a signal that a space has the appearance of being unsafe or in some way undesirable, since women tend to be far more particular than men about their environment. We also noticed that there are very few older people who use the Park - only 5% of users were over 51 years old (based on estimates made by the observers), and our observations suggest that many of these come only because of their children's interest in team sports or the playground.
A full 31% of survey respondents said they use Morningside Park every day, in good weather, and another 26% use it twice or three times a week. Not surprisingly, Morningside Park is more popular on weekends: while weekdays see mostly passive, solitary users who may walk their dog, jog, or sit on a bench, weekends erupt in the afternoon with group activity, centering around playing and watching team sports and socializing in groups, large and small. Our surveys suggest that, while playing and watching sports is a primary activity, even more people enjoy the park for its peace and quiet and social enjoyment (walking, reading, enjoying nature, meeting friends, picnicking, etc.).
Most people are concentrated in the south and north ends of the Park, where there are ball fields, playgrounds, and a focal point of activities. Both of these are also the only large open spaces in a park that is generously wooded and whose topography prevents perhaps half of its land area from being used for most active sports. During our days of observations, only 9% of users were mapped in the pathways in the wooded areas that connect north to south.
During our study, Morningside Park experienced its peak use in the late afternoon; however, Morningside Park is comparatively empty during the earlier part of the day.
The south end: Unlike many other areas in the park, the south end could be described as a multi-use destination that invites the visitor to stop and appreciate its diverse combination of natural beauty and community activity. Over time, the area has developed a focal point just inside the 113th Street entrance, where there is a concentration of uses: ball fields and a jogging path; an attractive park building, currently used by the horticulturist; a small playground; a picnic area; and a beautiful pond with benches. We feel this area could be the most promising for future improvements that could transform it and the surrounding areas into a real community gathering place.
During our activity mapping, afternoon ball games helped transform the southern fields from what had been essentially a passive-use area for strollers (alone or in pairs) into a scene that often attracted a considerable crowd of onlookers, including parents. This late afternoon blossoming is not always due to sports alone: based on earlier, informal observations we made during the late summer, we also know that a warm, sunny afternoon, whether weekday or weekend, draws an irresistible variety of activity - including groups of children socializing after school, kids playing catch, parents socializing with parents at the playgrounds, a popular helado (ice cream) vendor, and older people socializing while they take it all in from a park bench.
Informal observations suggested that the park entrance at W. 113th Street and Manhattan Avenue was more popular than most other entrances, partly because of the wider range of activities near that entrance (including the ball fields, jogging path and pond) and also because it is perhaps the most direct, convenient cut-through for those crossing the park to the other side. We also noticed that the existing, small playgrounds in the south end tend to be underutilized, especially the toddler playground near the picnic area.
The north end: We also know from earlier observations that the playground at 123rd Street is often full of activity that centers around children playing and the basketball and handball that draws older kids. The scene here also encourages parents to interact with each other and other adults come to socialize and enjoy the goings-on. Recently the north end playground was recently renovated with new equipment, which should make this area an even bigger attraction, especially since other playgrounds in Morningside Park are either poorly maintained or minuscule by comparison.
The center pathways: In contrast, the paths along Manhattan and Morningside Avenues, on the east side of the park, are quiet even on days that see lots of activity in the north and south ends. There are no attractions along this route that connects the other two study areas to each other: the existing playgrounds and courts between 116th and 119th Streets are unsightly and lack even the basic equipment that would attract children or teens; benches are placed on the sidewalks along the outside perimeter, rather than on the interior pathways. By design, this area functions as a pass-through: what is interesting is that there is less traffic moving between the north and south activity centers than there is cutting across the park going east-west by way of the stairs that line up with 116th and 120th Streets. The park entrances along this middle stretch are, predictably, used somewhat less than those entering the playgrounds at W. 123rd Street and the play fields at 113th and Manhattan Avenue.
General perceptions of Morningside Park
Positive perceptions: Our surveys showed that there are many characteristics about the park that local residents cherish. By far the most common answers to the question, What do you like best about Morningside Park, related to the peaceful environment and the natural landscape, including the pond, waterfall, trees and vistas. People also valued the park because it was theirs - close and convenient to home, and a setting for neighborhood activity. Other favorites were the baseball fields and playgrounds.
Negative perceptions: Much as Morningside Park is beloved by its regular users, to the rest of the world, it has the reputation of being a dangerous, unsavory place where anything could happen. To quote a guidebook, "A word to the wise: stay out of Morningside, Colonial, and Saint Nicholas Parks. They are not policed and are avoided by local residents, sensitized to the danger of assault that empty paths and heavy greenery imply." Some surveys implied the same thing: when asked why they didn't use the park, people most often said that it appeared unsafe or they were told it was unsafe. These perceptions of security problems are likely due to a combination of things: a history of poor maintenance, the preponderance of young men, the lack of color and flowers. But certainly the park's reputation has been further plagued by the clash between Columbia University and Harlem residents in the late 1960s over a proposed gymnasium in the park.
When asked to rate Morningside Park for a variety of issues, there was almost complete agreement in the survey that the Park lacks the basic amenities and maintenance that would make it an attractive neighborhood destination. The best ratings went to the condition of the ball fields and safety at the 123rd Street playground, but even these ratings were only fair (receiving a rating of 1.9, where 1 = "good", 2 = "average", 3 = "poor"). The lowest ratings went to the water fountains (2.55), restrooms (2.54) and lighting (2.44), followed by rats (2.43) and safety in the upper pathways (2.34). Males and especially children under 18 were uniformly more critical of the park, no doubt due to the fact that these groups tend to use the park more and are more acquainted with its shortcomings. Children (under 18) gave the worst ratings to lighting (2.9), condition of stairways (2.7) and safety in all areas of the park; they were also much more critical than adults of cleanliness, landscaping and the general condition of the park.
On the other hand, it could be encouraging that the general condition and cleanliness of the park got average ratings. It seems as though the message is that, overall, the park has some basic strengths, but the surveys have given us a prioritized list of specific problems that the community needs to see addressed.
In the end, Morningside Park's ill reputation is a combination of truth and fiction, reality and perception. Longstanding neighborhood tensions combine in residents' minds with past press coverage that singles out crimes that occur in the park and memories of poor maintenance during New York's previous fiscal crises. In fact, Morningside Park has received a considerable upgrade from Parks & Recreation in recent years, which has gone largely to horticultural maintenance, along with a dedicated staff person, and reconstruction of stairs and the playground at the north end.
Still, revitalizing Morningside Park will depend not only on actual improvements to the landscape and facilities, but upon the right mix of programs, activities, design and outreach that addresses the deeper causes of people's perceptions.
IV.SUMMARY OF KEY ISSUES
Maintenance. The overall maintenance of Morningside Park is a major issue among residents and is clearly one of the main reasons why some people don't use the park and is an obstacle to overcoming negative perceptions of the park. In our surveys and meeting, the most common complaints revolved around general litter and cleanliness, broken light fixtures, the condition of the grass, and condition of playgrounds. In the upper pathways, an abundance of garbage combines with poor visibility in the wooded areas to create an intimidating environment that would deter almost any passerby.
Capital improvements. The most common suggestions for capital improvements related to bathrooms, stairs, and playgrounds. Suggestions for playground improvements were many, ranging from a complete overhaul of the playground between 116th and 119th Streets to enlarging the play areas in the south end to adding more equipment, especially swings. Most people who mentioned the state of the bathrooms simply wanted the existing bathrooms to be fixed and better maintained, and possibly kept open longer. Others suggested that more bathrooms be installed in the park. While some of the staircases have been rebuilt in recent years, the remaining unrenovated flights are a cause for concern among many people and contribute to the feeling that the park is neglected and unsafe.
Character and appearance. While one of the most beloved things about the park is its interesting landscape (the pond and its willow trees in particular), there is also a feeling that the park needs to look more inviting, especially around the edges. Most people associate a safe park with color and flowers: although it may require a higher level of maintenance, improvements that are obvious to the eye, such as flower beds, signal that a park is safe and inviting. In many cases, such visible improvements are popular enough to help contribute to increased interest in volunteering in the park or adopting flowerbeds, etc. Entrances to the park do even less to create an inviting image for the park. For instance, even the most prominent entrances have problems: at Cathedral Parkway, the eastern entrance is often a holding area for overflowing garbage cans and the gorgeous vistas that were designed into the western entrance are blocked by overgrown trees.
Public safety. The police precinct points out that there is very little crime that takes place in Morningside Park, far less than on surrounding streets (there were only 8 robberies in the park during all of 1999 and no rapes). However, substantial work must be done to address the perception of danger, especially in the wooded sections and upper pathways where maintenance is poorest, and visibility obscured, and in fact where half of the 1999 robberies did occur. Many people suggested that more underbrush should be removed to improve sight lines in the woods, and the horticulturist has already made considerably progress in this area. One additional security problem is that plants put in to improve the park's appearance have often been stolen in the past.
Management. While design schemes and new businesses are crucial to revitalizing any commercial district, PPS has long recognized that management is often more important and can accomplish more than any other single strategy. Many cities have discovered the hard way that simply building new playgrounds or replacing chain link with wrought iron, for example, is not enough. Cities should first take a comprehensive look at their public spaces to consider small-scale management approaches that will yield immediate improvements. In addition, the city can rarely take these steps alone, but needs the private sector to take a more active role and assume some of the responsibilities, which usually include making sure public spaces are comfortable for pedestrians, clean, safe, and active.
We hope to make recommendations that can help the Friends of Morningside Park take a more active role in creating community activities, cleaning up litter, organizing and promoting events, and marshalling volunteers. Last September's event, Celebrate Morningside Park, Our Common Ground, is only one example of the kinds of activities that the Friends can manage, and surveys indicate that there is a great deal of interest in creating more such events. Chief among these was music concerts, but other suggestions were for sports tournaments, fairs, ethnic food fairs, movies and so on.
Other management problems that need to be addressed include off-leash dogs, which raise many objections among people who see them as a threat, and better signage, including maps of the park and, possibly, information on plants and trees.
V.A VISION FOR MORNINGSIDE PARK
With the ideas put forward in this document - ideas that are a direct outgrowth of the extensive community outreach described above - we envision a transformed Morningside Park that welcomes the diverse members of nearby communities to come together; builds strong, caring children into citizens; educates about the environment; and raises the profile and definition of the surrounding neighborhoods. Yet, these recommendations do not constitute a Master Plan. Rather, they are the mere beginnings of a process to make incremental improvements based on continuous and increasing input from members of the community. Further, they are a flexible template to be discussed, modified and expanded on by the two central players that can create great change in the park: the Friends of Morningside Park and the Department of Parks & Recreation.
Over the last year, the Friends have been rejuvenated with new members, officers, by-laws, and a fresh mission statement, considerably increasing their capacity to support efforts to revitalize the park. Members include not only a diverse group of residents of Harlem and Morningside Heights, but also important institutions that have considerable capabilities. With their 501(c)3 status, which permits them to raise funds (such as the grant from J.M Kaplan that made this study possible), they are a viable new partner to Parks & Recreation.
Further, for the first time in the history of Morningside Park, the Friends represent a stewardship group that has taken on the task of reaching out to the entire community of residents and institutions to better understand their park and its constituents, through the survey and observation process described in this report. This puts them in a unique position to work with Parks & Recreation to implement new strategies to attract more park use. Based on the extensive participation of residents, local institutions and the Department of Parks & Recreation, the following steps are outlined as a plan for initial action.
While Morningside Park is a beloved treasure for many in both the Harlem and Morningside Heights communities, it will never become a vital center of community and family life until more attention is given to serving the interests and needs of a wider slice of residents. This report contains a number of recommendations to improve the image, comfort, and user-friendliness of Morningside Park. However none of this can be accomplished without a conceptual framework, which can be summarized by the following underlying principles:
Principle One: Conditions in Morningside Park, including basic maintenance, horticulture and physical renovations, must continue to improve before the larger community perceives the park as a community asset. Parks & Recreation will always bear primary responsibility for its care.
Principle Two: Concerned citizens and civic institutions must take a more active role in the park and collaborate with Parks & Recreation to make improvements. Their most important contribution will be to lead park enhancements that reflect the ideas and talents of local residents, develop new resources, and educate the public about the park.
Principle Three: The Park must offer more to local residents, especially activities and programs that reflect the specific desires of residents, both children and adults. The process that produced this document is the first major attempt to discover what local residents want out of their park and, equally important, what these residents can contribute to the park.
RECOMMENDATION 1: Manage Improvements by Increasing Organizational Support
1.Create a new position, paid or voluntary
Clearly there will be a need for more supervision as activities and programs increase in the park. The only effective way to expand current management capability is to put someone in charge of the new activities that the Friends will be developing. This position would augment, rather than replace, the role of Parks & Recreation staff, by fulfilling a role that no public employee could. It is crucial that this new staff position, whether paid or volunteer, is filled by a person from the local community that has a declared passion for improving Morningside Park. It is very likely that the Friends could attract funding to pay at least half this person's salary.
- Parks & Recreation should be consulted to determine what contribution it could make towards a new hire and what specific responsibilities they would invest in that person.
- A focus of the new staff person should be implementing the recommendations made by the Friends, coordinating volunteers, perhaps supervising new environmental programs, writing grant proposals, and, above all, becoming the living embodiment of a welcoming, responsive and indigenous place.
2.Make better use of the field house in the south end
- Use the park building as a flexible space that helps people make better use of the park. This could include a small office for the new staff person described above, and it should certainly house a Parks & Recreation Playground Associate who could hand out balls, games and other play items to children (and lock them up each night) and also help keep restrooms clean and distribute tools to gardeners. This building could also store movable chairs that could be put out during the day.
3.Provide better information about the Park and the community around it
- Place a new sign with a large map of the park at the 113th Street entrance, perhaps painted by a local school art class and identifying their favorite places and activities in the park, as well as neighborhood institutions on adjacent streets (see page 11). The sign should provide phone numbers for Parks & Recreation staff and the Friends, with information on how to book a group event, birthday party, book the recreation center for a meeting, etc. It should also have a suggestion box and volunteer sign-up forms.
- Start a park greeters program modeled after the Prospect Park Alliance program (volunteers are stationed at the main entrances on the weekends and hand out maps, flyers, any pertinent information for visitors). Kids, possibly stationed with a parent, would make the most welcoming greeters.
- The Friends should consider creating a simple newsletter that informs the public of upcoming improvements, volunteer opportunities, programs and events, as well as announcements of other community events sponsored by area institutions (including events that are not held in the park).
- Approach publishers of local guides and maps to ensure that Morningside Park is listed and is represented in a positive light, perhaps focusing on its historical interest. Area institutions, including Columbia University, should also be consulted about how the park is presented to students and employees.
- Cultivate relationships with local journalists, such as Doug Martin of the New York Times, and keep them informed of the momentum that is building around Morningside Park. Good press is one of the most effective ways to change how people perceive a park.
- Develop a community capacity inventory/community information center to elicit and match up complementary skills and needs. For example, several people who participated in the survey expressed the wish to learn more about gardening - at the same time, a retired landscaper wrote that she would consider teaching gardening skills to others. Matching the skill with people who want to learn it is the purpose of a capacity inventory and can be the single best way to create new programs. Other examples from the Morningside survey include matching coaches with teens to create sports leagues (a league could also be a good way to get local businesses involved in the park as sponsors). This not only broadens the base of park users, but also builds leadership and economic development in the neighborhood. A capacity inventory will identify myriad other skills and opportunities that can be matched up in similar ways: sometimes the result will be a new park activity, other times the results may not be visible but creates new opportunities elsewhere in the neighborhood.
The information taken from the capacity inventory can be presented in any number of ways, ranging from reserving an area of the bulletin board for people to create or sign up for a club, to a computer database with a trained person on hand to assist in its use (similar to a jobs database).
4.Encourage institutions to use the park as a setting to enhance their own connections to the community
- In the Morningside Park visioning process, schools and daycares in both Harlem and Morningside Heights expressed the wish to develop the park’s potential as a setting for environmental education and nature programs. One school is already exploring funding to work with other area schools to create a nature walk along the upper pathways of the park. Other possibilities could include teaching gardens that pair local gardeners with children, and teaching kids how to be park greeters (see above).
- During the preparation of a new map of the park to be placed at key entrances (see above), the Friends could approach local institutions on adjacent streets to see if they would like to be on the map and become more engaged in the park in the process. For example, a mailing to all institutions on bordering streets could invite them to join the Friends, with a small map of the park enclosed that illustrated where their building is and offering them a chance to have it identified on the large map placed at entrances.
- Columbia University's Earth Coalition has already expressed an interest in creating ecology programs with local children, collaborating on Earth Day and Eco Fest events, and organizing outdoor dances.
- Julliard and the Manhattan School of Music should be approached about holding some of their rehearsals in the park; the Art Coalition should be encouraged to create new projects in the park
- Church events should be encouraged: perhaps joint picnics where congregations from Harlem can socialize with congregations from Morningside Heights.
5.Create a Morningside Park Volunteer Program (MVP) to augment the parks
department's maintenance capacity
Organized jointly by the staff person described above and the parks department horticulturist, the volunteers’ priorities should be the subject of discussion. However, there are some key areas suggested by the community input:
- Clearing undergrowth to improve sight lines in the upper park
- Planting and maintaining new flower beds
- Providing park information (see Park Greeters, above)
- Distributing and possibly administering the capacity inventory described above
6.Continue to expand the organizational capacity of the Friends
- New grant proposals should be written for organizational and programming support to enable the implementation of the new vision for Morningside Park. The first proposals might focus on creating community staff position described above, with a priority on creating summer programs and coordinating the nature walk. [One person the Friends might approach is Richard Guilder of the Central Park Conservancy board, who recently expressed an interest in Morningside and other parks in the neighborhoods surrounding Central Park.]
- Consider hosting exchanges and site visits with other Friends groups that are experiencing or have experienced similar challenges, such as the Friends of Highbridge Park.
- As improvements begin to take shape, invite additional members to join the Friends board, with emphasis given to representatives of local institutions and people with skills needed by the organization (such as marketing and fundraising).
- Improve security to encourage more people to visit the park
While crime in the park is far lower than on surrounding streets, many people still fear the park because of its reputation. All the recommendations in this report are aimed at changing this perception and increasing safety by creating a place that is full of activity. Still, there are a few additional security measures that could be pursued:
- Lobby the police to locate a police substation in the park. The substation should be visible, yet close to the wooded areas that present the greatest problems. It should be accessible and convenient for the police and preferably centrally located. One location to consider is inside the 116th Street entrance near the steps and playground.
- A recent study showed that five of the eight robberies in 1999 occurred on the steps below 116th Street and Morningside Drive, usually during the late afternoon. The Morningside Area Alliance should encourage their guard, who is posted at the 116th Street overlook, to patrol this area on a regular basis. If necessary, a mirror could be mounted so the guard can see this area from his post.
RECOMMENDATION 2: Improve basic maintenance and restore the public's faith that the park is being renewed
Until the parks department improves certain basic conditions, no amount of programming, events, or volunteers will be enough to change the perception that Morningside Park is a neglected corner of the city. Parks & Recreation must be urged to devote at least one additional assistant to this park to address its urgent needs. In 1999, the department spent in excess of $5 million in capital improvements, yet a request for a $12,000 part-time staff position to care for the park infrastructure and landscape was refused. While the community is certainly appreciative of the capital investments, these monies should be complemented with basic maintenance, especially since the most common complaints are actually related to the far simpler, cheaper tasks of basic upkeep. The most pressing improvements identified by the residents of surrounding communities include:
- More frequent cleaning and garbage pick-ups. The upper pathways, as well as the north end of the park and the southwest entrance, are in desperate need of garbage containers. Entrances should always be well-maintained.
- Repairing broken light fixtures in all areas
- Repairing the water fountains
- Improving restrooms and keeping them cleaner
- Renovating the remaining stairways
- More frequent grass-cutting
- Landscape restoration of eroded areas, pruning of trees and clearing underbrush to create safer sightlines in wooded areas
- Better management of the permitting process, so that large groups are held more responsible for cleaning up after their event
- The total redesign and reconstruction of the defunct playgrounds between 116th and 119th Streets, based on a community design workshop to determine exactly what kind of playground and other activities should be installed where, and how it can be better blended into the picturesque landscape surrounding it. In the shorter term, the existing playground should be made accessible from the park by creating an entrance on the west side.
RECOMMENDATION 3: Improve entrances to announce that the Park is a welcoming, vital place
- Landscape entranceways along Morningside and Manhattan Avenues so that they are more pleasant and appealing, with seating and signage. Benches should be placed in these entry areas, facing each (perpendicular to the sidewalk). The most popular benches are currently on the sidewalk on Morningside Avenue, outside the park. More people might be tempted to sit inside the park if benches were placed in the park entranceway where it joins the sidewalk.
- Install seating at the southeast entrance (at Cathedral Parkway). Place a colorful sign, similar to the one described above, announcing that Morningside Park is a place for residents and institutions to use.
- Improve the southwest corner plaza entrance, which is popular among many different groups: the lunchtime crowd, young people looking for a place to socialize after school (especially on the steps), and dog-walkers who make the grass slope a regular stop. A food vendor should be sought out for this location, with the agreement that the vendor picks up the trash that is left by customers (perhaps a local ethnic restaurant, such as the one across the street, could be approached). New waste receptacles should be placed convenient to the benches. Trees should be thinned that block the dramatic views over the park from this overlook (at some point, this may even be a place to install telescopes or binoculars). Locate additional information here, including notices encouraging dog-owners to join the dog run group (below).
- Entrances along Morningside Drive could be improved with signage and flower planters adopted and maintained by the institutions and/or offices facing Morningside Drive.
RECOMMENDATION 4: Add new plantings to create a more inviting appearance
One problem with Morningside Park is that, although very beautiful in some areas, there is very little variety in the color or landscaping. Although a trained horticulturist will discern hundreds of interesting plant species, to the average person there is nothing but green. People associate safe parks with flowers and color, and Morningside Park could attract thousands more visitors, and investment from local partners, if there was a more concerted effort to please the eye.
- Create new seasonal plantings to ensure that something is always blooming during the growing season. An example might be a meadow of wood hyacinths, which has proved to be a perennial attraction that brings loyal fans to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden every spring. These plantings should be planned in partnership with the Friends and Parks & Recreation so that strategies for design, placement, and maintenance are addressed. For example, we recommend that the design be sensitive to the rest of the park – clusterings of flowers and other ornamentals on the edge of an existing meadow would be more appropriate than formal garden beds that might be jarring within the context of the woodlands landscape.
- These new plantings should be strategically placed to draw the eye further into the park, to encourage people to explore places where they don't usually go. For example, some beds should be placed near a major entrance, as suggested in Recommendation One -- once there, a visitor should be able to just make out the color of other flowers in the distance. We suggest planting areas inside the 113th Street, then another to the north, within sight of the picnic ground (along the path); the next farther north, perhaps at the 116th Street entrance (on the east side); then farther up the paths, and so on, working toward 123rd Street. Additional plantings could occur up the steep stairs so they are just visible from below. Again, the purpose is to attract people to new areas and to dispel the impression that all wooded areas are synonymous with lurking danger.
- Attract community institutions to invest in their park by sponsoring these new plantings. If a concept plan were shown to area institutions, showing the vision that the park was about to be transformed by color and beauty, there is little doubt that many groups would jump at the chance of helping it happen, and getting some of the credit for this vast improvement to their neighborhood. For example, a Harlem church might sponsor "Hyacinth Hill," and be responsible for donating plants and providing a volunteer to maintain it. Ways to recognize their sponsorship might be explored with Parks & Recreation.
RECOMMENDATION 5: Focus initial improvements in specific areas that already have a built-in constituency
Morningside Park's two major activity centers, at the south and north ends, have enormous potential for becoming remarkable community gathering places. Each area has its own character and already has enough variety of things to do so that they enjoy a core of devoted users. While improvements certainly need to occur across the entire Park, it is vital that early improvements to the image, comfort and variety of activities are focused on these two very visible areas.
Above all, we believe that early improvements should be focused to further strengthen this attractive area, which is defined by the pond, the picnic area, the park building and the ball fields. Concentrating on this high-use area will help further the impression that positive changes are happening in Morningside Park, provide a manageable testing ground for the Friends to try out their ideas, and set the stage for other improvements extending to the north and west.
- Plant new, colorful flower beds inside the entrance at 113th Street, next to the playground, and at the triangle of grass near the pond. Volunteers or local institutions such as summer schools or churches could adopt these beds.
- Improve the triangle between the picnic area and pond. This area has the potential to be a gathering point for activities such as local musicians, storytellers, clowns, artists, and so on. Once re-graded and replanted, this triangle could accommodate a knock-down stage for such events as well as concerts.
- Improve existing seating areas around the playground, entrance and ball fields. New seating should be arranged in groupings that encourage social activity, and should preferably be somewhat movable. If necessary, new shade trees should be planted around this seating.
- Considering that eating in the park is already quite popular, and that provision of food increases family activity in any park, at least one food vendor should be invited to provide snacks, sandwiches, drinks, ice cream, etc., which could be served next to the picnic area on every summer day.
- Enhance and possibly expand the picnic area with barbecue pits. Since people often mistakenly dump hot coals at the base of trees, doing considerably damage, signs warning them against this should be placed at the base of all the surrounding trees and proper ash containers provided. In addition, replacing the turf with woodchips would reduce erosion and improve the appearance.
- Create a seating area with tables, colorful umbrellas and a vendor (such as ice cream) on top of the park building at street grade. This vantage gives impressive views over the park and its ball games and creating this sidewalk attraction will help communicate a positive image of the park. The vendor should always be there during ball games.
- Enhance the underutilized toddler playground at 113th Street with more appealing, but inexpensive features: water hoses, tire swings on trees, balls, jump ropes and games among them (in Bryant Park and Battery Park, a popular concession hands out games to children free of charge and collects them at the end of the day. Students could offer their school I.D. cards as collateral) . Including an area for hopscotch and Double Dutch would attract many teenage girls who are under-represented in the park now. This would also add more age variety to the existing play areas. Fall leaves should routinely be raked into piles next to the playgrounds so children can play in them until they are bagged and removed.
- In the long term, a plan should be considered that would consolidate both playgrounds at the south end into one larger play area with a wider variety of activities to make it easier for parents and kids of different ages to socialize. The location for this larger play area might be between the 113th and 112th Street entrances under the trees, where a playground was located during the early part of the century.
- Creating new community-maintained ornamental plantings across the path from the baseball fields (under the rock face), adding interest for children and adults alike: El Sitio Feliz at Union Settlement in Harlem is a great example of a play area that is surrounded with community gardens and shady seating areas for adults and seniors, who enjoy watching kids play with the popular water hose. The Lots for Tots program of New York City's Council on the Environment, which helped create El Sitio Feliz, could be approached to make this area one of their projects. Any plan for such gardens would need to reflect what is appropriate for the special needs and aesthetics of that area in the park.
- Community theater groups in parks in Chicago, Atlanta, and other cities, have proved to be an exciting way to draw together diverse members of the community, young and old. The Morningside and Harlem communities have a wealth of talent that could lead such an effort, including Harlem School of the Arts, Studio Museum of Harlem, the West Harlem Art Fund, Museo del Barrio, the Harlem Opera House or ENACT; otherwise a national group, such as Scrap Mettle SOUL, could be approached. These groups could use the stage area described above.
- Upgrade the pond and include plant materials that attract bird life, butterflies, dragonflies, etc. and make this a central element for children's programs.
- New wheelchair ramps should be installed at the 113th Street entrance.
The recent playground improvements made by Parks & Recreation have made a great difference, and the recreation center is already a vital hub serving between 500 and 800 children with an enormous variety of programs and activities. However, there is more that can be done to create a better sense of place here.
- Remove fences, wherever possible, that surround every court and play area. Where removal is not advisable, replacing them with lower, more attractive fences would make a huge impact on the visual appeal of this area.
- Decorate the entire playground area with accent plantings and public art that is user-friendly and interactive.
- Renovate and enlarge the recreation center and make it the site of a wider variety of drop-in activities, and community meetings. This building should convey the sense that it is there for residents to use for any number of activities -- that a local women's club could have their meetings there, or a family could book it for a birthday party. Currently much of the building is used for maintenance personnel, when in fact this space is needed by the community at large. The building also could be painted by local artists and be complimented by some greenery. Renovations of the building and any future capital improvements to the playgrounds should be made after seeking the advise and input of the recreation staff who work in these areas.
- Another good location for community-maintained ornamental plantings would be at 123rd Street on the lawn area under the hill, a flat area that is little used, but has good sun and access to water. Gardeners could be encouraged to plant ornamentals at other locations throughout the playground area to generally soften and improve the appearance of this area. The recreation manager of the recreation center is very supportive of this idea (and would even help organize it), if the garden is designed to address some of the problems that have been experienced in the past. For example, a lockable fence would probably be needed to avoid plant thefts.
- Develop a new picnic or barbecue area on the grass adjacent to the handball courts, to address problems that currently arise because this area is already used for barbecuing and picnicking, but has none of the amenities or waste containers appropriate to that use.
- Establish a small weekend farmer's market with products that are attractive and affordable to local residents: possible locations include along the park’s external perimeter, at Cathedral Parkway and Manhattan Avenue, or inside the park, at 123rd Street and Morningside Avenue. A location for a such a market is already being scouted at 125th Street - if the Friends cannot convince this venture to locate in the park, then they should at least locate an information booth at the market to promote the Friends and new park programs.
- A park ranger program at Morningside Park would enhance the perception of safety, help the creation of
environmental programs and lead the upgrade of the pond area.
- A suitable location for a dog run should be considered, since a major issue raised in the surveys was off-leash dogs and dog litter and these problems are likely to persist unless dog owners have a restricted area where dogs can run loose. The dog run should be attractive and well managed by a volunteer group of dog-owners who can also put pressure on other dog owners to follow the park's off-leash laws. Since the issue of dog runs sometimes becomes controversial, a community meeting specifically devoted to the topic might be considered.
- Two or three additional picnic tables should be installed in small clearings along the path between the north and south activity centers for groups wishing a quieter setting. Each area should be provided a proper ash can and rudimental signage.
- Certain staircases have the potential to be secondary activity centers, such as those at 113th St and at Cathedral Parkway and Morningside Drive. In the former case, encouraging people to use these stairs for multiple purposes would help create a more active, safer upper park. For example, chess/checkers tables could be built into the steps, especially the lower stairs that look out over the pond.
New programs for adults should be explored, such as:
- Early morning exercise classes, possibly in collaboration with Columbia University. A jogging trail might be explored as well, or at least marked on maps to encourage runners to use the whole park.
- Rock climbing, run by one of the many private operators in the city.
Family programs that draw all ages should also be developed. Already, the Friends have begun to organize such events, with a tree-lighting ceremony in December 1999. Other possibilities might include:
- Concerts, which were the single most popular suggestion when people were asked what activities would bring them to the park more often. The Fund for City of New York should be approached about the possibility of including Morningside Park in their annual summer concert series. Other, smaller concerts should be equally important: in fact it is more important to hold smaller events more frequently than to focus on more ambitious events. By approaching local music schools, salsa bands, choirs, jazz musicians, etc., the Friends could arrange that some music be offered almost every weekend during the summer. To solicit more musicians, a simple application should be handed out at each concert and be available at the community bulletin board.
- New children's programs will be vital to popularizing the notion that Morningside Park is a mainstay
of community life. While the specifics need to be developed by the Friends, in partnership with local
residents and schools, they could include art programs, such as drop-in drawing classes as well as more
formalized programs with schools, which could be developed with local artists residing in the neighborhood.
- More seasonal events such as a Harvest Festival, Haunted Walk, tapping maple trees (with upstate farmers), cider-making, etc.
- Basketball tournaments, which would depend on a necessary upgrade of all existing courts and possibly installing additional ones in the playground between 116th and 119th Streets.
A T T A C H M E N T S
ATTACHMENT A: Survey Results
WHEN YOU USE MORNINGSIDE PARK, WHAT ARE YOU MOST LIKELY TO DO THERE?
WHAT ACTIVITIES WOULD BRING YOU TO MORNINGSIDE PARK MORE OFTEN?
WHAT ACTIVITIES WOULD BRING YOU TO MORNINGSIDE PARK MORE OFTEN?
Art programs for kids
Food and cultural events
HOW WOULD YOU RATE THE FOLLOWING?
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT PHYSICAL IMPROVEMENTS, IF ANY, YOU WOULD MAKE TO THE PARK?
WHAT ENTRANCE DO YOU USUALLY USE?
ANSWERS TO OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS
What do you like best about Morningside Park?
a park for the community
Baseball fields (10)
Basketball Courts (6)
Building bike jumps w/friends
Close, convenient (15)
Dog-friendly, "Esprit des corps among dog owners"
Easy access to park
Events in Summer
Fields, and pond
Improvements made over past 10 yrs
Jogging paths (2)
kids – watching them in North end
Natural green areas
Natural landscape, vistas, trees (11)
Nature – Pond (12)
Nature – Waterfall (7)
Nature, quiet, things to watch
Nice area to visit
Nice park, convenient
nice place to spend spare time
nice view of the Park
Not sure yet
Not too crowded
Peace and Quiet (10)
Playground, swings (10)
pretty, good views
Short cut to Morningside Heights
spacious & surrounded by trees
variety of people and purposes
variety of things for everybody to do
watch people play sports
What are the most important physical improvements, if any, you would make to the park?
Activities for children (2)
Baseball fields (fix) (2)
basketball - new rims (3)
basketball courts(more) (3)
bathroom (fix, clean) (6)
bathrooms (create more) (2)
bathrooms (keep them open)
benches (more) (4)
Build some more park
Clean - Pick up garbage (23)
Clean pond (2)
clean up area by 123rd;
dog run (5)
dogs – enforce leashes (6)
enforce park rules
Fence around the pond for kids, cleaner water fountain and grounds
fix stairs, railings (16)
fix upper paths (2)
flowers – need information about
flowers (more) (11)
garbage cans (more) (6), esp. on upper pathways
Good the way it is. Quiet, already made improvements
Grass cleaner and cut (14)
Keep up your great interest
keeping out homeless
lighting (more) (11)
Lighting in courts (4)
Lights at top (fix)
lights don't come on
maintain trees & statuary
maintenance of shrubs
Minimize effect of the hill
Not sure yet
Park needs work and people kill wildlife
Pavement needs fixing
Paving areas near picnic tables
Playground - monkey bars, swings, seesaw
playground - new equipment
Playground See-saws, slide and big tire
Playground see-saw should be plastic
Playground sprinkler shower for kids
Playground Swing wheel
Playground Swing, seesaw, hopscotch
Playground swings and toys (more)
Playground swings in play area
Playground swings, jungle gym (more)
Playground swings; clean up needles & condoms; everything
Playground Tire swing
Playground -Toddler playground
playgrounds - more security
Playgrounds: remove"crack vials", fix Playgrounds: replace decaying rubber;
pond – clean up (4)
Ramps for wheelchairs at entrances
Rat control (5)
Renovate activity center,
supervision of children,
Security- Cut back trees, underbrush (4)
water fountains (fix)
water fountains (more) (3)
Whole park reconstruction (7)
What activities would bring you to the park more often?
Activities for children (13) (e.g. art, nature programs, games, jump rope, sprinklers)
Activities for seniors
Biking, Bike jumps, bike track (5)
Events - Arts & crafts fairs
Events - Baseball tournaments (2)
Events - Basketball Tournaments (7)
Events -- Concerts (17)
Events – Fairs, carnivals (6)
Events – food (ethnic) fairs (3)
Events - Movies (2)
Events for children
Events like today
Events--draw from entire community
Food vendors (5)
I like it like it is
Ice cream after games
Jogging group @ 5am-for safety
More ducks, fish
no, less activities
Picnicking, barbecues (4)
Sports - baseball games
Sports - Kickball
Sports - Basketball league
Sports - Basketball--more cts.
Sports - football for young kids
Sports - Football league
Sports - Football, softball
Sports - Ice skating
Sports - Soccer (3)
Sports - Softball (2)
Sports - Tennis (3)
What other parks do you use in this area?
104th, Riverside, CPW
115 Lenox Ave
Central Park (78)
Riverside Park (35)
Grants Tomb (Riverside Park)
Jackie Robinson, and Central
Marcus Garvey Park (3)
Martin Luther King Park (1)
Mount Morris (7)
Riverbank State Park (6)
St. Nicholas Park (2)
What neighborhood groups do you belong to?
112St Teachers' College Alumni;
119th ST. Block Assoc
7AveMallSouth Coop Corp.,
American Cancer Assoc
Block Assoc. (3)
New Canaan Baptist
Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Community Board 9
Community Board 10
Community Board 12
Columbia Law School
Columbia Tenants Association
Community of Pride
Cong. of St. Saverus(?), @ the Cathedral
Congregation of St. Savior, St. John Divine Cong. of St. Saviour
Corner Community Garden
First Corinthian Church
Grant Residents Assoc.
Harlem life league
Int'l Free Mason order of Eastern Star
Morningside Heights Historic District Committee
National Action Network
National Organization Arch.
New Chance Garden;1840 7Ave
Patrice Lumumba Coalition
Riverside Park Conservancy;
St. Davids School,
St. John Divine former warden
St. Paul Lodge No. 103
Tenant Assn. (7)
United for Children,
Volunteer, St. Luke's Hospital
W104St Block Assn
If you don’t use Morningside Park, why not?
"My mother don't want me in the park"
The drugs (1)
"Just haven't been here"
Didn't know it existed" Goes to riverside
Don't know where it is
live closer to Central Park
live closer to C.P.
live near Riverside Park
grandma won't allow
closer to Riverside Park
distance from home
Warned by Columbia: too much crime
Reputation; neighborhood; not closest park to home
don't live in nbhd
live next to Riverside Park
concerned about safety, not aware of activities
doesn't appear safe
told it is very unsafe
Morningside Park Residents Survey
The Morningside Area Alliance and the Friends of Morningside Park are working to identify ways to improve Morningside Park, and make it a community place that has something for everyone. The first step is to learn more about what residents like you do in the park and what your biggest concerns are.
Please take the time to fill out this short questionnaire, which we are undertaking with the help of Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit urban planning and design firm. Your answers will give us valuable information that only you as a resident can give. Remember -- a caring community makes a good place to live. Please do your part by helping us with this survey.
Friends of Morningside Park
- How long have you lived in this neighborhood? (please circle one)
- Under one year 1.3 6-10 years
- 1-5 years 1.4 Over 10 years
- On average, how often do you use Morningside Park in good weather? (please circle one)
- Every day 2.3 Two or three times a month2.5 Never
- Two or three times a week2.4 Two or three times a year
- If you answered "never," please tell us the main reason you don't use Morningside Park and then skip to question 13.
- When you use Morningside Park, what are you most likely to do there?
- Basketball4.10. Bicycle4.19. Sunbathe
- Baseball/softball4.11. Handball4.20 Walk dog
- Soccer4.12. Picnic/eat4.21. Throw frisbee/ball
- Organized sports league4.13. Sit/relax4.22. Meet friends/socialize
- Playgrounds4.14. Read4.23. People-watching
- Jog/speedwalk4.15. Walk/stroll 4.24. Events/classes (specify)__________
- Skateboard/rollerblade4.16. Chess/checkers4.25. Playing at the pond
- Use park as shortcut 4.17. Dominoes4.26. Barbecue
- Watch sports4.18. Enjoy nature 4.27. Other (specify)_________________
- What areas in Morningside Park do you use most?
- Southeast area around ballfields
- Northeast area near playgrounds/recreation center
- 118 Street playground area
- Upper walkways and stairs
- What entrance do you usually use? (Circle one)
- W. 123rd St.6.6. Manhattan Ave. & W. 110 (Cathedral)
- Morningside Dr. & W. 120th 6.7. Morningside Ave. & W. 114th
- Morningside Dr. & W. 116th 6.8. Morningside Ave. & W. 116th
- Morningside Dr. & W. 110th (Cathedral Pkwy) 6.9. Morningside Ave. & W. 120
- Morningside Dr. & W. 114th
- What days do you usually use Morningside Park?
- Weekdays7.2. Weekends7.3. Both
- What times do you usually use Morningside Park?
- Early morning8.4. Afternoon
- mid-morning8.5. Evening
- How long do you usually stay?
- One hour or less9.2. 1-3 hours 9.3. 3-6 hours9.4. 6 hours or more
- Who do you usually go to the park with?
- With my kids/family10.5. I come by myself
- With my spouse or friend10.6. With an organized group (which?__________________)
- With a group of friends10.7. Other (specify) _________________________________
- With a sports team
- Please rate the park by the following issues: Circle one for each issue:
- General CleanlinessGood Average Poor Don't know
- Grass-cutting Good Average Poor Don't know
- Flowers and landscapingGood Average Poor Don't know
- General condition of park Good Average Poor Don't know
- RatsGood Average Poor Don't know
- Condition of restroomsGood Average Poor Don't know
- Condition of drinking fountainsGood Average Poor Don't know
- Condition of 118th St. playground Good Average Poor Don't know
- Condition of 123rd St. playground Good Average Poor Don't know
- Condition of ballfields Good Average Poor Don't know
- Condition of entrances Good Average Poor Don't know
- Condition of stairs Good Average Poor Don't know
- Lighting Good Average Poor Don't know
- Safety in the lower fields and playgrounds Good Average Poor Don't know
- Safety along the paths above Good Average Poor Don't know
- Safety of 123rd St. playground and Rec Center Good Average Poor Don't know
- What do you like best about Morningside Park?
- What are the most important physical improvements, if any, you would make to Morningside Park?
- Are there any activities that would bring you to Morningside Park more often?
- What other parks do you use in this area?
- Female16.2. Male
- Under 1817.3. 35 to 5017.5. Over 65
- 18 to 34 17.4. 51 to 65
- So we know roughly what neighborhood you live in, please write in your zip code: _______
- Number of people in your household: _____
- Are you a member of a neighborhood organization, club or association?
- Yes20.2. No
- If yes, which one(s)? ________________________________________________________
- If you would like to get involved or volunteer some time, may we contact you in the future? If so, please give us your complete name, address and telephone number in the space below:
- When you think about what you do well, what three things do you think you do best? For example, coaching sports, public speaking, sewing, gardening, working with kids, playing music, organizing events, etc.
- Are there any skills you might be interested in teaching?
- Name three skills you would like to learn, if possible:
(circle all that apply)
We need some information about you in order to get a better idea of who might be interested in using the park:
ATTACHMENT B: Activity Mapping Results
MORNINGSIDE PARK USER PROFILE
PERCENT ALONE VS. IN GROUPS
AMOUNT OF ACTIVITY BY AREA (2 DAYS)
WEEKDAY VS. WEEKEND ACTIVITY
ACTIVITIES, WEEKDAY VS. WEEKEND
AMOUNT OF USE OVER TIME, WEEKDAY VS. WEEKEND
ATTACHMENT C: Case Study
The Big Backyard: Neighborhood Park
Becomes Center of Community Activity
Toronto, Canada Summer 1998
Most people agree that the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park have transformed a forlorn space into one that neighborhood residents actively use and take care of. The volunteer Friends have encouraged a combination of locally-inspired activities that fly in the face of traditional park programs, from bread-baking to puppet shows, and created a community place out of a park that had been spurned by locals and neglected by a parks department suffering from cutbacks. Now, Dufferin Grove Park looks and feels more like a big backyard than a city park.
Project Background: Dufferin Grove Park looks more or less like a typical neighborhood park. Two blocks long by one block wide, it contains a few brick buildings, picnic tables, a garden, play areas and playing fields. Close to downtown Toronto, it abuts the Dufferin Mall, a major road, and a working class neighborhood of families from Portugal, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Poland, Italy and Germany.
For more Info. on Dufferin Grove Park click here
In the Eighties, the park was neglected and underused. Dominated by young people from local neighborhoods, the park's indoor skating rink and other facilities seemed inaccessible to other residents. The Friends of Dufferin Grove was formed to revive activity in the park, based on the premise that local people, of all stripes, have talents and ideas that can give the park a new sense of safety and comfort. They understood that success would depend on the right mix of programs that local residents would recognize as uniquely suited to their community, a flexible design, and a willingness to experiment and take risks.
When the Friends first approached the rink house, it was an unheated, bunker-like building that was used only by hockey playing "toughs" from the adjacent high school, a major deterrent to other park users. What has happened there is a microcosm of the changes at Dufferin Grove, illustrating many of the leitmotifs that define the Friends' philosophy. "They weren't particularly dangerous, except to each other" says Jutta Mason, the founder and volunteer staff member of the Friends, a loose, unincorporated group established in 1993. But they so intimidated other residents that the rink had become a de facto teens-only clubhouse. Mason's solution was based on a combination of common sense improvements that together would change how people thought of the facility.
The Friends first broke through the walls with eye-level windows, so people outside could see what was going on inside and vice-versa. They then converted a small office into a rudimentary kitchen which they use for baking cookies which, Mason explains, has been their best measure to make the rink more welcoming to the public and safer in general. "When the kids come in after school, they're hit with the smell where they're weakest -- in the stomach," she said, noting how moods elevate and aggression abates after eating the cookies and fruit her volunteers provide. Finally, she added a wood stove to reinforce the sense of coziness and hired female rink guards to offset the largely male presence. Now, groups like the Italian senior's card-playing club are encouraged to use the rink house for daily or weekly activities.
Because recent Portuguese immigrants had expressed an interest in a traditional bake oven, a local contractor donated materials and built a massive, traditional, outdoor brick oven used twice weekly for community pizza and bread baking parties. Regulars and casual drop-bys gather to make their own pizzas over folding tables of ingredients (a shoebox is on hand for cash donations). Often, local talents play music and groups such as school classes use the oven on a regular basis. The oven has become a magnet, not in small part because of the irresistible aroma.
A 20' X 40' sandpit furnishes loose poles, rope, shovels and other materials to kids who build teepees, lean-to’s, bridges, etc. Tacked on a post, photographs illustrate early trappers' cabins to give them ideas on structures they could build. Nearby, the Friends restored an oversized checkerboard that had become overgrown and forgotten. Disks cut from tree trunks, which local children painted black and while, serve as checker pieces. When benches were added, people started playing checkers late into the night and the demand was high enough to install two more boards.
A used treadle machine sits next to the wading pool, and is used by women from Trinidad and Southeast Asia who can sew and watch their children at the same time. It also attracts children who end up learning how it's done. Neighbors helped build and then adopt new flowerbeds, with plant materials donated by residents and a local greenhouse. In an inspired move, they located the beds around the basketball courts to increase interaction between teenage boys and adults, who often come with their children in tow. The Friends also installed checker tables and seats at the court sidelines, and put benches among the gardens. Now teens linger in an environment characterized not only by sports, but by intellectual activity (they use the chess tables habitually), gardens and volunteers.
The creative array of activities that the Friends have initiated seems endless, most of them based on ideas from the community: a Guatemalan woman cooks traditional meals over an open fire one evening a week. The fire draws children who help prepare ingredients ("poor kids know how to cook," says Mason). When the empanadas, donuts, macaroni and salsa start cooking, the area fills with three dozen people or more. Always sensitive to the microclimate of the park, the Friends prefer frequent small events to occasional large ones, which lack the intimacy that encourages neighborliness.
Mason credits Ray Oldenburg's book, The Great Good Place [Paragon House, 1989], as a major influence on how she thinks about public places. From Oldenberg, she has garnered many ideas on increasing the sociability of the park. For example, the park benches are moveable, which makes them convenient for impromptu gatherings. This concept, and many others, depends on a free-flowing idea of the park as a flexible space for ingenious and inexpensive experimentation. There is nothing at Dufferin Grove Park that resembles typical park planning or design, and yet the Friends continually hit upon programs or activities that are well within their reach and arguably more effective at drawing in a diverse community. Their shoestring budget (about Can $40,000 in 1996) means that bartering is common, which enhances the spirit of cooperation. For example, University of Toronto music students lacking a space for a dinner party were able to use the rink house in exchange for giving a free, public performance.
"What the Friends are doing is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen," according to Leslie Coates, a landscape architect who consults with the city parks department. "Jutta has the vision to look at the social side of the park and has created a great example of how to increase use to make a park safe."
Lessons Learned: By providing physical spaces and activities that people can always count on happening, the Friends have been able to provide a constant presence in the park. They have captured local nuances, creating an almost cozy environment, emphasized by "comfort" activities like cooking and fires. They put things near each other, so that there is more than one reason to go there and more than one audience. They also have flexibility to fail, since they don't invest money in large projects that run large risks. A tacit agreement with the parks department lets them break rules that a public agency cannot and Mason theorizes that city agencies get some not inconsiderable pleasure seeing this happen.
Their ongoing challenge will be to improvise combinations that draw diverse residents together while meditating between differing notions of what things are appropriate. Most notable is the continuing conflict between teens playing loud music and adults who have other notions of what is appropriate. "Our thrust is to have the park as comfortable and pleasant and interesting as possible for people to do their own things rather than to join programs," says Mason.
Contact: Jutta Mason, Friends of Dufferin Grove Park (416) 392-0913
Source: Urban Parks Institute, Project for Public Spaces