Battery Park City residents: Not opposed to essential workers monument, just want a say

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BATTERY PARK CITY —  Outraged and concerned residents are taking turns providing a round-the-clock presence in Rockefeller Park, protesting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to take green space from the park, even with good intentions, without community input. Some are even camping out overnight, telling PIX11 News they will block any equipment being brought in in the morning.

The cause of the commotion: a planned monument to honor essential workers planned for the park.

Residents like Lee Pham said they’re not opposed to a monument, but they want a say on the project in their own backyard.

Battery Park City residents fight against location of essential workers monument

“We want to honor our essential workers, they deserve it, they put the city on their backs through the pandemic,” said Pham. “What we want is a proper opportunity for the community to have input, any community to have input. When there’s going to be a transformational change in their space, everyone deserves that in New York State.”

Cuomo made the announcement last Wednesday — and just days later the bulldozers arrived. The community was outraged.

Residents said they felt blindsided, and they’re concerned about the lack of an environmental or traffic impact study. At least six trees are earmarked for removal. 

PIX11 spoke with residents in the park Monday night who maintain the loss of green space for the monument will negatively impact families, public school students who use this park for sports and recreation, and the city as a whole. Plus, the park has been a gathering place for many during the ongoing pandemic. Every bit of green space is cherished in this city, and the community members say they don’t want it turned to concrete.

Previous coverage: New monument honoring essential workers to open in NYC on Labor Day

“We have lots of questions with environmental impact, with financing. There was talk about an eternal flame that’s powered by gas,” said Pham. “I can’t count how many kids are around us right now and people come here on the weekends from all over the city to enjoy the space — is it going to be safe? Where will the water go? We have lot of questions.”

The park is state land, so the governor does not need the permission of the city to erect the monument. The governor’s office released renderings of the monument – featuring an enteral flame surrounded by 19 red maple trees, each representing a different type of essential worker during the pandemic.

Cuomo said the location was chosen by a board – but residents here said neither a member of their community nor a local politician representing the community was on that board. While Cuomo maintains the monument would just take up 2% of the entire park – opponents say it’s much more.

“We used a GPS watch to just walk the perimeter, and compared the space that was bounded by orange fence with the actual green space,” said Pham. “It turns out to be a fifth of what you see here, which is called the North Meadow, and it’s the largest green space [in Manhattan] south of Central Park.”

Battery Park City residents fight against location of essential workers monument

The grassroots opposition has garnered the attention and support of powerful lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler. Nadler is now leading a group that has written a letter to Cuomo urging him to halt construction.

“Pause the Saws” is now trending, too.

While the adults try to work out their differences on a warm summer night Monday, the little ones said they’re just hoping to have a place to play

“Our city has very limited green space — like in a city made of concrete, why would you take away what little green space that we have to play ,” said 12-year-old Azalea Torres. Her 9-year-old sister Lucia also weighed in.

“I love the green space and I love essential workers, but we should still be able to have a place to play.”

Cuomo has said the monument will open on Labor Day.

Community advocates are hoping to get a meeting with the governor and his administration.

Previous coverage: New monument honoring essential workers to open in NYC on Labor Day

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