Park Here?

Tribeca residents say road will run over plans to save park

Dudley bases that reasoning on NYSDOT's position that the land is not a park now; routing traffic around what is currently an informal parking lot is not much of a change. As for the 1990 sketches that show the land as a park, Dudley says, "That was a wish list, not a binding document."

The residents argue that the land's status as a park relies not on the 1990 sketches but on a 68-year-old legal error: when the parks department in 1930 turned Canal Street Park over to the borough of Manhattan, it did so without required state legislation, making the entire transfer void. Chris Reo, the corporation counsel attorney representing the city, would only say that he is "investigating the allegations." His answer is due to Judge Weissberg January 15.

Dudley maintains that NYSDOT's plans could remain intact even if a judge orders the land to be reclaimed as a park. But such an order could jeopardize the plans, since the original park runs all the way to the intersection of Washington and Canal streets— well into NYSDOT's planned traffic lanes.

The lawsuit documents the triangle's long and alternately venerable and tawdry past. Set aside as a "country market" in 1833, by the 1860s it had become a dumping ground for bricks, ashes, and market detritus. In 1871, the city cleaned up the park, ringing it with iron railing from City Hall Park.

In 1888, the park was redesigned by Calvert Vaux (who, with Frederick Law Olmsted, designed Central and Prospect parks) and rededicated as part of a city-wide push for small parks; with one-third of an acre, Canal Street Park was the largest of these. It remained the city's flower market until 1891, but in 1897, a Small Parks Commission report recounts police complaints that "many worthless bums" crowded out the "decent people" trying to use Canal Street Park.

Still, the oasis at the foot of Canal Street couldn't have been entirely unpleasant. In 1894, writer Thomas Janvier noted that the maritime feel of Canal Street Park was such that "merely to sit for a while in that park is to give one the feeling of having gone upon several long journeys. . . . " It's a feeling that commuters trying to navigate their way along 9A might feel today, but without the pleasure Janvier implies.

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