Editorial comment

Department of Parks and Procrastination


How long does it take the Parks Department to grow grass in Van Cortlandt Park?

To fix the field at Vinmont Park? 

To restore veteran plaques at Memorial Grove?

As long as it wants, it seems. And that’s forever. And a day. 

This week, a call placed to the Parks Department about work stopped at Memorial Grove due to its contractor’s failure to use required minority staffers turned up some new information. A standard request for an update about when the fences around the Parade Ground will come down solicited what is becoming a standard response from the Parks Department: longer than expected.

It was only a few months ago that The Press wrote about the expected opening of the remaining Parade Ground fields being pushed back from spring 2011 to fall 2011, with only last-minute notification to the community that uses it. 

Now history is repeating itself.

The new expected opening will take place in fall 2012, The Press was told. We in turn, informed members of Community Board 8. Teams that use the field seemed equally in the dark, but equally unsurprised, about the most recent delay. 

Already, the “slowest growing grass in the history of horticulture” — as CB 8 Parks and Recreation chair Bob Bender mused — has taken a toll on the neighborhood. Not only are off-limits fields displacing cricket players and an eyesore for parkgoers, they are disrupting races for runners who come to use Vannie’s world-renowned cross-country track. 

Nike has just set up a pop-up shop across from Van Cortlandt Park based on the perception that it is a magnet for serious runners from all over the country, but Scottie Rodgers, associate executive director for communications at the Ivy League Office, which runs the historic Heptagonal championship cross-country race, said that Princeton will host it this year because of construction in Vannie.  

The race has been bringing together athletes from Dartmouth, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale since 1939.

It will be the first time since 1947 that the men’s teams have not raced in Van Cortlandt Park’s hills and the first time since 1981 that the women have raced elsewhere. And with them goes any economic stimulus that comes with eight teams shopping in our stores and staying in the city’s hotels.

The teams have tentatively agreed to return in 2012, but that will depend on Parks keeping its most recent promise.

Nobody is too hopeful. 

“I don’t believe them,” said Dan Mecca, Manhattan College’s coach for both men and women’s cross-country running and track and field teams. 

He said the fences up around the Parade Ground have changed the race routes and in some cases made them more difficult, with less time spent between the flats and the back hills. It is because of the fences that he has not bid to host the NCAA regionals. The school has not had that honor since 2008, when park renovation had only begun on the north side of the field. The regionals would bring 38 Division 1 schools from the Northeast to our neighborhood.

The press, not Parks, was the one to inform him of the most recent year-long delay.

Vannie’s slow renovations may affect more people, but stories in this week’s paper also reveal that poor planning has led to the closing of all of Vinmont Veteran Park for the next year and it has stalled renovations in Memorial Grove. 

We appreciate the effort the Parks Department has put in to all these projects and that it is hoping to make the Parade Ground a showplace with every blade of grass just so, but enough is enough. If we have to play in crab grass — as we did for decades — then so be it.