In the latest cruel ironic twist to come from the Bloomberg administration, Lee Stuart has been named Director of New Yorkers for Parks, a quasi-governmental group charged with protecting park resources, as well as community gardens.
From A Walk in the Park:
While Ms. Stuart won accolades for her role in developing housing through the Nehemiah program, others criticized her role in the destruction of vibrant community green-spaces for apartments that are out of the reach of local residents. Critics charged that at the time the median income in the districts with threatened gardens ranged from $14,000-$19,000/year while the so-called “affordable housing” had minimum income requirements of $32,000/year. At the same time numerous gardens were targeted for housing, including Cabo Rojo, Hostos-Crimmins, Eagle, Shakespeare, and Salinas Community Gardens. The Hostos-Crimmins Garden at 141st Street in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx was the site of one intense battle.
"I am dismayed that New Yorkers for Parks has chosen Lee Stuart to be their new Executive Director," said Activist JK Canepa, who worked on the campaign to defend Hostos-Crimmins. "In her capacity at South Bronx Churches' Nehemiah Corporation, she showed great insensitivity to the beloved Hostos-Crimmins Garden in the South Bronx, choosing instead to refuse to work with the gentle, elderly people who created, tended, enjoyed and shared their garden… nor to the volunteers who tried to find common ground between SBC and the gardeners. Housing and gardens can successfully go together, but only if there is communication between the groups.
Statement from Miss Stuart:
"I am excited to be the new Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks. For many years, I have supported community gardens both professionally and personally. Community gardens give people an opportunity to nurture themselves and the ground beneath in an otherwise concrete city. I look forward to working with the New York Community Garden Coalition, and other park advocates as they do tremendous work to improve their neighborhoods throughout New York City."
Ms. Stuart's credibility was called into question on March 24th during the City Council parks budget hearing at City Hall. She began her testimony saying that NY4P's was the city's only independent organization dedicated to parks. Similarly, on their website, in literature, reports, and in correspondences to funders, they contend that they are "the only independent watchdog for all the city’s parks, beaches and playgrounds. NY4P also represents their non-profit as "independent" while they are in fact a partner with the city according to the Parks Department. This relationship is clearly evidenced on the Parks Department's home page (bottom, right hand side).
During budget the hearing, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe twice thanked their "friends" NY4P's. In an awkward moment for the parks commissioner on Wednesday's Brain Lehrer Show, Mr. Benepe said NY4P's were the only "legitimate" park advocacy group. In Saturday's New York Times, Ms. Stuart said they supported the new park vending rules for artists being proposed by the administration. However the Times did not identify NY4P's various relationships and connections to the Parks Department, nor to the Co-Chair of the Union Square Partnership BID, nor to Danny Meyer who is on NY4P's board. The Union Square Partnership has been publicly critical of what they consider "congestion" being caused by vendors in Union Square Park. The park is one of the four targeted for a dramatic reduction in vendors.
For more information on NY4P's relationship with the Bloomberg administration go to Crain's New York Business and scroll to the Reader's Comments below.
"New Yorkers for Parks is a partner of the Parks Department and is not a truly independent group," one reader posted. "This relationship is clearly advertised on the Parks Department's own homepage. They are inextricably linked to the government and special-interests (e.g., Danny Meyer, shared Board members with Central Park Conservancy, etc.). "
Anyone wanna bet that she gives the thumbs up to the bulldozing of the Ridgewood Reservoir?