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Back in May 2019, W42ST reported that out of 59 community boards in New York City, our neighborhood was slap bang in the middle of the one that was 57th in line when it came to the planning gods giving out green space. Hell’s Kitchen is now about to spring forward with new parks, gardens, and planters offering vital ecological and financial benefits to the neighborhood. The extension of Bella Abzug Park, a new garden at W53rd Street, the delivery of Pier 97 at Hudson River Park and the creation of the brand-new Lorraine Hansberry Plaza on 10th Avenue are some of the first significant green space additions.
If living through an era where our only collective solace was the great outdoors has taught us anything, it’s that New York’s parks are more vital than ever. A new report from the nonprofit Trust for Public Land (TPL) confirms that not only does a proximity to publicly available green space improve the mental and physical health of urbanites, but it also provides a significant economic benefit and increased real estate value to park-adjacent neighborhoods — a metric which Hell’s Kitchen eco-advocates are trying to match.
“Close-to-home parks that are accessible by walking, cycling, or transit can be used frequently, which translates to greater recreational, health, environmental, and economic benefits. These quantifying park benefits calculated show how parks are critical infrastructure for a livable and sustainable city and need investment on the scale of other systems,” said Carter Strickland, VP of the Mid-Atlantic Region and New York State Director for Trust for Public Land in a statement.
While Hell’s Kitchen has its fair share of gardens, parks, and playgrounds within a short stroll, most residents in Midtown West don’t find themselves directly adjacent to a significant park. Hell’s Kitchen’s many piers, including the new Pier 76, provide essential public space but lack actual lawn and green space. Additionally, above-average rents in HK and Hudson Yards make close proximity to some green spaces, like the High Line, less than attainable.
Hell’s Kitchen’s higher ratio of highrises and concrete over fields of green has led to a stronger presence of urban heat islands, in which impermeable surfaces, a lack of greenery and trees, building height, and heat created by human activities can raise local temperatures by as much as 15-20°.
Hell’s Kitchen is also low on Green Infrastructure, in which structures like rain gardens and stormwater drains from green spaces prevent street and sewer flooding. TPL’s report found that areas with a higher instance of parks created “up to $2.43 billion in avoided stormwater treatment costs through runoff absorbed rather than discharged to sewers, streets, and waterways, and avoided treatment costs for nitrogen in runoff, due to infiltration in parks rather than degrading water quality.”
The NYC Parks Department is actively working to rectify such discrepancies through their Community Parks Initiative (CPI). Since 2014, the CPI has invested over $300 million to renovate and rebuild 67 under-resourced parks in areas with high population density, lower average income, and higher population growth. Said Megan Moriarty, Press Officer of NYC Parks: “We’re always looking for creative ways to expand access to parks in neighborhoods that have a disproportionately low amount of parkland. Access goes beyond just acreage – that’s why we look to design our parks to be multipurpose and serve a variety of users, ages and abilities.”
In addition to the work that NYC Parks is doing to restore existing spaces, the department is also adding a new park at 10th Avenue between W48th and W49th Streets. Said Moriarty: “Lorraine Hansberry Plaza will add more green space to the neighborhood with new seating areas, plantings, and more.”
Several local organizations are also taking up the mantle to ensure that Hell’s Kitchen keeps growing (literally). Meral Marino, horticulture director of nonprofit Clinton Housing Development Company (CDHC), reported that the group is in the process of doing “a big spring cleanup” and have planted daffodils throughout Hell’s Kitchen as part of a yearly initiative to cultivate green spaces. “We have close to 200 sidewalk gardens around the neighborhood,” said Marino, who added that the group is also expanding sidewalk tree pits to further green-ify streets. CHDC is also in the midst of creating an entirely new space to be known as Adam’s Garden at W53rd St, not only featuring new plants but also repurposed materials from a closed slaughterhouse on W39th Street, now fashioned into statues. “They’ll be a real focal point,” she said.
The Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance is also on a mission to improve the neighborhood’s green infrastructure. Patricia Maltezos, Planning and Development Director of the organization told W42ST that their sustainability work “is on a couple of levels — we add more greenery throughout the neighborhood to add oxygen into the air, but we also always ask ‘what else can this improvement provide?'”
She added: “We do all of these projects as a pilot to create a green safe space — people pay attention more if something is atheistically pleasing. We work with the DOT to add planters to sidewalk bumps and curb improvements, creating a safety improvement that also looks beautiful.” The group also recently implemented 20-foot street tree pit planters populated with native pollinators along 10th Avenue. “I can’t imagine the avenue without it.”
This spring NYC Parks and HYHK will also open block 4 of Bella Abzug Park to the public. The three blocks from W33rd to W36th Street between 10/11th Avenues have been popular with the public, featuring rotating art installations, fountains and a playground. The new block between W36/37th is just waiting to be formally handed over to Parks and the Alliance — and the good news is that over the next few years another two blocks will be added to extend that park further.
The hard work of local organizations to boost the neighborhood’s eco-profile could have significant effects on the physical and financial wellness of Hell’s Kitchen. The Trust for Public Land’s study found that the 30,000 acres of city parkland contributed to a $15.2 billion gain in residential property values as well as a $17.9 billion boost in tourism spending and $680 million spent on recreation equipment. City parks also led to $1.14 billion in health care savings for the study’s over one million residents who reported visiting parks to meet CDC guidelines for physical activity.
TPL, in collaboration with the New York City Department of Finance, analyzed that of the 400,000 homes surveyed, five percent of property values were tied to being within 500 feet of a park, with some homes gaining as much as a 20 percent value increase due to park adjacency. According to the study, 99 percent of New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk to a park, though the report noted the distribution of green space across the city was far from equitable — communities of color had 33 percent less green space within a 10-minute radius, and that neighborhoods with a lower average income had 21 percent less park space within the same distance, conveying an urgent need for significant fiscal investment in parks for all New Yorkers. Mayor Eric Adams was recently criticized for proposing a mere 0.5 percent of total budget expenditures to city parks.
For now, local organizers are determined to sow the seeds themselves for a cleaner, greener, Hell’s Kitchen. “We set out to make the neighborhood beautiful so people can enjoy it, especially in the pandemic — we need this space.”