A group of residents has joined forces to revitalize Christopher Park
West Village New York has been steadily shedding its 20th century reputation as a filthy city with garbage-lined streets, an effort usually attributed to sweeping policy overhauls by past mayors. But a major, if overlooked, reason Manhattan has remained in such good shape is because of neighborhood community groups volunteering their time to keep the borough looking beautiful.
The Village, once known as a dangerous and wild part of Manhattan, has outgrown its bad reputation. Christopher Park, a small green space located right at the heart of the West Village, is one of the spots that has attracted people to the historic neighborhood. Many people have visited the triangular park since its creation in 1837, and it is now the home of the only public statue commemorating the Gay Rights Movement in America.
But now, despite its surrounding neighborhood's steady rise, the park has been slowly deteriorating since the mid 1990s, after the local group that had been maintaining it abandoned the project. Andre Becker has been living in the West Village since 1994, and after noticing that the beloved pocket of greenery was going to the weeds, he decided to start up a new group of volunteers to turn the park around.
"I really noticed over the past couple of years that the park was seeing a major decline. It wasn't very colorful, there was a lot of brown, and it was being overtaken by weeds," Becker explained. "Not knowing any better, I thought that keeping this park in good condition was solely up to the Parks Department, but once looking into it more I realized smaller parks are mostly maintained by a community group working with Parks."
Late last summer Becker helped form a new group of community activists called the Christopher Park Partnership (CPP) in an effort to restore the park to its former glory. Partnering with the City Parks Foundation Partnership for Parks, they have developed a plan for revitalization, which was approved by the Parks Department and is now underway. The Parks Department will cover the costs for repairs, tree pruning, and daily maintenance, but CPP needs to raise funds to cover the cost of the larger initiative project. Their main focus right now has been to get a new irrigation system in place. According to Becker, a Con Edison steam pipe burst on the edge of the park, completely frying the soil. In addition to the burst pipe, the soil has been filled with decaying plants for years and needs to be replaced. The last renovation was in the mid 1980s, and the soil has been completely exhausted.
This past Sunday the group held a community garden day, telling their neighbors through word of mouth and their Facebook page to volunteer their time in the garden for a day to get involved with their efforts. It was a gorgeous day filled with some old and new faces, and a successful effort to show their neighbors all the hard work they've been pouring into their patch of earth.
The park's entrance was covered with colorful flowers, and the 140-year-old wrought iron fence sported a fresh coat of paint. Ria Boemi has been involved with CPP after hearing about their efforts from a friend at a Christmas Party this past holiday season. The park is right outside her front door, and like Becker she has noticed the decline in its appearance over the past few years. Boemi said that the most rewarding part of getting involved with the park has been the positive response from fellow neighbors.
"When we are in the garden working, people are constantly stopping by to thank us," she said. "Everyone in the neighborhood has been so supportive. Making the park look good has raised the spirit of the entire block."
If you want to get involved, or donate to the cause, you can support the Christopher Park Partnership by visiting their website at www.christopherpark.org and liking their Facebook page to get updates on different events and fundraisers.