By Agnes deBethune
There is a local group who, prior to having received monetary inducement from a commercial entity with eyes on an irreplaceable parcel of our — the people’s — land, never showed the slightest interest in Liberty State Park. They did not lift a finger, shovel, rake, or pen to help make this park what it is today.
They are wrong to hold the park’s feet to the fire over unfulfilled “promises” from a decades-old “Master Plan.” Most likely what they refer to is a document published in 1977 entitled “Guidelines for the Development and Financing of Liberty State Park” by a study commission under then-Gov. Byrne. LSP, at that time, was still essentially an abandoned railyard, heavily scarred by the profligate abuse of industry and commerce.
Most of the people who have championed the cause of these acres over the decades since its abandonment, are ordinary working folks — without deep pockets, but instead, an energetic passionate love of the land. There is an official “Friends of …” group for Liberty State Park (one of the very few specific recommendations in that “Master Plan”). They are a grassroots assemblage of ordinary folks of every background, color and ethnicity to whom we owe much for their hard work in saving this land for the people. But they are just neighbors; they haven’t got money nor the power to protect the park from depredations of well-funded oligarchs and their lackeys. It will take legislation to do that, legislation that has been repeatedly frustrated by the owner of an adjacent golf course, his lobbyist and some of our elected officials.
The often-referenced “Master Plan” is really no plan at all — it is a hodge-podge assemblage of “items for consideration,” preliminary investigations, suggestions for research and requests for proposals, cobbled together by various agencies. It is not, by any means, a prescriptive document. Time has proven some of those suggestions to be moot or just plain wrong. For instance, the argument about whether the water’s edge ought to be reconfigured as a cove is derided as ahistorical, impractical and doomed to fail. Then-DEP Commissioner Boorman speculates that the long cove-shaped pedestrian walkway would be an unnatural configuration, “out-of-scale,” hazardous to children and inadequate in the face of a potential “100-year storm.” Well, I am here as witness that the commissioner was wrong on all counts. Our beloved, well-traversed walkway survived Sandy like a champ — with only a section of washed-out pavers. So much for the “Master Plan.”
Back when the park was still abandoned wasteland, this ruined parcel attracted the attention of architects and the New York art world. On a visit to MoMA, I once saw a pie-in-the-sky architectural exhibit by the Geddes firm (also entitled “Master Plan”) about possibilities for our public space in what was referred to as a “dump.”
Pollution remains an important issue. Earlier notions regarding adequate cleanup have changed. New standards must be implemented for safe use by the public. These things were never satisfactorily addressed in the “Master Plan.” Remediation measures are now more targeted and less harmful to the ecosystem.
Ultimately, decisions will be made as development proceeds. Whether these are good decisions, only time can tell. Here is my personal “wish list”:
- Transportation into and throughout the park: some kind of shuttle bus. It’s a long hike down Johnston Avenuew on the north side and even longer from the other access points.
- Opening up the interior area, with a Phillip Street entrance, is planned and needs further concept development, as conditions and ideas have changed since early plans were dreamt up. The clean-up issue remains divisive; it need not be.
- Designated sports areas should be convenient to those who want them, but away from the passive use of picnickers and strolling families. There is acreage near the park’s north entrance that would be ideal.
These are just a handful of my ideas. Decisions affecting the public require honest dissemination of facts.
Agnes deBethune is a resident of the Lafayette neighborhood of Jersey City.
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