On Thursday, NYC Parks and the American Museum of Natural History unveiled the long-awaited final renovations of Theodore Roosevelt Park, which includes an entranceway to the new wing of the museum, the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation. (If you haven’t seen the inside yet, check out our post here.)
The park is the green space which spans the western portion of the museum on Columbus Avenue from West 77th to 81st streets.
“We wanted to pick out what was doing well and build off of that, as well as simplify the palette to create a contemplative place that felt like it connected its context to the rest of the museum campus,” said Project Manager Lydia Cook.
Dan Slippen, Vice President of Government & Corporate Relations at the Museum, said of the new park area, “We wanted it to be accessible. We wanted people to have the passive aspect of this park. We built a beautiful new building that we wanted new visitors to come to that would serve the old and the new without creating too much congestion in the park, and that would protect that place and create new places of respite.”
The “approximately two acres of improvement” include:
- An enlarged Margaret Mead Green, which is now 13,500 square feet. The lawn currently has a “keep off the grass” sign in place, but we were assured that it will come down soon and will be open for passive recreation at designated times throughout the year.
- 15 new park benches, bringing the total from 23 to 38.
- 23 new canopy and understory trees, including Dogwood and Redwood trees.
- A 3x expansion of the entranceway from Columbus Avenue, as well as the introduction of curved walking paths near 78th Street.
- Additional walking areas around the Nobel Monument.
- Grading and a brand new underground stormwater drainage system that holds just under 60,000 gallons to prevent standing water.
In order to achieve a unified organic look, the museum architect for the Gilder Center and the landscape architect for the park have worked closely together since the Gilder Center was first mentioned publicly in 2014. The first renovation stage of the park was started in late summer 2018 and from the beginning, the aim has been to strengthen the connection between the park and the avenue.
Despite its beauty, the museum expansion and park project sparked community concerns after the initial design was unveiled in 2015. In response, AMNH filed new plans in 2016 for the Center to take up less space and for the park to lose fewer trees than had originally been planned. This did not satisfy some of the more vocal opponents, who created a non-profit called “Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park” and in October 2018 got the New York State Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order on construction plans. The group believed that the expansion would “destroy the park and pose a safety threat and environmental hazard to the surrounding community.” By December 2018, that restraining order was lifted, but Community United wasn’t done protesting. In February, they enlisted the help of tennis legend Billie Jean King to speak at a rally focused on how much green space they thought the park was going to lose. The group’s Facebook page went silent in May 2020, and their website has been taken down, but it sounds as if their protests have been heard as more trees have been added since then.