FYI: The Battle Over Dead Dog Park May 1 1994
NEIGHBORHOOS REPORT: WASHINGTON HEIGHTS; A Battle Lost, a Bridge Won
By MONIQUE P. YAZIGI
Published: May 01, 1994
Published: May 01, 1994
After two years of community opposition to plans to build a new psychiatric center at 165th Street just west of Riverside Drive, the ground has been cleared and construction is well under way.
But the battle was not for naught, say the center's defeated opponents as they wait for their consolation prize: a $2 million footbridge connecting Washington Heights to Fort Washington Park, a verdant, virtually unused 146-acre strip tucked away along the Hudson River under the George Washington Bridge.
The hospital, the New York State Psychiatric Institute, is being built with Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. The site is a piece of land along the West Side's greenbelt long believed to belong to the Parks Department. Years ago, the New York City Parks Commissioner, Henry J. Stern, even named it Dead Dog Park…because he once found a canine corpse there.
An overgrown woodland dotted with abandoned tires and litter, Dead Dog Park occupies a pivotal location partway between the giant Columbia-Presbyterian complex and Fort Washington Park, a well-equipped but little-used oasis (eight tennis courts, softball fields, sprawling river views, a tiny red lighthouse). Only the most determined parkgoer dares the journey under deserted tunnels and across oncoming traffic where Riverside Drive turns into the Henry Hudson Parkway.
Community groups adopted Dead Dog Park, pressuring the Parks Department to clean it up. So it was with surprise and alarm that they learned of plans for the psychiatric institute. It turned out that the land belonged to Columbia University and Columbia-Presbyterian, which had had it condemned, turning it over to the state. And the state, at the hospital's request, approved the use for the institute. Residents launched petition drives aimed at the state, Columbia-Presbyterian and Parks, asserting that a parking lot on the east side of Riverside would be a better site.
And while the powerful partnership of the state and Columbia-Presbyterian prevailed, the drive impressed upon them the need to mollify the community. That is translating into financial support for the footbridge.
"It's a loss to the city to put the psychiatric center up on that space," said Jessica Brockington, a member of the Heads Up Project/Hacia Adelante Neighborhood Association, which lobbied for the footbridge. "But if the building provides a facelift to the neighborhood and we get access into the most beautiful park in the city, they will live with the center."