Press Release

March 30, 2020

New York City Public Design Commission Votes to Approve Plans to Enhance Equity and Open Space Access for Adjacent Communities with Re-Imagined Outdoor Center and Restored Landscape

Photo of the Harlem Meer by Timothy Schenck

NEW YORK, NY — Today, the Public Design Commission (PDC) voted to approve the plans to revitalize the natural areas and create a new outdoor facility in the northern portion of Central Park (the Park). This project will better connect Harlem and Morningside Heights communities to recently restored sections of northern Central Park and the Park as a whole. The Central Park Conservancy is leading the design effort for the project, in partnership with NYC Parks.

As recent weeks have demonstrated, Central Park is an essential resource for New Yorkers seeking to maintain their health and wellness. With the need for safe social distancing, many residents are discovering the breadth of the Park and its less-traveled paths.

“So many New Yorkers have expressed gratitude for the Park and the healing power of nature on both physical and mental well-being during these challenging times. This project promotes the collective long-term health of New York, as we all work together to fight this pandemic,” said Betsy Smith, President and CEO of the Central Park Conservancy.

“I have lived in this neighborhood bordering the Park since 1988 and have seen the transformation from a broken and dispirited place to a vibrant neighborhood close to the natural world. We owe this largely to the Conservancy’s recovery of Central Park, in all of its parts. And now, with the need to keep a safe distance from our neighbors, we appreciate the space to be together yet apart, and we are reminded just how important the Park truly is,” said longtime Northern Manhattan resident Jane Reynolds. “In its general principle to restore Central Park to the original Olmsted vision, blended with the needs of our population, they [the Conservancy] have presented something extraordinary. I imagine the pleasure of swimming in a large pool embedded in a natural setting. The inspiration of the Olmsted design has made the Park a place of singular beauty and now attracts millions of visitors every year. The Conservancy’s proposal for the Lasker Rink and Pool would be in keeping with all the wonderful work done so far.”

“I enthusiastically support the project, which will restore the historic watercourse and extend the pedestrian path to create uninterrupted access from the Meer, through the North Woods, to the idyllic 100th Street Pool on the west side of the Park. I applaud that the project proposes to replace the aging and flood-prone existing recreational structure with a new swimming and skating experience that is seamlessly integrated into the Park’s landmarked landscape,” said community leader Barry Schneider. “This project is one to look forward to during these bleak times.”

“I want to express my full support for the proposal, as I believe the design will increase equitable access to a critical community resource, and at a time like this, when so many of us need to spend time outdoors, we must be investing in these resources now more than ever,” said westside resident and Community Board 7 member Cindy Cardinal. “I’d also like to attest to the overwhelmingly supportive public response I have personally witnessed. I think the Conservancy has done a great job soliciting input from the community (for over a year and a half they conducted outreach and responded to all questions and concerns), and I believe the end result will be a vast improvement in terms of equitable access and accessibility, sustainability, utility, the environment, and aesthetics.”

Guided by the Park’s original mission to be “the people’s park,” the Conservancy is committed to increasing the quality of and access to the Park for all New Yorkers. The new outdoor center and restored landscape will break down many of the physical barriers that have, for decades, cut off significant portions of the Park to those entering from the communities to its north. The new facility will be integrated into the natural topography of the site, relinking the network of paths disrupted by the existing structure and opening up access to the North Woods that has been blocked for decades. Equally important, the project will re-establish a stream course that historically flowed into the Harlem Meer and was disrupted when the existing facility was built — a design flaw that resulted in chronic flooding ever since.

As a result, the re-envisioned facility and surrounding landscape will provide superior access for Northern Manhattan communities to the beautiful North Woods, the Ravine, and all that Central Park has to offer. In addition, the redesign will allow the Harlem Meer to serve more New Yorkers with a new facility and restrooms open year-round. The redesign will also include one of the largest pools in the City, a new full-sized regulation hockey rink, enhanced access for birding and fishing, and a new splash-pad for children of all ages.

The designs for this project will address the persistent flooding and other structural issues that have been a perennial problem since the initial construction of the Lasker Rink and Pool, as well as bring the facility's infrastructure up to today’s environmental standards and regulatory codes. The new facility will also be LEED Gold certified, in keeping with the Conservancy’s long-standing commitment to sustainability and resiliency, and in compliance with local NYC laws pertaining to public buildings.