Small Tribeca Green Space May Get a Bit Greener and Less Small
Tribeca’s Duane Park, a treasured oasis of greenery situated in a triangle formed by Hudson Street and two branches of Duane Street, may be in line for an expansion and restoration. Friends of Duane Park, a local advocacy group founded in the 1990s, is leading a campaign to return the park to its roots by undoing decades of “improvements” that whittled away at the perimeter of the space (particularly its southern edge and western point), while also removing trees.
Friends of Duane Park is asking area residents to respond to an online poll and weigh in on three design options. The first two of these would enlarge Duane Park to its historic dimensions—adding roughly 26 percent of its current footprint by extending toward Greenwich Street—but would do so in different ways. One plan would add 1,528 square feet of sidewalk on Duane Park’s southern edge, while expanding green space by 320 square feet. The second option would do almost the inverse, augmenting green space by 1,495 feet, but adding only about 290 square feet of sidewalk (image above). The third option would leave Duane Park as it is.
Another opportunity to weigh in will come Tuesday, October 17, at 6pm, when the Waterfront, Parks, and Cultural Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1) hears a presentation from Friends of Duane Park and considers whether to enact a resolution supporting the plan, which will require approval from both the City Parks Department and the Department of Transportation. This follows a similar discussion in July, 2021, after which CB1 ratified a measure saying that it “supports the Friends of Duane Park in its effort to restore the park’s historic footprint, restoring the sidewalk on the southern perimeter and the 10th tree on the park’s western nose. It is the preference of CB1 that this footprint be set aside explicitly for park use.”
Decades before the current campaign to expand Duane Park, the Friends organization undertook a different restoration, transforming into a verdant garden a space that (by virtue of design standards left over from the 1940s) had been a concrete triangle. The new concept, which debuted in 1999, came from landscape architect (and Duane Street resident) Signe Nielsen, whose design replaced much of the concrete with trees and other plantings, while also creating the meandering pathway that defines the space today. That path evokes an 1860s design for Duane Park by Calvert Vaux, better known to history as the designer of Central Park and Prospect Park.
Ms. Nielsen is also the author of the expansion plans now under consideration. “Duane Park has been through three or four iterations from its early days that entailed basically all kinds of shifting of the south edge, which got narrower and narrower, as a result of widening the roadway for the trucks,” she reflects. “The last major renovation was done in the late 30s/early 40s by Robert Moses.”
“I think what a small park offers is an intimacy, both physical and social, that is hard to get in a large park,” Ms. Nielsen continues. “Small parks provide critical moments of respite—visual and physical. Duane Park offers an incredible shade canopy and the fact that you’re not looking up at skyscrapers, of which there are a few in Tribeca, is really blissful.”
“This is our little gem of a park,” says Karie Parker Davidson, president of Friends of Duane Park. “It acts as a piazza, which means the neighborhood has a place to gather in a way that’s comfortable and accessible and welcoming.”
Of the new effort to expand Duane Park, Ms. Davidson says, “as you might imagine, with coordination between two City agencies and elected officials, it’s going to take some dedication and some time. As small group of volunteers, we will need the support and help of all our neighbors.”