Columbian Park Redevelopment-An Environmental Injustice We Must Stop Before It's Too Late

Columbian Park Redevelopment-An Environmental Injustice We Must Stop Before It's Too Late

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Carter Mathes started this petition to 5th Ward Councilperson Alicia Holman

Dear Mayor Green, Councilperson Holman, Councilperson Brent, and Mr. Jennings:

Many of us (East Orange, NJ residents of the 5th Ward) have been aware of the general plans to rehabilitate Columbian Park going back several years now.  Our neighborhood park has been in need of redevelopment for some time. Indeed, repair has been long overdue-the playground burned down almost a decade ago, our basketball courts are marred by broken up and buckling asphalt with dilapdated boards and rims, our jogging track around the circumference of the park could be resurfaced, and several dead trees have been in need of removal for years. 

A plan for redeveloping the park was put into place several years ago with very general suggestions from community members.  That general plan seems to have been converted into a more specific vision that transforms a community park/green space into a mutli-use athletic/recreational facility which will be fully artifically turfed and will also necessitate the cutting down of roughly 10-15 mature trees along the perimeter of the park. There has been no opportunity for public comment on the final version of this "plan" (specifically on the issues of grass being removed in favor of turf and the old growth trees being cut down) that is set to have construction begin possibly in the next week--and many in the neighborhood have not been informed about the de-greening aspects of the plan.  

Columbian Park is surrounded by residential housing-it occupies the center of a city block with residential backyards abutting the park on three sides.  

Removing our only green space by replacing natural grass with artificial turf and cutting down healthy old growth trees will create a "heat island" (which can raise the temperature in the park by at least 10-15 degrees) in the middle of our community, lower the air quality, and introduce chemical hazards into our air, water, and homes.

Artificial turf is not ‘green’. It is a petroleum product, which as an impermeable surface prevents groundwater discharge, off-gasses VOC’s (volatile organic compunds), disperses pounds of microplastics into the environment, and acts as a heat island.  Unnecessarily eliminating a grassy field with mature trees can hardly be considered “green.”
While there may be some need for municipalities to have artificial playing surfaces to facilitate youth sports programs, there are more fitting locations than a community park in the middle of a residential block to do so.  Removing grass in favor of artificial turf for team athletic play will turn a community green space into a multi-use athletic complex (in an area that does not have the space to responsibly accomodate it) that will no longer directly and primarily serve the community.  

As 5th Ward residents, we will be not only losing valuable green space, but will also now be subject to a variety of health and environmental hazards that negatively impact our quality of life (dramatically increased heat, chemical contamination, increased car and foot traffic, increased litter, bright field lighting being kept on in the middle of a block of residences, just for starters).

Here are links to several sources that explain the health and environmental equity concerns that the artifical turf and tree removal aspects of the park redevelopment plan raise:

"Say No to Artificial Turf on DeHart Field" (similar issue in Maplewood)

"Urban Heat Island Research Aims to Spotlight Disparities and Solutions"

 "Why an East Harlem Street Is 31 Degrees Hotter Than Central Park West-If you want to map inequality in New York, you can just count trees"

We in the community understand the need for Columbian Park to be rehabilitated.  It is one of if not the oldest, most historic city park in East Orange (dating back to 1892), and has been in need of the various fixes outlined above for years.  

We feel that the park can be improved without sacrificing the green aspects of the old growth tree canopy or the open space grass field.  With proper upkeep and drainage, the field can be maintained for athletic activites while remaining a space that the community members can use for non team play activities.  Most importantly, as outlined in the links and points above, the de-greening of Columbian Park will have a negative health and enviromental impact on the majority Black and Brown lives surrounding the park. 

There are many socially responsible redevelopment approaches that could rehabilitate the park while maintaining it as a green space for the community (more natural landscaping to facillitate water/drainage issues, the pruning of mature trees to preserve their healthy canopy, the establishment of natural borders between residence's backyards and the park borders (for example).

We ask that an emergency Ward meeting be convened (virtually or outdoors at the park) before any demolition or construction begins on Columbian Park, so that the community can discuss the detailed redevelopment plan, the environmental impact of the plan, and alternative ways of proceeding with a greener, healthier, and more socially equitable solution.


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