CGC’s Centennial Project: Improving Historic Morningside Park

img1In celebration of its Centennial in 2018, The City Gardens Club has committed to raise $150,000 over three years (2016-18) for an urgently needed renovation of historic Morningside Park in Northern Manhattan.  As a capstone for 100 years of funding significant projects in New York City, this City Gardens Club initiative will renew and beautify the park and enhance its benefit to neighborhood residents from a diverse and rapidly changing demographic mix, including local families and children from area public schools.

Like so many smaller city parks, Morningside has fallen into disrepair due to overuse and lack of funds for renewal (see photo at right). An official city scenic landmark constructed in 1873 by Olmstead and Vaux, Morningside Park is essentially a 30-acre extension of Central Park stretching north from 110th Street under a clifflike hillside beneath the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Columbia University.

For its Centennial project, The City Gardens Club worked with the New York City Department of Parks to identify an important and meaningful public/private partnership project to continue the club’s tradition of supporting underfunded horticultural and beautification programs in underserved neighborhoods. Morningside Park is an important central feature in its diverse neighborhood. Its dramatic features are highly visible from the street, and it is also very accessible to transportation. Improvements to Morningside Park have been a high priority of the Parks Department for several years but it lacked adequate funds for the project. Now the club’s funds will enable the Parks Department’s professionally crafted Morningside Park plan to become a reality, greatly adding to the beauty of the park and improving the surrounding area.

Neglected Urban Landscape

img2Morningside Park features a large ornamental pond currently requiring extensive clearing, at the base of a steep, rocky hillside currently overgrown with invasive plants (see photo on right).

A waterfall that runs down the length of the hill is badly in need of repair. Other features of the park in varying stages of neglect include playgrounds, baseball fields, a handball and a basketball court, barbecuing areas and picnic tables.

Public/Private Partnership with an Engaged Community

img3The Parks Department engaged a landscape architect who prepared a landscaping plan for repairing, refurbishing and enhancing the entire park. Now, with our commitment as their funding partner to restore the pond area, the Morningside Park plan can go forward. The landscaping plan (see below) includes repairing the waterfall and removing invasive plants from the hillside, creating a paved viewing area along the soft edge portion of the pond (see first photo on page 1), creating a semi- circular boulder seating area for school groups, and developing educational opportunities relating to pond ecology.

The Parks Department will use their own funds to repair the pumps of the waterfall and reactivate it, thus freeing Garden Club funds for plantings and enhancements in the six-acre focal point around the pond. The plan calls for extensive planting: shade trees in areas adjacent to the pond to create screening and a more distinct pond “zone,” native species of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants to strengthen the naturalistic aesthetic, plants to establish a broad range of seasonal interest through flower, fruit and leaf color, and a plant palate to attract a greater number of local and migratory birds.

A Sustainable Project with Lasting Impact

img 4The sustainability of this significant project in the historic Morningside Park will be assured by the stewardship of the Parks Department and its employees, such as Arnyce Foster-Hernandez, Administrator for Historic Harlem Parks, our liaison leader (right). Adequate park staff, as well as volunteers from the community group, Friends of Morningside Park, and from Columbia University will be able to maintain the improvements and implement the ongoing environmental educational component of the plan. The high visibility of the park, the importance of the changing neighborhood, and the sustainability of the environmental and horticultural improvements will all enhance the impact of The City Garden Club’s Centennial Project.

Map provided by Peter Eckert, Landscape Architect for Morningside Park Pond Project