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Residents and commuters to Brooklyn Heights might be enjoying the smell of freshly cut grass and contemplating the memorial to the veterans of World War II in Cadman Plaza Park. But the park is fenced off from the public, while backhoes rip up the sod in preparation for the installation of an artificial grass playing field.
Neighborhood residents, whose children and pets play on the lawn and who themselves like to stroll on it, are protesting the $2 million project. Some comprehend artificial turf as an insult to the veterans who are memorialized at one end of the greensward being ripped up, and the rape of Cadman Plaza illuminates is a sad, but illuminating story.
Contrast it with Central Park, which is public land that is surrounded by private apartment houses and hotels whose owners and residents help take care of it. As a result, it’s a jewel. No need to put in fake grass on the Great Lawn there. Cadman Plaza, on the other hand, is at the center of a “Civic Center” of the sort that such observers as Jane Jacobs, may she rest in peace, have recognized in San Francisco, Boston, and elsewhere as recipes for deserted, windswept blight.
One side of the park is bordered by the federal courthouse and the new emergency management bunker that the city government is building to replace the one lost on September 11. The street in front of them has been seized by the government for the convenience of its employees, who get to park there while the ordinary people of Brooklyn have to drive around looking for parking places.
Nearby is the main Brooklyn Post office and the government’s Mitchell-Lama program. When the government crowds out private ownership, one gets fake grass, or the dustbowl that preceded it. Give that Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki have lavished huge subsidies for everyone from investment bankers to sports team owners, it says something that the government couldn’t find the funds to grow grass on a war memorial that sits at the heart of Brooklyn’s civic core. Our sentiments are with the protesters who have rallied against the plastic grass being installed by the parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe. They have done so on their own time, as volunteers, in the face of government intransigence. They represent the civic involvement that makes this city great and gives us confidence in its future. Call them the grassroots.