The South-Water-Front Neighborhood Association
The South-Water-Front Neighborhood Association began as an outgrowth of a neighborhood block party organized by Zette Emmons, Barbara Marks and Gary Fagin in the summer of 1987. A neighborhood directory was produced and the name South-Water-Front Neighborhood Association was chosen in order to set up a P.O. Box and a bank account to receive funds for future block parties, directories and other neighborhood activities. In 1998, the Association became a member of the Seaport Community Coalition, an organization dedicated to improving our lower Manhattan neighborhood through various civic projects.
Since 1991, the main activity of the South-Water-Front Neighborhood Association has been developing and maintaining FishBridge Park- formerly a New York City Operation GreenThumb Garden. In addition to maintaining the Park, the Association provides the community with a focal point and a vehicle for community involvement.
In 1995, an informal set of guidelines were devised for the Association and volunteers were solicited to take on responsibility for various activities, mostly associated with FishBridge Park.
For fifty years prior to the creation of FishBridge Park the city-owned lot on Dover Street between Pearl and Water Streets (Lot 22, Block 106) was an unused, dangerous, rat-infested garbage dump. In recent years the upper part of the lot had been illegally annexed by the neighborhood parking concession.
Starting in the early 1980's, neighborhood residents began pressing the City to clean up and fence the lot. In June 1988, the Seaport Community Coalition applied to Operation GreenThumb, a city agency that oversaw creation of temporary gardens on unused city property, to establish an Operation GreenThumb garden on the lot. Although the Coalition had the support of Community board No. 1, the local elected officials and Operation GreenThumb, the application, and subsequent applications to Operation GreenThumb, were denied by the City's Division of Real Property.
Despite those setbacks, and after the City evicted the illegal parking concessions and fenced the lot in preparation to sell the property, neighborhood volunteers, in September 1990, independently cleaned-up and reclaimed one-half of the lot (the present lower garden) and constructed a few above-ground planting beds and a children's play area.
In the Spring of 1991, the City sent the Seaport Community Coalition a bill for over $6,000 as rent for occupying the lot for six months and an eviction notice to vacate the property. After an extensive lobbying campaign by the Seaport Community Coalition, Community Board No. 1 and local elected officials, and positive press coverage of our success in turning a garbage dump into a make-shift garden and play area for children and dogs, in May 1991, the City agreed to lease the entire lot to the Seaport Community Coalition under its Operation GreenThumb program. As a member of the Coalition, the South-Water-Front Neighborhood Association was designated to oversee the Park.
During the summer of 1992, community volunteers cleaned-up and built 12 above-groud planters on the upper portion of the lot. The upper portion was fenced in for additional use as a dog run and stairs were built to connect the lower portion with the upper portion. In 1995, the Seaport Community Coaltion turned over the Park's lease to the South-Water-Front Neighborhood Association.
The remarkable transformation from rat-infested garbage dump and illegal parking lot to lovely garden, play area and dog run was accomplished entirely by neighborhood volunteers with financial support from community residents, local business, fund-raising events and grants from the MacDonald's/Mollie Parnis Dress Up Your Neighborhood Award.
In January 1995, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York (the Jehovah's Witnesses) bought the parking lot on Pearl Street adjacent to the upper portion of FishBridge Park for the purpose of building a Kingdom Hall. The Jehovah's Witnesses approached the City for Permission to lease temporarily the upper portion of the Park to use as a construction staging area. In exchange for such permission, the Jehovah's Witnesses proposed to rebuild and renovate the upper park.
The South-Water-Front Neighborhood Association held a number of meeting to consider the Jehovah's Witnesses' proposal and in the Fall of 1995 approved the project. A design for a renovated upper Park was agreed upon by Operation GreenThumb, the South-Water-Front Neighborhood Association and the Jehovah's Witnesses. In addition, the Jehovah's Witnesses agreed to supply the Park with water service, electricity and nighttime lighting. With some alternations, the design was approved by the affected City agencies, including the Landmarks Preservation Commission (FishBridge Park is located within the South Street Seaport Historic District).
In 1996, Operation GreenThumb was transferred from the Department of General Services to the Department of Parks & Recreation (the word "Operation" has been dropped). Partly due to the major renovation being undertaken of the upper Park by the Jehovah's Witnesses, GreenThumb and Parks Department officials submitted FishBridge Park to be included in the first group of GreenThumb gardens to be considered for permanent park status under the Department of Parks & Recreation. In March 1996, FishBridge Park became one of the first two GreenThumb gardens to be accorded permanent status as an official New York City Park.
The upper park reconstruction was completed in the Spring of 1997. On June 7, 1997, FishBridge Park was dedicated as a permanent New York City GreenThumb Park by New York City Department of Parks & Recreation Commissioner Henry J. Stern.
Visit FishBridge Park on the NYC Parks website
In 2007, the owners of the small parking lot (276 Water Street) adjacent to the Water Street entrance to FishBridge Park garden approached the South-Water-Front Association. The owners were preparing to build a six-story private home on the parking lot and proposed that, in exchange for using the part of FishBridge Park garden on Dover Street that abuts their building as a construction staging area for 18 months, which would require demolishing and preventing use of that part of the garden, the owners would make a major donation to the Park, and reconstruct any areas of FishBridge Park affected by their construction.
After a number of meetings among the members of the South-Water-Front Association, the SWFNA and representatives of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation signed an agreement with the owners of 276 Water Street stipulating the above terms. In 2010, the construction of 276 Water Street was completed, the reconstruction of the affected areas of FishBridge Park garden were finished, and the entire garden was re-opened to the public.
In 2011, water service was brought to FishBridge Park.
Since 2011, FishBride Park has undergone constant improvement- planter boxes in the garden have been replaced and upgraded; an irrigation system has been implemented in the garden; outdoor furniture has been purchased and installed in the garden and dog run; fences and gates have been replaced or improved.
The impact of FishBridge Park
The impact of FishBridge Park on the community has been remarkable with effects extending well beyond the physical improvement to the neighborhood. Throughout the year, but especially in the Spring, Summer and Fall, the Park is a meeting place for the neighborhood. A visit to the Park on a warm day would likely find young children playing, or possibly participating in a friend's birthday party; adults tending to their gardens; others engaging in discussion, playing with their dogs in the dog run, reading or just taking in our splendid view of the Brooklyn Bridge. On special nights, a visitor to our Park might participate in an outdoor film festival, a Halloween party or Christmas Eve caroling.
We measure our success not only on the clearly apparent physical improvement the Park has brought the community, but also on its success in gaining broad-based community involvement. We are pleased that today over fifty individuals actively maintain the Park on a voluntary basis and hundreds more use and enjoy the Park's facilities and activities, including many residents of neighboring SouthBridge Towers and as well as visiting tourists.
Lower Manhattan has the smallest proportion of open space of any Community Board in the City while its residential population is growing at one of the fastest rates of any area in the City. Park space is sorely needed for children to play, dogs to run and adults to congregate. FishBridge Park has grown to be an extremely important addition to the community and a grand example of how perserverance and good will can create something extraordinary out of nothing.