Prospect Park Alliance along with NYC’s Parks Department recently unveiled plans for the restoration of Prospect Park’s Upper Vale, Vale of Cashmere, and it sparked some controversy amongst LGBTQ+ advocates.
The proposal was presented during a Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing this past Tuesday, February 28, where the overall layout of the space as well as the design of the proposed restroom facility was questioned.
Prospect Park Alliance senior architect David Yum and senior landscape architect Svetlana Ragulina presented design plans to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) which include constructing a new pollinator meadow, exploration and play areas, a planted arbor with retaining/seating walls, and a wooden pavilion with a green roof and bathrooms.
The issue, however, lies specifically with the proposal for the Upper Vale, which erases the site’s significance as a gathering spot for the community’s local LGBTQ+ community for 40+ years.
“In the 1970s, if not earlier, the Vale of Cashmere became an important cruising, recreational and social gathering space for the LGBTQ community, particularly for the Black queer community,” said Amanda Davis, the project manager of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. “It’s imperative that the Prospect Park Alliance conduct immediate outreach with these communities and that the process be far more transparent and inclusive, so that this socially significant LGBTQ landscape is preserved and interpreted, rather than erased from the history.”
“These changes would irreparably alter the look, feel, significance, and use of this landscape that was designed as a place of natural beauty with later City Beautiful elements and for passive activities,” Davis added.
General concerns regarding breaking up the space into individual areas are also are issue.
The proposed plans divide the upper Vale into three distinct spaces–the new lawn, the play area, and the pollinator garden. Though it’s being argued that the original intent of the Vale, which was originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and built between 1866 and 1873, was to keep the area one unified space.
“Help me understand why, from an appropriateness perspective, it’s okay to break up the space into what basically will become three spaces: the pollinator garden, the discovery area, and the new lawn. Why is that, from an historical preservation perspective, the right choice to make?” asked Commissioner Michael Goldblum.
And while architect Svetlana Ragulina noted the divided design was proposed to make the space more accessible, many other commissioners agreed with Goldblum’s opinion that the Vale should be more of a unified space.
At the end of the day, the LPC doesn’t have the final say on what is built, but rather will have to create an advisory report to present to the Public Design Commission who will then work with Prospect Park Alliance to finalize the designs for the park.
The project was first announced by former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio back in December 2021 in which he announced a historic city-funded $40 million allocation to restore the park.