By: Magdalena Petrova
Tucked away at the intersection of East 20th Street and FDR Drive, right in between one of the city’s busiest gas stations and major highways, Stuyvesant Cove Park offers visitors a rare open green space overlooking the East River. In addition to providing a habitat for a variety of native plants and animals, the park, which is maintained by Solar One – an organization dedicated to promoting urban sustainability and education, – also houses New York City’s first stand-alone solar powered building (Solar 1).
In an interview with NYU, Stuyvesant Cove Park manager, Daisy Hoyt, discusses the park’s importance as an active symbol of the city’s green sustainability efforts and explains how the park embraces the values of Earth Day.
NYU: What was this land used for before it was transformed into a park?
Daisy: This land used to be a brownfield. Prior to it being a park, it was a sort of abandoned space. There was a bunch of junk, cars, and trash. Before that, I believe there was a concrete factory and before that there was a gas refinery.
NYU: How do you describe Solar 1[the building]?
Daisy: Solar 1 is an educational facility that was built as a model for a sustainable house so it has a roof that is covered in solar panels, it’s well insulated, and has a variety of other things that make it more sustainable.
NYU: Did Solar One take the initiative to oversee the management of the park?
Daisy: No, Solar One was created after the park was built around ten years ago after a lengthy community battle. There were plans to fill in the river even more here and develop highrises, but members of the community decided they didn’t want that and fought against it for years and finally won. When they were asked what they wanted instead, the people said that they wanted a park. Solar One was then created to manage the park.
NYU: What is Solar One’s mission here?
Daisy: Solar One does a variety of things. They have an education department that runs K-12 programming through schools within the city, they also have a workforce training program in Long Island City that trains people for green jobs. Solar One also has art programs. Ultimately we want to build here, in this space, a new building called Solar 2 that will be sort of a model of sustainability through its use of solar panels and geothermal walls. The building will contain an exhibition space and classroom space.
NYU: Does Stuyvesant Cove Park connect with other parks in the city?
Daisy: Stuyvesant Cove Park is independent. It is managed by Solar One and we have no affiliation with the park’s department. We are connected to East River Park via the bike path, but we don’t overlap in management.
NYU: What are the challenges of maintaining such a park in an urban area?
Daisy: We have lots of challenges. I would say the biggest challenge that comes from being in an urban place is foot traffic. People don’t really understand that walking through the [flower] beds or letting their dogs walk through the [flower] beds is damaging. Other than that, this is a very exposed location here so its very hot and bright in the summer. Lastly the highway is very near and there is air pollution.
NYU: What are you doing to manage these negative effects on the park?
Daisy: It’s an ongoing experiment to find species that do well here and can handle things like foot traffic, soil compaction, and air quality. So that’s really my main goal: to find species that will thrive in this environment.
NYU: How did Hurricane Sandy affect the park? We are seeing that a lot of the plants haven’t come in yet.
Daisy: That’s pretty normal at this time of the year. We got lots of flooding here and the storm also deposited a pretty incredible amount of debris in the park. We filled up at least three dumpsters full of [debris] from the park. Sandy also soaked the park in salt water and that’s not very good for plants. At this point I’m sort of waiting to see what comes back and what doesn’t. So far so good. We have been seeing a lot of things come back that I was a little skeptical about.
NYU: What about the animals, were they affected?
Daisy: Well the birds weren’t necessarily affected by the storm. Other than that we don’t really have ground animals except for rats. And they’re back.
NYU: What plants are you most worried about?
Daisy: I have a couple of species of Monarda that are not very salt tolerant. We did lose some trees. We lost all of our Eastern Red Ceders. They’re evergreen trees and they were just really pushed around by the storm surge and so they are all gone. I am also worried about some of our other woodland species that don’t have any natural tolerance to salt.
NYU: Why is it so important for the park to just grow native plants?
Daisy: There are several reasons. One, native plants provide habitat for native animals. Two, native plants are endemic to the region and theoretically are easier to grow, though that is not necessarily true.
And finally, it is sort of an educational tool to provide an example of how native species can be beautiful and to inform people about what occurs naturally around them and to get them interested in their immediate surroundings.
NYU: What are some of the notable/interesting species [of plants] that grow here?
Daisy: Milkweed is a very interesting plant because it is a host plant for Monarch butterflies. Their larva actually eat only Milkweed. We have three different species of Asclepias, which is the genus of Milkweed and Monarch butterflies also like all three of those. We also have a variety of waterfront plants like Bayberry, which is a sort of neat suckering shrub that has really nice scented leaves. We have two species of Monarda which are really good for the butterflies and have very cool looking flowers in the summer. Caroline Rose also has really beautiful flowers in June, which smell amazing.
NYU: What type of people go through the park on a daily basis? Any tourists?
Daisy: Generally we don’t have that many tourists. We get mostly joggers, bikers, dog walkers, and people who just want to come hang out by the water or just sit in a park.
NYU: What do you find people’s reactions when they come to the park and they see this building [Solar 1] here and they don’t necessarily know what it is or what it does? What do they make of it?
Daisy: People are very curious. They seem very open to it. They have lots of questions about solar power and things like that.
NYU: Do you think the park goers appreciate the efforts that you are making here with the preservation of rare wild flowers and the use of solar panels?
Daisy: I think some people absolutely do. Other people just value it as a green space and they don’t necessarily know much about plants or ecology and that’s fine. Some people are curious and ask questions and really are intrigued by the idea of all native species.
NYU: What would you do to improve the current sustainability efforts?
Daisy: It would be nice to have some public art in the park and I am looking into that with a colleague of mine. I think it would be nice to have some sustainably themed public art.
NYU: How does this park fit into the larger idea of New York? Could it be an icon for sustainability?
Daisy: Absolutely, it’s a great example of how you can manage a space sustainably. We are right between a gas station, a highway, and a power plant which is a good contrast.
NYU: How is the park an icon of Earth Day?
Daisy: The park is an example of sustainability in action and a good example of how parks can be managed sustainably, provide wildlife habitats, and be beautiful.
NYU: Are you dedicating your life to environmental concerns and efforts?
Daisy: Yeah, I would like it to always be a focus in my life.
NYU: What attracted you to it [sustainability efforts] initially?
Daisy: Environmental concerns have always had a presence in my life: my parents are hippies.