Stuyvesant Cove Park: A Sustainability Gem Uncovered by Daisy Hoyt

By Lara Tabbara.

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Stuyvesant Cove Park, which stretches out over 2 acres, is surrounded by a highway, a gas station and a power plant. Yet it still offers an incredulous view of the river.

Earth Day is an annual celebration of environmental protection and conservation. Stuyvesant Cove Park is an icon for sustainable development and alternative sources of power. Previously an abandoned industrial site and parking lot, the park has been transformed into a open habitat for a biodiversity of native plants and animals. Lodged between the FDR and the East River, this piece of land is an inspiration for NYC’s green development.

Solar One, an environmental learning centre, maintains the park and promotes green energy to their volunteering youth. Their site on the North End of the park is covered in Solar Panels.

Daisy Hoyt, the park manager is responsible for the park and supports its mission, which is to use only native plants and organic, harmless fertilizers in order to create life in this man-made concrete jungle.

NYU: How did you get interested in working with the environment?

Daisy Hoyt: I have always been interested in horticulture, I grew up in a rural area and my first job was at a greenhouse.

NYU: How long have you worked at Solar One in collaboration with Stuyvesant Cove Park?

Hoyt: Five years.

NYU: Could you please describe some of your daily tasks?

Hoyt: I order supplies, I arrange community events, I deal with various community folks and I go to community board meetings, things like that. I oversee a seasonal gardener and a maintenance person and I write reports, grants and various managerial things like that.

NYU: Could you please tell us about the history of Stuyvesant Cove Park? How was the land used prior to its green transformation?

Hoyt: It was a Brownfield, so prior to it being a park it was an abandoned space. There was a bunch of junk, trash, and cars. And before that I believe there was a concrete factory. And before that it was a gas refinery, I think.

NYU: Is Stuyvesant Cove Park affiliated with any other parks in New York City?

Hoyt: It’s independent. Stuyvesant Cove is managed by Solar One and it has no connections to the Parks Department. We’re connected to East River Park via the bike path, but we don’t overlap in management.It is city property, so EDC (Economic Development Corporation) owns this land, but we have no affiliation with the Parks department.

NYU: How are native plants important to the development of the Park?

Hoyt: There are a couple of reasons. One: native plants provide habitat for native animals. Two: native plants are endemic to the region and theoretically are easier to grow, that’s not necessarily true. And three: it’s just educational, it provides an example of how native species can be beautiful, and also of how to educate people on what occurs naturally around them, to get people interested in the natural world in their immediate surroundings.

NYU: How do you decide which species of plants will flourish on this land over the aim for biodiversity?

Hoyt: I really like variety; we have about 100 different species and I like that number. But I do have to focus on what will grow and what is actually practical.

NYU: How would you characterize the role of Solar One in maintaining the park?

Hoyt: The Park was built actually before Solar One existed. The park was built about 10 years ago, after a lengthy community battle. There were plans to fill in the river even more here and develop high-rises, some big development, but folks in the community decided they didn’t want that and fought against for years. Finally they won and they were asked, “well what do you want?” and they said, “We want a park;” so the city built a park. So, Solar One was created to manage the park.

NYU: What is Solar One’s Mission?

Hoyt: Solar One does a variety of things, they have the education department that runs K-12 programming throughout schools, in schools throughout the city, they also have a workforce training program in Long Island City that trains folks for Green jobs and we have arts programs, ultimately also we want to build in this space a new building called Solar Two that will be a model of sustainability with solar panels and geothermal walls, and have an exhibition space and NYUroom space and things like that.

NYU: How would you describe Solar One to be a role model of a sustainable house?

Hoyt: Solar One is an educational facility and it was built as a model for a sustainable house, so the roof is covered in solar panels, it’s very well insulated, it has variety of other things that make it more sustainable than other places.

NYU: How is Stuyvesant Cove Park, along with other of New York City’s sustainably maintained parks, icons for environmental preservation and green development?

Hoyt: It’s a great example of how you can manage a space sustainably. We’re right between a gas station, a highway and a power plant. We are all thinking of how to grow plants without using pesticides and inorganic fertilizers and things like that.

NYU: What are some of the challenges of sustainable development in an urban surrounding?

Hoyt: We have lots of challenges, I would say, the biggest challenge that comes with being in an urban place is foot traffic. People don’t really understand that walking through the beds or letting their dogs walk through the beds is damaging. Other than that, this is a very exposed location; it’s very hot and bright in the summer. Lastly, the highway is right there, there’s air pollution.

NYU: How do you handle such difficulties?

Hoyt: It’s sort of an ongoing experiment to find species that do well here that can handle things like foot traffic, soil compaction, air quality etc. So that’s really my main goal is to find species that will thrive. I’m always looking for new species!

NYU: What kinds of people go through the park?

Hoyt:  All kinds. Generally, I don’t think we have that many tourists. Lots and lots of joggers and bikers, lots and lots of dog walkers and lots of people just wanting to come hang out by the water or just sit in a park.

NYU: Do most people appreciate the park for what it is? Do they demonstrate some curiosity; are they aware of its sustainable mission?

Hoyt: People are very curious, they generally seem very open to it and they have lots of questions about solar power and things like that.  Some 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 very curious and they ask questions and really are intrigued by the idea of all native species and things like that.

NYU: How would you describe the educational aspect of Stuyvesant Cove Park and its management by Solar One?

Hoyt: In addition the educational signs, I run several walks throughout the year to talk about the plants and various other things of interest in the park. One of these days I may partner with the education program to come up with a park ecology NYU or something.

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One of the many educational signs displayed throughout the park, describing the native plant species.

NYU: Where do you find some of your interns?

Hoyt: Solar One runs a variety of pretty disparate programs, all linked by the theme of sustainability. Our interns we get from a high school called Manhattan Comprehensive day and night high school, and they run an internship program out of their school. We’ve had a long running partnership with them.

NYU: How is the park significant to Earth Day?

Hoyt: It’s an example of sustainability and worker, it’s a good example of how parks can be managed sustainably and provide wildlife habitat and be beautiful, all that good stuff.

NYU: Did Solar One host any type of event for Earth Day?

Hoyt: I don’t think Solar One is doing anything specifically for Earth Day. Different programs are participating in different events around the city. I participated in a volunteer day on Saturday, I hosted one here through New York Cures.

NYU: How has Hurricane Sandy hindered the progress or maintenance of the park?

Hoyt: So we got lots of flooding here and it also deposited a pretty incredible amount of debris in the park. We filled up, I think, 3 dumpsters worth of stuff. It also soaked the park in salt water and that’s not very good for plants and at this point I’m still waiting to see what comes back and what doesn’t. So far so good, we’ve been seeing a lot of things come back that I was a little skeptical about.

NYU: Which plants are you most worried about?

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 Seeders, they’re evergreen trees and they just got really pushed around by the storm surge, and so they’re all gone. I am also worried about some of our other Woodland species that don’t have any natural tolerance to salt.

NYU: How was the funding of the park affected by Hurricane Sandy?

Hoyt: Our funding has been pretty steady, since I’ve been here. It is funded by a variety of private sources; the park is also funded partially by the city. This year though, we’ve had to spend a lot of money on new tools, new supplies, new plants, and other services because of Sandy. We lost a lot of our tools and maybe we’ll have lost a lot of our plants too; that still remains to be seen.

NYU: How have you dedicated your life to the preservation of the environment?

Hoyt: I would always like it to be a focus in my life. It’s always been a presence in my life; my parents are hippies!

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