Sustainability in the City: Exploring Stuyvesant Cove Park

By Kelsey Garcia.

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On the edge of Manhattan lies a surprising slice of sustainability: Stuyvesant Cove Park runs along the East River and stretches from 23rd Street down towards 18th Street. Daisy Hoyt manages the park and works in Solar One: a solar-powered educational building located in the park. While the park manager’s “hippie” parents and upbringing sparked her interest in nature, she now plays a large role in one of New York City’s growing sustainable sites. 

For Earth Day on April 22, 2013, Hoyt discussed her goals, the park’s landscape, and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Journalistic Inquiry: What exactly is Solar One?

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

JI: Does the Stuyvesant Cove Park precede the building of Solar One?

H: Solar One was created after the park was built. The park was built 10 years ago after a lengthy community battle. There were plans to fill in the river even more here and develop high-rises, but folks in the community decided they didn’t want that, and fought against it for years and finally they won and they were asked well what do you want and they said we want a park and so the city built a park. And Solar One was created to manage the park.

JI: Before that, what stood in place of the park?

H: It used to be a brown field. So prior to it being a park, it was sort of an abandoned space. There was a bunch of junk, trash, cars. Before that there was I believe a concrete factory, and before that there was a gas refinery.

JI: How is the park funded and managed?

H: It’s city property, so the Economic Development Corporation owns this land, but we have no affiliation with the parks department. It’s independent.

JI: Can you tell us a bit about your daily routine here as a park manager?

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

JI: How would you summarize the overarching goal for Solar One to achieve?

H: Well, Solar One does a variety of things. There’s the education department that runs Kindergarten to Grade12 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.” We have arts programs. Also ultimately we want to build a new building in this space called Solar 2 that will be sort of a model of sustainability with solar panels and geothermal walls and have a classroom space and exhibition space and things like that as well. The architectural plans are done, and we’re just in the last stages of fundraising.

JI: What are some interesting plant species that might attract visitors and tourists to the park?

H: Milkweed is a very interesting plant. It is the host plant for Monarch butterflies. Their larvae eat only Milkweed, so we’ve got a bunch of that…We also have a variety of waterfront plants that I think are neat. We have Bayberry, which is a pretty cool suckering shrub that has really nice scented leaves. We have Monarda…those are really great for butterflies. They [produce] cool flowers in the summer. Also, Carolina Rose—which also has really beautiful flowers in June that smell amazing.

JI: Did Hurricane Sandy affect a lot of this greenery?

H: We had a lot of flooding here, and it also deposited a pretty incredible amount of debris in the park. We filled up I think three dumpsters worth of stuff—at least three dumpsters. It also soaked the park in salt water, and that’s not very good for plants, and at this point I’m waiting to see what comes back and what doesn’t so, so far so good. We’ve been seeing a lot of things come back that I was a little skeptical about…We lost some trees. We lost all of our Eastern Red Cedars. They just got really pushed around by the storm surge. They’re all gone.

JI: In the hopes of rebuilding the park and Solar One, what plans do you have?

H: It would be nice to have some public art in the park, and I’m looking into that with a colleague of mine. Some day, I think it would be nice to have some sustainability-themed public art.

JI: Would you say the park is a fitting symbol for Earth Day?

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

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