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More than a year ago, the New York City Parks Department inaugurated the program Parks Without Borders. The idea? An obvious one: There are thousands of forbidding, disused, gated corners, squares and parks in town. They should be opened up, made accessible, inviting and useful. The Parks Department asked New Yorkers to propose sites.
In recent weeks, Republican lawmakers have laid the groundwork for giving away hundreds of millions of acres of federal land. And these last few days have reminded us that we express who we are, and what we believe, in public spaces, not just big ones like the National Mall. Every year, five million people visit the American Museum of Natural History in Theodore Roosevelt Park. The park stretches from 77th to 81st Streets, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. Increasing numbers of pedestrians have made those blocks along Columbus — with a Shake Shack serving as a de facto museum cafeteria, and a farmer’s market during weekends — among the busiest on the Upper West Side.
The roughly acre-size southwest quadrant of the park has long been gated and closed to the public. Around the time Parks Without Borders was announced, the museum unveiled plans for a large expansion facing Columbus. The expansion will take over a precious quarter-acre of parkland near 79th Street. In return, I wrote back then, the museum ought to nudge the Parks Department and neighborhood representatives to unlock the closed area at Columbus and 77th Street — and also offer to chip in for landscaping and maintenance. The area could get the same treatment as the north side of the park, which is a network of winding paths through gated lawns under pretty, old trees. […]