Volume 80, Number 48 | April 28 - May 4, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Jefferson Siegel

The environmental activists’ banner floated in front of the Washington Square Arch as Parks Department PEP officers moved to get them to take it down.

Activists lament city’s disappointing ‘benchmark’

By Jefferson Siegel

Last Friday, Earth Day, a dozen members of the groups Rainforest Relief and the New York Climate Action Group piled out of a U-Haul truck on Washington Square North. It was just after noon as they pulled out three large, helium-filled weather balloons and guided them to the arch. Within minutes the balloons ascended into the breezy afternoon, lifting a 300-square-foot banner reading, “Mayor Bloomberg: Why Was the Amazon Logged for Wash. Square Park Benches?”

The group claims the city is not fulfilling a pledge made by the mayor in 2008 to reduce the city’s use of tropical hardwoods by 20 percent.

“Benches made with Amazon wood continue to appear in newly renovated parks all around the city,” said Tim Keating, executive director of Rainforest Relief. He cited Washington Square Park, as well as Union Square, the High Line and five miles of Hudson River Park, as examples of public spaces that use Amazon ipe (pronounced “ee-pay”) wood for their benches.

“Almost every board of wood that you see in these new designs has been logged from the Amazon Rainforest,” Keating said.

The group said that in order to harvest ipe — only one or two ipe trees grow per acre — an extensive network of logging roads is necessary, further damaging the rainforest.

As the banner floated high enough to block the Washington Square Arch from view, crowds gathered to watch, some cheering, many holding their camera phones aloft. West Villager Tim Doody, the city campaign coordinator for Rainforest Relief, made sure guide ropes securing the banner were taut.

“There’s a world of difference between what Mayor Bloomberg and the Parks Department have pledged and what’s happening on the ground throughout the city,” the activist said.

“In park after park, we continue to strike a blow against the rainforest, when we could instead be setting a global precedent for sustainability by showcasing the latest design materials,” Doody explained.

East Villager JK Canepa of the New York Climate Action Group held one of the balloon ropes.

“The 400 new ipe benches in Washington Square Park are inexcusable,” she said. “We could showcase sustainable alternatives like Kebony, recycled plastic lumber, black locust and salvaged woods.” Kebonization is a process that strengthens common wood, making it as durable as Amazon hardwood.

Ian Dutton, a Soho resident and public member of Community Board 2, happened by the event and stayed to watch with the sizable crowd.

“It was a nondisruptive and informative expression of political views,” the airline pilot and bicycling activist offered. “The points raised concern me and I intend to find out more about this issue.”

Before long, two Park Enforcement Patrol officers approached the group and told them to reel in the banner. As three police cars arrived, the balloons started losing their lift capability and the group eventually pulled the banner back to earth.

Doody and Keating each received a PEP summons for “Failure to comply with directive of officer.” The violation carries a $250 fine.

“We hope that the mayor will see this banner and maybe take this message to heart on Earth Day,” Doody said hopefully.

As he waited for his ticket, Keating was reflective. 

“We’ve seen no real reduction in the use of these materials,” he lamented. “We’re going on 16 years and about 100,000 acres of rainforest have been logged for New York City’s materials.” 

Last year on Earth Day, Doody and Keating staged a similar action, climbing flagpoles in City Hall Park and dropping a banner reading, “If Bloomberg is so Green, Why is NYC America’s #1 Consumer of Rainforest Wood?”

More information can be found at http://rfny.net/ .

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