Honey Locust Park on the UES received a $1.7 million renovation that removed trees and grass | Upper East Site, Google Street View
Honey Locust Park on the UES received a $1.7 million renovation that removed trees and grass | Upper East Site, Google Street View

Upper East Side Green Space Gets $1.7 Million Renovation, Becomes Less Green

Under the beating sun in stifling 80-degree April heat, NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue, flanked by City leaders and elected officials, unveiled a $1.7 million renovation of a long-neglected Upper East Side green space that ultimately removed most of the green.

Ribbon-cutting at Honey Locust Park featuring DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Ed Pincar, NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue, Council Member Julie Menin, Assemblyman Alex Bores, DEP Deputy Chief Operating Officer Kim Cipriano, NYC Parks Manhattan Borough Commissioner Anthony Perez and Community Board 8 Parks & Waterfront Co-Chair Judy Schneider | Upper East Site
Ribbon-cutting at Honey Locust Park featuring DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Ed Pincar, NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue, Council Member Julie Menin, Assemblyman Alex Bores, DEP Deputy Chief Operating Officer Kim Cipriano, NYC Parks Manhattan Borough Commissioner Anthony Perez and Community Board 8 Parks & Waterfront Co-Chair Judy Schneider | Upper East Site

“Any expansion and reconstruction of open, green space is a win for New Yorkers,” said Commissioner Donoghue, who donned dark gold-rimmed aviator-style sunglasses to block the sun’s intense mid-day rays during Thursday’s 11:00 am ribbon-cutting ceremony at Honey Locust Park, located on East 59th Street between First and Second Avenues.

Honey Locust Park is located on East 59th Street between First and Second Avenues | Upper East Site
Honey Locust Park is located on East 59th Street between First and Second Avenues | Upper East Site

“We’re grateful to our sister agencies at [The Department of Transportation] and [Department of Environmental Protection] for working with us to make this a more welcoming space to sit, relax, and enjoy the shade,” Donoghue added, in a park which ironically contained no shade because the park’s five Honey Locust trees had just begun sprouting leaves.

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Since at least 2009, Honey Locust Park has been little more than a vacant lot that was being used to park Department of Transportation equipment and personal vehicles.

Honey Locust Park was used for personal vehicle parking in 2009 | Google Street View
Honey Locust Park was used for personal vehicle parking in 2009 | Google Street View

Google Street View imagery from August 2021, prior to the start of the renovation project, shows overgrown grass and weeds covering more than half of the lot, except for the spots where the use of DOT vehicles had worn down a driveway.

Grass and weeds covered Honey Locust Park in 2021, while it was being used for DOT parking | Google Street View
Grass and weeds covered Honey Locust Park in 2021, while it was being used for DOT parking | Google Street View

At the Upper East Side park on Thursday, only a thin strip of grass remains in the park’s northwest corner. The rest of the green space is brown mulch speckled with small plants or grey paving stones built in a path designed to accommodate trucks so that DOT can clean the Queensboro Bridge, which abuts the small park.

Most of Honey Locust Park is now covered in brown mulch | Upper East Site
Most of Honey Locust Park is now covered in brown mulch | Upper East Site

“Honey Locust Park provides much-needed green space and tranquility at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge,” said DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez, who didn’t bother to attend the ribbon-cutting event in person.

Only a thin strip of grass remains in the northwest corner of Honey Locust Park | Upper East Site
Only a thin strip of grass remains in the northwest corner of Honey Locust Park | Upper East Site

“The Adams Administration is reimagining the use of public space by making our roads more inviting for pedestrians and cyclists while ensuring access to maintain our infrastructure,” failing to reference the primary issue with Honey Locust Park was that DOT was using it as a parking lot.

The park was previously primarily used by DOT to store equipment and vehicles | Google Street View
The park was previously primarily used by DOT to store equipment and vehicles | Google Street View

According to NYC Parks, Honey Locust Park is technically under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation. However, in 1938, the agency says it was given a permit to use the space as a park indefinitely.

“For many years it was maintained by the community as a neighborhood garden and sitting area,” NYC Parks said in a news release.

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However, more recently, it appears the green space was simply neglected, occupied during a construction project that lasted several years or used to store DOT equipment, fleet vehicles and personal cars.

Two Honey Locust trees near the park's main path were removed after falling during a storm, according to NYC Parks | Google Street View
Two Honey Locust trees near the park’s main path were removed after falling during a storm, according to NYC Parks | Google Street View

While lacking in actual greenery until the trees fill out with leaves, the new Honey Locust Park provides a far better use of public space than the alternative — with plenty of brand new benches installed throughout the space, as well as water fountains and a bottle filling station. There’s even a plastic glove dispenser so dog owners can clean up after their pets.

Honey Locust Park is located on East 59th Street between First and Second Avenues | Upper East Site
Honey Locust Park is located on East 59th Street between First and Second Avenues | Upper East Site

Upper East Side City Council Member Julie Menin noted that the renovation the public space next to the Queensboro Bridge was “critical for residents who live near this busy thoroughfare.”

“The revitalization of this valuable parkland will welcome more of our neighbors as they access upgraded benches, plaza space and landscaping,” Menin explained.

Water fountains, a bottle fill-up station and plastic gloves for pet waste are also available | Upper East Site
Water fountains, a bottle fill-up station and plastic gloves for pet waste are also available | Upper East Site

In addition to the obvious improvement of using the public park as a public park instead of a parking lot, the renovations will also serve to “absorb the stormwater that falls on it which will help to relieve localized flooding,” according to the Department of Environmental Protection, which contributed $750,000 towards the project.

Most of Honey Locust Park is covered in brown mulch or paving stones | Upper East Site
Most of Honey Locust Park is covered in brown mulch or paving stones | Upper East Site

“Small parks dotting the neighborhood provide needed respite,” said New York State Assembly Member Alex Bores, who represents the Upper East Side, “This project took perseverance and creativity.”

“Honey Locust Park perfectly embodies the paradox of New York City – this serene respite abuts and coexists with a major traffic artery,” added Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, adding “The value of this park to the community cannot be overstated.” 

Correction: An earlier photo caption indicated the two missing trees had been ‘chopped down.’ NYC Parks tells Upper East Site that the trees were removed after they fell during a storm in September 2022.

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