Tribeca's Greenwich Street Is Losing the 'Friends' Who Kept It Green

Andrew Frothingham and Lynn Decker, two of the newer members of Friends of Greenwich Street, did some trimming last month. “People thank us for doing it,” Frothingham said. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

May. 02, 2014

For more than 10 years, a tiny, unheralded group of Tribeca residents have been keeping green a five-block stretch of Greenwich Street. Along the wide length of sidewalk outside Independence Plaza, between North Moore and Duane Streets, they have planted, watered and weeded the flower beds and plant­ers.

They have also pruned and watered the many trees.

They are the Friends of Greenwich Street, and over the years they have earned the thanks of passersby but little in the way of help. Now, several of them say, they are giving up.

“The trees, all the plants really need care and there are very few of us who have been giving it,” said Eliz­abeth Allen, 79, who has been part of the group since 2003. “We’re pretty much burned out.”

Even the perennials in the double garden at the southwest corner of Harrison and Green­wich—for many years such a colorful showpiece that it was ceremonially named for its caretakers—will likely wither in the summer sun.

“I think it’s time to wind down now. There are just too many issues that are causing problems,” said Joanne Cap­ozzoli, 69, who painstakingly tended the garden with her husband Ron, 67. “And we’re getting older. It’s just too much work.”

Steve Boyce, the group’s president and driving force since 2003, said that most of the Friends—including himself—don’t have the “vim and vigor” for the job they once did.

“It doesn’t take a lot of people if they’re willing to do something every week,” he added.

Andrew Frothingham, who volunteers with his wife, Lynn Decker, said the job is an ideal opportunity for families with younger kids who want to have some contact with nature. “It’s an education in itself,” he noted.

“Our neighborhood environment is so phenomenally artificial and it has so many things generating CO2,” Froth­ingham said. “The chance to get some balance by caring for plants is just a wonderful thing.”

Boyce is asking anyone who is interested in taking on some of that responsibility to meet with him at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 28 at Tribeca Pizzeria, 378 Greenwich St. They can also call him at 646-610-9986.

Friends of Greenwich Street was first formed in the 1990s by three Community Board members—Nancy Owens, Doug Sterner and the late John Petrarca—who had fought and won a battle to get the city to carry out a long-promised project, the Greening of Greenwich Street. That project, completed in 2000, included the narrowing of the wide street by half to slow the speeding traffic from Hubert to Cham­bers streets. It also added landscaping and benches to the barren sidewalk.

In an agreement with the city that expired long ago, Friends of Greenwich Street was responsible for maintaining the sidewalk, which for years since it was widened has been plagued by cracking and sinking.

The plantings got little day-to-day attention and by early 2003, when Boyce took over, along with most of today’s volunteers, the trees were dead or dying and the flower beds filled with weeds. His group had new trees planted that now are fully grown and, as Boyce puts it, “shading lunchtime crowds and neighborly conversations.”

But without the attention of new “friends,” Boyce noted, those trees will not survive in the years ahead and the gardens could return to weeds. Hostile conditions on the promenade—the heat from Con Ed steam lines beneath the sidewalk and the windy nature of Greenwich Street—mean that they need additional watering.

“Kind of like what happened in ’03, we’re trying to see if there’s a way to pass the ball,” Boyce said, “to whomever is willing to take it.”