“This is not a story about cricket, its popularity, and whether New Yorkers would support the expansion of it. The issue here is the proper use of public parkland.”

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The parade grounds at Van Cortlandt Park.

Published reports supporting the proposal to construct a temporary cricket stadium in Van Cortlandt Park indicate that the objective is to promote cricket in New York City.

But this is not a story about cricket, its popularity, and whether New Yorkers would support the expansion of it. The issue here is the proper use of public parkland. If the mayor had proposed to build a stadium in an appropriate place, parks, recreation, and sports advocates would be the first on board to support it.

Instead, the selection of the Van Cortlandt Park Parade Grounds for a temporary 34,000-seat sports stadium makes no sense.

To put it a place that is heavily used by thousands of people who desperately need open space and parkland is destructive. It’s been well documented that the people of the Bronx have the worst health indicators in the state, and one thing that helps is open air, recreational and athletic space, as well as comfortable locations for families and friends to congregate and build community.

To take precious parkland from those people for even one month would be egregious, let alone the six months they’re predicting, which conveniently avoids discussion of the realities of deconstruction and restoring the natural lawn of the parade grounds, which could take years.

And what about the school track teams who come from across the country to run on VCP’s world-renowned cross-country trail and the thousands of other runners who come to train there, as well as softball, baseball, and soccer teams that use that parkland?

The proposed site is an historically sensitive location, which includes an Enslaved African and Kingsbridge Burial Ground, an historic museum where George Washington once slept, and an Indian burial ground as well. It’s also just yards away from one of the city’s biggest and most important environmental projects, the $130 million daylighting of Tibbetts Brook, a project that’s been decades in the making.  

In New York City we have basic standards of environmental review before anything of this magnitude can be considered, especially in a park. You can’t just point a finger and say, ‘OK, put it here.’ Start with state legislation to alienate the parkland and then move on to ULURP and Environmental Impact Statement review. Those things take months, if not years to complete.

Furthermore, how can any analysis of this project not include where attendees’ cars are going to park? Certainly there’s no space for that in the park or anywhere near the park. Citi Field, for example, holds 42,000 people and traffic backs up on the Van Wyck and Grand Central each game night. There’s also a transit infrastructure there designed for tens of thousands. Nothing like that exists anywhere near Van Cortlandt Park.

What about after the tournament is over? Who is going to pay for the restoration of the parkland and how long will it take for the 1.4 million people of the Bronx to get their parkland back? It took years and considerable deliberation for the city to find a location for a soccer stadium for New York’s professional soccer team. The International Cricket Council thinks it can come into a public park, build a monstrosity, and just walk away?

Unknowingly, the ICC has stepped into an open wound in regards to the Bronx and Van Cortlandt Park. In 2004, after a protracted fight with the community, 45 acres of the parkland were stolen from the Bronx with the construction of the Croton Water Treatment plant.  The list of broken promises on that project is long. Sorry, we’re not falling for that again.

Make no mistake, people in the Bronx support the sport of cricket. That’s why Van Cortlandt Park is proud to have hosted it for many years. We’d love to see opportunities for playing and watching cricket expand. But Van Cortlandt Park is not the place to do it.  

Simply put, if there are attempts to move forward, there will be lawsuits and public protests. So instead of promoting the sport, cricket will become a target of derision. It’s best to keep the temporary cricket stadium out of Van Cortlandt Park.

A lifelong Bronxite, Gary Axelbank is the host of  BronxTalk and the Bronx Buzz on BronxNet television.

To reach the editor behind this story, contact Jeanmarie@citylimits.org.