December 14, 2015; DNAinfo New York
Tina Fey may be funny, but her Upper West Side neighbors aren’t laughing. Many of her fellow residents are going to be protesting the Friday opening of her new movie with Amy Poehler, Sisters, in an effort to get her attention. The protest will be part of a long effort by residents opposed to the ambitious expansion of the American Museum of Natural History, of which Fey is a trustee on the board.
The board voted to approve the design of the $325 million Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation in November, though the intention to expand was first proposed earlier this year. The new addition is meant to encourage hands-on learning, which is particularly important, as the museum is a common stomping ground for class field trips and visits.
However, since its proposal, many residents have been up in arms. The primary concern is that the expansion will overtake some of the precious public green space in Theodore Roosevelt Park, considered a vital part of the neighborhood. Originally, the plan called for using more of the small park’s land, but following initial feedback from concerned residents and individuals in November, the museum has altered how much parkland it will use for the expansion.
Although Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park, the nonprofit dedicated to preserving the park, is not officially affiliated with this protest, some members will be taking part, and the nonprofit has voiced its own criticisms of the project. (The group’s Change.org petition has garnered 2,500 signatures.) It has said that the museum should use its own space instead of the park, which is not museum property.
Other concerns touch on the area’s relative quiet, which would be disturbed with more foot traffic after the expansion. “I don’t see how we can have both this hub where tons of people are still coming in and still maintain the quiet peaceful area,” said Marlee Wynman, a local to the Upper West Side who attended a town hall meeting back in November. The museum architects have said the parts of the park that will be lost in the project, trees and benches, will be added in return.
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Cary Goodman, the organizer of the protestor and resident of the Upper West Side, said the goal of the protest is to persuade Fey to “become a voice that goes the other direction,” using her star power to convince her fans of the merits of their position.
“Ms. Fey owes her neighbors an explanation: why did she vote for this plan?” said Goodman in a statement.
The museum’s reaction to the protest was as expected, although they have said that the expansion has been “greeted favorably by so many.”
“Like all decisions of the Board of Trustees, they are made by the Board as a whole and not by any single member,” said the museum in a statement when questioned about Fey. “We also know that there are many discussions and public meetings ahead, and they will provide an ongoing opportunity for members of the public to express their views and get information.”
Indeed, town hall meetings have been held already, including community groups, stakeholders, and elected officials.
Whether or not Fey will oppose the expansion as the protestors wish, it’s clear that the museum will have to work with residents and the community to have a positive outcome. Given that both the museum and the park are landmarked places, there is the necessity for a public review, starting with the Community Board 7, proceeding to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and then the Public Design Commission.—Shafaq Hasan