A long-running fight over a popular section of Fort Greene Park that has been turned into a dustbowl by pick-up soccer players appears to be nearing a happy settlement, thanks to the help of the local councilwoman.
The desiccated lawn near the DeKalb Avenue and Washington Park entrance has been a source of testy relations among footballers and parents, whose children frolic in a nearby playground. Parkgoers who favor passive use of the landmark park have also been perturbed at the sight of the worn out pitch.
“They’ve been complaining for a long time about this,” said Jacob Gayle, one of the players, who toured the park and checked out alternate sites last Friday with Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) and Parks Department officials.
“We need a soccer place and this is a park. We just want to play soccer. We don’t want to complain or fight.”
But other park users certainly did complain — and James brought the players and the Parks Department into her office last week for a shootout. The goal was to find an alternate site for the athletes to lace up their cleats, no easy feat in a neighborhood with chronic shortages of open space.
The players ruled out the idea of moving to the less-trafficked northern side of Fort Greene Park, near Myrtle Avenue, because the lay of the land was not flat enough.
Yet a tentative solution was put forward that would get the players time on proper fields, like Brooklyn Tech HS’s artificial turf on Clermont Avenue near Fulton Street or at Long Island University’s field on Willoughby Street.
To smooth things over, the soccer players offered to pay to reseed the arid patch of Fort Greene Park.
The conflict around the so-called “Dust Bowl” has been longer, yet far less violent, than the other Soccer War fought between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969. The most recent flare up came when parents yelled at a group of sportsmen after an errant soccer ball hit a child.
“I have been aware for years about problems around this spot. It’s an ancient problem as old as the park itself,” said Ruth Goldstein, a member of the Fort Greene Park Conservancy. “The park is so small and we’re so overused.”
James said she intervened because the time had come, figuratively and seasonally.
“I knew that the summer was coming and we want to avoid conflict,” she told The Brooklyn Paper.
Past efforts by the Parks Department to re-grow the grass without moving the games, which also occasionally include cricket and real American football, have failed. Like James, the city wants to accommodate everyone.
“Pickup games are allowed. We encourage active recreation,” said Parks spokesman Phil Abramson. “We’re just trying to facilitate different uses.”
— with Roland Li