Longtime residents: Don’t gentrify Fort Greene Park

Longtime residents: Don’t gentrify Fort Greene Park
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

They want a people’s playground!

Plans to makeover Fort Greene Park must include perks for the people who live in the public housing complexes surrounding it and shouldn’t just create a fancy facade to make the meadow look good for gentrifiers, neighbors demanded at a meeting p on Wednesday night.

“We don’t want a vanity project, we don’t want a promenade, we don’t want more pavement,” said one Fort Greener to Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Marty Maher, who led the meeting. “We want more grass, more intimate spaces, we want more recreational opportunities for our kids and seniors. This is everyone’s backyard.”

The Parks Department is in the midst of redesigning the greensward’s Myrtle Avenue entrances — which are heavily used by residents from nearby Walt Whitman and Ingersoll Houses — with $5 million dollars from the city’s Parks Without Borders program that aims to open and beautify parks.

Green space honchos revealed renderings in February that showed significant changes on the corner of St. Edwards Street, including clearing a way to the Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument by taking out a stone wall and granite platforms, and adding wheelchair ramps and a water feature. The agency says it based the designs on historic blueprints for the park, as well as feedback from a November meeting attended by about 40 people.

The preliminary plan also included chopping down rows of trees to create the path up to the memorial, but it sparked such outrage from locals that the Parks Department decided to conduct a more thorough examination of the timbers, concluding that they can and will be saved, according to Maher.

“We found that the trees had solid roots and we could preserve them,” he said.

Residents fumed at the new agency head for the majority of the meeting, during which he asked denizens to giver ideas for activities and programs in the park. Instead, locals used the opportunity to rail against the earlier plans and a perceived lack of outreach, and let him know how popular the urban meadow is, urging Maher to advocate for keeping part of it open during the revamp.

Construction will take 10 to 18 months and Maher said that portions of the park will need to be closed during that time.

Locals hang out at the park’s barbecue area in warm months and treat the green space like their own backyard because their apartments don’t have places to sit outside, they told him, and one area leader said the tree-hugging agency must ensure residents will have somewhere to grill and chill during the makeover.

“We use the barbecue — that means our summer is done our winter is done, our spring is done,” said Anthony Sosa, who is the tenant association president for Ingersoll Houses. “We don’t go on the other side of the park cause y’all don’t allow barbecuing there. While this construction is going the other side its going to get ugly, Marty. People want their park.”

Maher said he is planning on installing 20 more tables in the next week and promised to relocate the barbecues to somewhere else in the park during construction.

But he couldn’t guarantee that he’d be able to keep areas such as the playground open, instead offering the consolation that residents will be able to pick up where they left off when the makeover is complete.

“Sometimes you can accommodate, sometimes you can’t. Things we can accommodate like barbecuing, it’s easy enough to relocate,” he said. “When construction is done, any activity you could’ve done you can do after.”

Along with the barbecues, locals asked Maher to expand the basketball courts, but the commissioner said this is unlikely because the Landmarks Preservation Commission — which must rubber stamp any changes to the landmarked park — wouldn’t approve it because of water pipes underneath.

Residents supported more lighting and repaving the sidewalks along the park, and stressed the agency must be wary of changes that would negatively impact the community. “I think the neighborhood has seen a lot of ‘improvements’ that are destroying what exists,” said Laurena Allan. “We need to preserve what’s important to this community and [the park] is very important.”

Maher told the room to voice their concerns to Community Board 2, which could eventually vote on a new proposal as early as June. The board’s vote is only advisory, however, and the final decision lies with the city agencies responsible for the makeover.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Out of the loop: Resident Sandy Reiburn said she was never even asked to put in her two cents on the makeover.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini