After widespread communal backlash, state park honchos are overhauling their designs for Williamsburg’s Marsha P. Johnson State Park — halting their colorful tribute to the greenspace’s LGBTQ namesake, while adding almost four basketball courts’ worth of greenery to the waterfront lawn on Kent Avenue.
“We’ve had really great conversations and just really appreciate everybody’s passion for joining in the project and this is your park,” State Parks regional director for New York City Leslie Wright told Community Board 1’s Parks and Waterfront Committee during a virtual meeting May 5.
The new plans for the park between N. Seventh and N. Ninth streets follows widespread outcry earlier this year by locals and Johnson’s family against the agency’s original plan, which included a large colorful mural of the activist splashed on one of the two signature concrete slabs.
Residents and relatives at the time said the Albany agency was steamrolling its plans in spite of local opposition, with some Brooklynites likening the scheme to little more than a vanity project for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The agency briefly halted construction, before launching a series of nine in-person and virtual workshops starting at the end of March through May 3, along with an online survey to gather feedback on how to better the meadow’s look.
The new Marsha P. Johnson State Park proposal by Manhattan landscape architects Starr Whitehouse swaps out the large painting for a series of commemorative plaques along the entrance at N. Eighth Street and a mosaic of a poem written by Johnson leading to the shoreline.
Parks will add some 18,000 square feet of greenery by shrinking the concrete slabs. A slice of space known as the Gantry Plaza, which was originally supposed to have large floral signs about the LGTBQ rights struggle, will become a more passive patch of grass.
The greenspace gurus will also install naturalistic elements like log benches along the waterfront and plant a series flower gardens around a circular path.
The park remains under construction and will wrap up in June, with plans to open up the space by the end August, according to Wright.
Officials will meet with locals again in the fall to discuss more possible ways to commemorate Johnson, such as a statue or a public art work at the entrance to the park.
Locals praised the agency for responding to their concerns and opening up the process to the public.
“I want to recognize where we started and where we are now, it’s pretty amazing,” said CB1 Parks Committee member Steve Chesler.
The future plans to honor Johnson should also include some sort of tribute to the local community organizers who for a decade lobbied the state to open the lawn formerly known as East River State Park in 2007 at the site of a former railroad terminal, according to one area advocate.
“[We should] remember the history of the waterfront for working class occupations and the community struggle to win a park there,” said Felice Kirby, executive director of the neighborhood organization North Brooklyn Angels. “There just aren’t so many places like that and in our neighborhood we don’t really have any memory of our radical organizing history, which we’re very proud of…It’s very much in the spirit of Marsha P. Johnson. If we’d known her then, I’m sure she would have been sitting in with us and we all would have been fighting together.”