Red Hook harbor group opens ‘Pandemic Pop-up Park’ at Atlantic Basin

Red Hook pop up park
Carolina Salguero and Peter Rothenberg of PortSide New York at the new “Pandemic Pop-up Park” with the Mary A. Whalen in the background.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Let there be park!

A group of Red Hook do-gooders have transformed four parking spaces at Pier 11 on the Atlantic Basin into a small makeshift park. The maritime advocacy group PortSide New York debuted the “Pandemic Pop-up Park” on July 17 to give locals more room to hang out and let their kids play amid the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the head organizer.

“People are coming outside and just looking for space. You see people lying down, sitting, or picnicking on asphalt, they’re perching on Jersey Barriers,” said PortSide’s executive director Carolina Salguero. “We had all this extra furniture and toys, so we put it outside.”

The little oasis lies at the wharf adjacent to the Depression-era oil tanker the Mary A. Whalen, out of which Salguero runs the organization advocating for the city’s harbors.

The old vessel — berthed near the city’s Red Hook ferry stop — often hosted programming aboard, but is currently shut down to visitors due to the pandemic.

Ahead of the park’s launch, Salguero asked the operator of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, Ports America, to use their four parking spaces for the small space.

Open areas like the pop-up park are especially needed in Red Hook, where the Ball Fields at Bay Street have been closed to clean up historic lead contamination, and around the sprawling New York City Housing Authority complexes, where Superstorm Sandy repairs forced city officials to chop down trees and close playgrounds.

Some of the waterfront nabe’s businesses and residents kicked in with goods and donations, including nearby Swedish furniture giant Ikea, which donated umbrellas to shade park goers, a Long Island woman who sent frisbees, and another charitable person that gifted PortSide balls and chalk for kids to play with.

They have set up picnic tables, sprinklers, along with ship artifacts against the backdrop of a cool sea breeze and views of the New York Harbor, according to Salguero, who has also spruced up the asphalt lot with plants donated by a local who moved out and had a rooftop gardens’ worth of greenery to give away.

The space hosted its first concerts during opening weekend, starting with bluegrass troupe Kings Country, which will come back for an encore this coming Sunday, July 22.

“In the way that people are finding spaces and seeking out spaces, musicians are finding this,” Salguero said. “They don’t have paid gigs or even places to play because concert halls and pubs are shut.”

Months before the pop-up park opened, Salguero started posting nightly livestreams on Facebook of the port’s sunset to give pent-up Brooklynites a scenic view of the waterfront.

Sunset 101 in our covid19 series where we share harbior views to support people inside because of the #coronavirus. According to a post elsewhere on Facebook, the fire truck sirens were going to an electrical wire on fire at Van Brunt & King Street. That's 2 blocks away.⚓PortSide connects you to the benefits of our harbor. We are a living lab for better urban waterways. ⚓#marinelife #ships #RedHook #Brooklyn #PortSideNewYork #PortSideNY #MaryWhalen #maritime #WaterStories #MaritimeHistory #UrbanWaterways #Nonprofit #BLUEspace #HistoricShip #Waterfront #RHWS #AtlanticBasin #TankerTime #donate

Posted by Mary A Whalen on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The waterway advocate, who herself had a mild case of the coronavirus in late March, said that sharing the evening ritual online has helped her get through the global health crisis.

“Being with other people and trying to channel the greatness of the skies, it was sustaining for me too, it worked both ways,” she said.

The park’s opening coincided with the recently-debuted weekend ferry service from Red Hook to Governors Island, and the space has become a choice spot to hang out while waiting for the waterborne crossing Salguero said.

She hopes the park will also attract more of the neighborhood’s public housing residents to the waterfront and the ferry, which they can ride for free.

“We’re trying to get the word out to the communities that have not come to the waterfront, especially NYCHA developments,” she said.

The cruise terminal is shuttered until mid-September, she said, but she hopes the area will continue to flourish in the months ahead.

“It’s a space built with community love, love that PortSide has for the people and the people have for each other,” she said.