Brooklyn has a new parks czar — Windsor Terrace resident Martin “Marty” Maher, who just took over as borough parks commissioner after Kevin Jeffrey retired last year. We caught up with Maher about his new gig.
Lauren Gill: So what does the borough parks commissioner actually do?
Martin Maher: The borough parks commissioner is sort of the [New York Parks] Commissioner Silver representative in the borough. We deal with elected officials, community groups, partner organizations in parks, and oversee the maintenance and operations and recreation and keeping parks safe and clean.
LG: What’s your background?
MM: I joined as sort of an accident 32 years ago when I was in the U.S. Coast Guard — I was working my way through college and my friend gave me an application. I came in in cutoff shorts and a T-shirt and turned in the application and met two gentlemen who interviewed me the same day. I started as a ranger and parks enforcement officer, was also a supervisor, I worked at Coney Island for many, many years, was chief-of-staff for 18 years, and now I’m delighted that Commissioner Silver has given me the job.
LG: What’s your favorite park in Brooklyn?
MM: In the summertime, the world’s biggest air conditioner is Coney Island. If you’re a lover of history Fort Greene, Washington Park. If you like playgrounds, Robert Venable Park. I’m in Prospect Park the most.
LG: What’s the worst park?
MM: I’m going to know it soon because we’re going to be working on it. We always kind of do the worst first. There isn’t anywhere that’s really deplorable, there’s just some that need an uplift.
LG: The city just bought the last piece of land needed for Bushwick Inlet Park, but a group is already trying to push an idea called “Maker Park” for part of it that many community members hate. Where do you stand?
MM: I don’t have something in front of me right now but I’m always open-minded, as is the city, to ideas. We engage the community, involve them in the decision making process. In my 32 years, we’ve never said “This is what we’re doing,” we rely on community input.
LG: Should public parks be privately funded?
MM: Free money is our favorite kind. We always want parks to be the best they can for people and so we have a number of different models where it works. We have elected officials providing funds, the mayor, borough president. Occasionally you get private resources. It takes a lot to sustain parks.
LG: What about Brooklyn Bridge Park 2 — the crumbling slab of concrete next to York Street station in Dumbo? It has been slated for a revamp for years and the Jehovah’s Witnesses finally agreed to provide enough cash to make it happen a year ago. So when is that going to actually happen?
MM: It’s sort of been a long process. Hopefully in the next year we’ll re-engage the community. We want to make sure we have the freshest ideas. We want to make sure we’re as current as possible when we build the park like that. It’s certainly a park in need and we’ll work with our planning folks and the community to meet its wants.
LG: How do Brooklyn parks compare to those in the other boroughs?
MM: Hands down, we have it far and above any others. My colleagues in the other boroughs work hard and someday they’ll have nice parks like Brooklyn does too.