More than 300 protesters rallied outside City Hall on March 12 to demand the city make good on its decade-old promise to turn a waterfront plot in Williamsburg into parkland.
Many in the crowd, so big that officers forced late arrivals to wait outside the barricades, said they feel crowded in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, where waterfront parks were supposed to ease the burden of the towers allowed by a 2005 rezoning. Some parks have been built and others are under construction, but Bushwick Inlet Park remains incomplete. The burning of a CitiStorage warehouse on Kent Avenue in late January and into early February sparked renewed calls for the city to buy the property and convert it to green space.
“I have lived here my whole life and there has never been enough open space,” said Slade Koval of Williamsburg. “This rally might be a way to finally change that.”
So far, the city has created less than a quarter of the 19 football fields of parkland the neighborhoods were promised. Residents and politicians at the demonstration said that is unacceptable.
“This is not just a promise. It is a moral obligation and a human right,” said Luis Garden Acosta, founder and president of the community group El Puente. “We need this. It is not just a luxury.”
Increased property values driven by the area’s zoning-enabled development boom make buying the waterfront lots a tall order. At the time that the city made the commitment, the CitiStorage plot was worth about $30 million. A decade later, the value of the land is likely somewhere between $73 million and $100 million. The city needs to act fast, according to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D–Williamsburg), or more developers will put up skyscrapers that are even harder to buy than the industrial buildings that still occupy some waterfront properties.
“We are facing an unbroken wall of towers on the waterfront,” she said. “This is our last chance to stop that from happening.”
The area’s assemblyman said that price concerns are a cop-out, and that Mayor DeBlasio needs to drop the cash.
“I know he is going to try to blame this on the Bloomberg administration, saying it is too expensive,” Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D–Greenpoint) said of DeBlasio. “I do not care if it was a prior administration, and I do not care how much it costs. The mayor has to live up to the city’s promise.”
The winter’s first period of above-freezing weather in months was accompanied by a rash of outdoor demonstrations, including many against Gov. Cuomo’s education measures outside schools across Brooklyn and one against the eviction of Williamsburg’s Swinging Sixties Senior Center outside Brooklyn Supreme Court, all the morning of March 12, and one for making Lunar New Year a school holiday at the City Hall steps the following day.