No one can say Bushwick backs down without a fight. On Sunday afternoon, March 22, a crowd of 700 members of the community packed into the beautiful St. Barbara’s RC Church with a small but urgent list of demands that carry big consequences for our neighborhood, particularly for kids. I attended to see what was up.
Here’s the gist. The City is neglecting two public spaces in Bushwick: Heckscher Playground, on Linden Street at Central Avenue, and Green Central Knoll, between Evergreen and Central Avenues. Both spaces need serious renovations to make them more hospitable for the neighborhood’s children, including new synthetic turf fields, better lighting and the installation of a public bathroom. The City already earmarked funds for the projects last July, but since then, no progress has been made.
Community organizations East Brooklyn Congregations and Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, who fought for these improvements last year, have come too far to back down now. After a hard-won battle that included a 500-person march through Bushwick last March, they finally celebrated when the City allocated $4.25 M for the renovations.
Now, nearly 9 months later, the Department of Parks & Recreation has not so much as come up with a design for the approved construction. Compare that with recent renovations to the High Line. So much for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promise to improve the outer boroughs.
Adriane Williams—a member of St. Barbara’s, a leader of EBC, and a mother of two—explains why the park problem hits so close to home:
Not surprisingly, the Mayor did not attend the assembly, but Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver did. “I recognize that the process is taking far too long,” he said, addressing the assembly. “We created, starting this fall, a new fast track process which knocked one year off the process. Rather than [these projects] taking four years, they’re now going to take 3 years.”
Silver went on to outline a time frame for the projects: by April 2017, there will be a completed turf field in Heckscher Playground. By October 2017, new bathrooms will be open at Green Central Knoll.
After the event, Adriane told me that she felt good about Silver’s time frame, even if the projects will take longer than she and other community members had originally wanted.
“We recognize that it is a bureaucratic process,” Adriane said. “We appreciated that [Silver] came here with a plan…and a more realistic time frame.”
But not everyone was as pleased. I lingered in the church a little longer and struck up conversation with some Bushwick residents who had attended. The overall vibe was one of disappointment.
“The money is there,” said Rafael Torres, whose family has lived in Bushwick for decades. His theory for the delay? The City would rather let the allocated $4.25 M sit in a bank and collect interest than put it to work in the neighborhood.
Margarita Cruz, another longtime member of the community who volunteers with kids at Centro Scalabrini at 1080 Willoughby Avenue, spoke about the unsafe conditions in both parks. Echoing the concerns many others around us voiced, she alluded to frequent incidents of theft in those areas. She hopes that the improvements from the City will help make the parks safer.
One thing is certain, and that’s how positive a force East Brooklyn Congregations has been for our neighborhood. They’ve helped build affordable housing, reduced gun violence and upgraded neighborhood parks and open spaces. Want to get involved? Check out the EBC website, attend their events and, if you’re a small business owner, consider becoming a partner. And stay tuned for updates about construction progress at Heckscher Playground and Green Central Knoll.
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