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East Brooklyn Congregations Works to Fix Parks

East Brooklyn Congregations Works to Fix Parks

Wednesday, July 2, 2014
New York Times

    

In the quest for park equity, many residents in poor neighborhoods have seemed to have little recourse for the sorry state of their cracked basketball courts and out-of-service bathrooms.

But a group in Brooklyn has taken its fight to the streets — and playgrounds — using the kind of tactics more often associated with civil rights protests. In lobbying for capital improvements for two parks, East Brooklyn Congregations, a coalition of churches and nonprofit groups, has organized marches and demanded meetings with elected officials.

Last week, the group held a rally on the steps of City Hall. Adriane Williams, a parishioner at St. Barbara’s Church in Bushwick, exhorted Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose central campaign theme was righting inequality, to address the city’s open spaces.

“Mr. Mayor, you talked about a ‘tale of two cities,’ ” she yelled to the small crowd. “Well, let me tell you about a tale of two parks.” She then compared Central Park with Bushwick’s Heckscher Playground, a one-acre park on Linden Street at Central Avenue, which unfurls in the shadow of a housing project, and asked, “The question is: Are you just the mayor of Central Park or are you going to be the mayor of Heckscher Playground also?”

The group began its campaign for park equity by documenting the problems in a half-dozen parks in Bushwick. In spring 2013, representatives from the group met with Kevin Jeffrey, the parks department’s Brooklyn borough commissioner, and handed him a list of 32 items.

Over the past year and a half, two dozen maintenance problems from the list, including a missing toilet seat, burned-out light bulbs and a broken water fountain, were fixed across the six parks.

The remaining issues, however, were too large to be treated as maintenance issues and required capital money. Now East Brooklyn Congregations is seeking commitments for capital improvements for Heckscher Playground and Green Central Knoll Park, including new turf fields for both and, at Green Central Knoll, lights and a new bathroom.