‘Let’s Turn These Fields of Dreams into Reality!’
By The Rev. Joseph Hoffman and Adriane Williams, St. Barbara’s Roman Catholic Church
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Last Sunday we led a procession of almost 500 parishioners from Saint Barbara’s to Heckscher Playground, where we met Council Member Rafael Espinal, Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh and Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey.
Former Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg often said that living within a 10-minute walk of a park was essential to a high-quality and healthy life in the city. It’s true if you live near Central Park, Prospect Park or the Brooklyn Bridge. Far too many New Yorkers, however, live near neighborhood parks with dark concrete lots, muddy athletic fields and broken down jungle gyms. Mayor de Blasio and our new Parks commissioner, Mitchell Silver, have pledged to decrease park inequity. Let’s hope they are serious.
The mayor’s allocation of $80 million in capital funding for neighborhood parks is a good start. Councilman Mark Levine is pushing for an additional $27.5 million in operational funding. Money has the potential to improve neighborhood parks, but only if used wisely. East Brooklyn Congregations has been organizing to improve six parks in Bushwick. We’ve learned a couple lessons for residents and public officials.
Residents can drastically improve the maintenance of their local parks. Last fall, we documented broken drinking fountains, grass up to our knees and unpainted benches at Green Central Knoll Park.
Then we had several meetings with Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey, after which almost all of our concerns were resolved. To celebrate, we planted rows upon rows of tulips. If you visit the park now, the flowers are in bloom and baseball teams are practicing.
These improvements help, but many problems remain. At Green Central Knoll, children have nowhere to use the bathroom, and just down the street at Heckscher Playground half of the park is a vacant concrete lot.
This is where the officials come in—we need you to dream big. Capital funding is best used to do complete and first-rate renovations, not for Band-Aid solutions or a piecemeal approach. An excellent example is Linden Park, in East New York, where capital funding turned a mud pit into a synthetic turf field, with a state-of-the-art athletic track and recreational lighting. Linden Park is now one of the most popular recreation spaces in the area.
On Sunday, Council Member Espinal announced that he had requested $1.25 million for Heckscher Playground, enough to pay for half of a turf field. This is good leadership, but so far others are unwilling to finish the job.
We don’t have public or financial support yet from Borough President Eric Adams. The Mayor and the Parks Department haven’t committed any funds either. Without more money our parks will remain in shambles.
Bloomberg never focused on the kinds of parks that make life in New York more livable for the majority of New Yorkers. Now, it’s time for Mayor de Blasio to step up to the plate. Making small neighborhood parks great places for peace, play and recreation would be a vital accomplishment-an accomplishment that can be achieved at a fraction of the cost of other projects.
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The Rev. Joseph Hoffman is the pastor at St. Barbara’s Catholic Church in Bushwick and a leader in East Brooklyn Congregation.
Adriane Williams, a St. Barbara's parishioner and a leader in East Brooklyn Congregations, spoke at the recent 2,200 leader assembly and urged the redevelopment of neighborhood parks such as Heckscher Playground.