Boxed In: Will Playfields or Open Space define a New North Brooklyn Park?
Encompassing a scant 2.8 acres, the proposed Box Street Park sits just to the west of the terminus of Franklin Street, where it runs asea at the mouth of Newtown Creek. Currently a parking lot for the MTA surrounded by low-rise post-industrial development (the Nuhart Plastics Superfund site sits just to the South), the proposed park will soon be flanked by the waterfront-hogging high-rise developments currently mushrooming up along Greenpoint’s coast. As one of the last parcels of public waterfront to be carved from this development, the park and its usage will be the subject of a meeting to gather community input this Thursday, April 5th at 6 PM.
In an ironic twist, this meeting is essentially a retread of a simillar meeting that took place in 2013, when the city convened neighborhood voices to weigh in on what was then planned to open as a park by 2016. Delays in the plan’s implementation have allowed for greater public scrutiny, with the result that the city has scheduled this reprise.
The original plan, developed with input from numerous local civic entities and bundled into the city’s 2006 Greenpoint-Williamsburg Open Space Master Plan, called for the bulk of the park to be devoted to an artificially-turfed playfield, with passive uses arrayed around the edges. The current Bushwick Inlet Park, with its turfed soccer fields surrounded by walkways and benches, is a similar design.
Recently, a group calling itself “Friends of Box Street Park” has emerged to question this plan. Spearheaded by Greenpoint resident Acacia Thompson, this group is concerned with the disconnect between an active-use park as put forth by the city, and the desperate need for passive-use parkland in Greenpoint, especially at the Northern tip. Thompson clearly sees turfed playfields as antithetical to the democratic ideal of parkland, inasmuch as their use is defined, regulated, and even monetized. “I think it’s about inclusion,” she continues. “With the current planned use, we’re talking about pay to play — permit fees and schedules and such. Just take a look at Bushwick Inlet (Park): If you want to just kick a ball around or go for walk, but don’t have a permit, you get kicked off! And trying to find a space on a Saturday? Good luck!”
It is worth noting that Thompson is an avid soccer-mom herself; she understands these tensions at the root level. “Look, I am a parent of GWYSL (Greenpoint-Williamsburg Youth Soccer League), so I totally get the issue with playfields,” she continues. “But the thing is that the waterfront is already going to have a lot of soccer fields: Bushwick Inlet Park, Newtown Barge Park, McCarren Park. What we don’t have is open space for folks who can’t afford to play or don’t want to join a league. Nobody is advocating for the people who don’t participate in these permitted events.”
Thompson envisions a Box Street Park more along the lines of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6, with rolling lawns and curving glades. “What we need is space where you can go read a book, you can have a picnic, you can play with the kids,” she exclaims. “These two parcels (Box Street and the neighboring Newtown Barge Park) are the only two places in north Greenpoint that will be activated as parks. And turf is not greenspace.”
Opposing Thompson’s plan is the formidable engine of the aforementioned GWYSL, among others (full disclosure: this author is also a member and volunteer with the league). Led by regional commissioner Hélder Rendón, GWYSL seeks to activate its community to secure the current Parks Department vision of the park as a turfed playfield. “The number of playing fields that our two parks (BIP and McCarren) currently provide is nowhere near enough to meet the active space needs for this ever growing community,” Rendón insists. “Since the late 80’s, McCarren was the only park in the neighborhood that provided an active space for various sports such as track & field, soccer, softball, baseball, basketball, handball, tennis, and bocce. Since then, the community has grown in size. BIP has helped a lot, but with the growing number of youth & adult sports programs, NYC Parks does not have enough permits to offer due to the lack of fields.”
In addition to this statement of general need, Rendón also sees a turfed playfield as the most effective use of the specific space of Box Street: “Due to the basic geometry of an active field space (in most cases rectangular or diamond shaped) it is easier to integrate passive spaces around set active field spaces in a rectangular parcel .”
No matter what each side proclaims as the ideal usage of Box Street, there is one thing they do agree on: North Brooklyn’s dearth of park space in general is at the root of the problem. Both Rendón and Thompson see the complement of their competing visions as vital to the health of North Brooklyn. “We are not against passive spaces,” notes Rendón. “We believe that passive spaces are also important, and hope that NYC Parks and our elected officials can construct a Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront where both can be provided.”
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NYC Parks is hosting a community input meeting for Box Street Park this Thursday, April 5th (6 PM, 176 Java Street, Greenpoint). This meeting is open to the public.