The weather report had spoken: It’s My Park! Day was to take place under driving rain. But fortunately enough for the organizers and the dozens of volunteers spread across McCarren Park last Saturday for the event, the rain didn’t set in before the afternoon.
A semi-annual city-wide event organized by local community groups and corporate partners to encourage communities to preserve and enhance their local parks, It’s My Park! Day is overseen by Partnerships for Park, a joint program of the City Parks Foundation and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Last May, 12,000 New Yorkers gathered in some 150 sites to engage in planting, cleanup, and sports activities, according to Partnerships for Parks. For the October edition, over 150 parks participated in the event. “It’s difficult to have a park conversation and play kickball with people you don’t know,” said Julia Morrow from the United Friends of McCarren Park (UFMP), which oversaw part of the event at McCarren Park. “It’s my Park! Day is a day for you to bring someone new to the park and do something you don’t normally do.”
At McCarren Park, several local organizations and corporations teamed up to incite park users to donate a bit of their time to refurbishing the park. While Park Moms, a Greenpoint/Williamsburg parks-advocacy group, planted bulbs, the United Friends of McCarren Park (UFMP), the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn (OSA), the local real estate agency “Apts and Lofts” raked, planted daffodils, and picked up leaves at the triangle between the Green Dome Garden (N.11th St and Driggs Ave.) and the dog run. The North Brooklyn Compost Project, the Green Market and Urban Rustic Market and Café were indirectly involved in the event. “It was not difficult to engage the community,” said Stephanie Thayer of OSA. “There are a lot of new and old residents here today, and a contingent of hipsters and war veterans! It’s great!”
Volunteers and passersby were invited to plant daffodils around the Geraldo Tree, next to the dog run. “It’s very easy, you just have to find an emplacement between two bulbs,” Kate Zidar from UFMP told me. “When you’ll come back in a year, there will be a beautiful daffodil here.”
A few feet away from the tree, Mike Allen, “Apts and Lofts’” “green” real estate salesperson was busy raking leaves off the ground. Although he had not held a rake in a long time, he was patience: “It’s not just about the leaves. It’s about everything you find on the ground, the sticks and the trash” he explained. “And making our park more beautiful.” Allen and other volunteers managed to fill up 25 to 30 trash bags with leaves throughout the morning.
Historically, parks have allowed booming urban areas to benefit from a green haven. Central Park for instance was designed in the early 19th century to provide Manhattan’s population, which had quadrupled between 1820 and 1855, with a large green space dedicated to introspection and leisure.
In times of unprecedented population growth and expanding parkland in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, It’s My Park! Day reminded the need for community involvement in park preservation and restoration. While CB1’s population has increased by about 20,000 people over the past three decades – from 140,942 people in 1980 to 160,338 in 2000, according to the 2000 census – recreational space has remained scarce – about 4,2% of the district’s surface, according to 2006 data from the Department of City Planning. In 2000, the ratio of parkland per capita was .06 acres per 1,000 residents, one of the city’s lowest.
Hugged by two rapidly growing neighborhoods, McCarren Park has been welcoming increasing scores of users, including families and youngsters drawn by the various sporting facilities across the park. “When you see missing grass in some areas of the park, you realize that the community needs to take care of its park,” said Allen, taking a break from raking.
Parkland expansion with upcoming projects like the Bushwick Inlet Park and the Greenway Initiative along the waterfront will require increased community involvement in park preservation. Engaging the community, however, might be difficult: “We’re all living our lives and we don’t always have time to devote to our park,” Julia Morrow (UFMP) claimed before the event. “It’s My Park! Day is about having fun and getting people involved.” Others were more optimistic: “My belief is that when you build a park, you always find support,” Stephanie Thayer said. “I’m confident that it will work.”
Heather from The North Brooklyn Compost Project, an organization that collects food scraps to turn them into nutritious soil, regretted that It’s My Park! Day didn’t receive greater visibility. “The only way to efficiently mobilize people is by brining a friend to the park and engaging in environmental activities with him,” she said. “We are all park users after all.”