“You’re telling me, someone came to our community, took a pile of dirt, didn’t bother to come to us, and just dumped it on a playground’s handball court?” that was the question local architect Michael McCaw raised at a meeting called by CB3 chair Henry Butler, yesterday at Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration community room. “Are they crazy?”
The site is the handball court at Charlie’s Place playground on Hopkins Avenue, between Tompkins and Throop. The player is a wealthy funding organization that has a long history of good works in and intentions for the area, the Parks Department and the Department of Education.
There’s CB3 and very vocal residents of the North Brooklyn neighborhood, occupants of houses and apartments near and around the park. The CBO and the enclave were left out of the picture. One day, the handball court was there, as it always has been since the playground’s naming, in 1957, after Charles Lubin, founder of Sara Lee company. The next day the handball court was under ground, beneath a generous attempt to create a small farm or garden in the space.
This green initiative elicited big groans that increased in intensity yesterday when the residents – mostly strong, focused and able young men – and CB3 officers met with Parks Assistant Commissioner/Senior Counselor Jack T. Linn and a Mr. Hunte, representing the greening agency “to design a plan relative to the community’s needs.”
“Not enough,” said a community member buoyed by CB3 member Beatrice P. Jones’ remarks. She said, to applause: “We’re not opposed to gardens. We love gardens. We love fruit, vegetables and flowers.
“But the community will not allow a garden to be established in that handball court. So I think we need to take our shovels and remove it. I need manure for my garden, anyway. Somebody in your agency . maybe not you, but someone, made a big mistake. Our young people are here trying to resolve this. Give them back their handball court. If you don’t have the manpower, we will get it.”
Butler, staunch community advocate, stated that the Community Board should have been approached about the project or plans for potential projects before they even come into the neighborhood. “Not informed of what already has been done.”
And although a few residents were willing to compromise on a half court; half garden arrangement, most everyone came to the conclusion – with Butler and Linn in agreement -the process had to start all over and done the correct way.
So, Next steps: The community has called for a tour of Charlie’s Place, Wednesday, July 7 at 6pm to find a more appropriate site for the garden, other than on the 50-plus year old handball court.
Meanwhile, Linn stated that in the interests of the community, “Mr. Hunte will stop work; a decision will be made on where he should move the work; and on how it will be moved.” With the involvement of the Board and the community at every decision-making level.
CB3’s Parks, Arts & culture chair Marion Little assured residents the park is being is placed at the top of the Board’s priority list, and he will be working with Mr. Butler to have some Board meetings in the North Bedford Stuyvesant area. He said, “That the handball court, used daily, is shut down at the start of summer.. now that’s a big problem.”
Manager Charlene Phillips, CB3 District Manager, closed with a reminder to everyone in the room: “Anyone who pays taxes should be kept informed of what’s going on where they pay taxes, and they should have a say in where those taxes go. You have rights, you need to exercise them.”
Ultimately, “it’s about respect,” said both Nilo Jordan and Rafael Dominguez who frequent the park, and exercise there.
Jordan, Dominguez and Anthony Mercado strongly urge the public to come out and see community empowerment in action and to wrap their thoughts around, yet, another Charlie’s Place pressing situation they’re tackling: the parking lot and people who should not be parking there- mostly teachers and hospital personnel. Stay tuned.
Our Time Press will follow this story. – BGreen