“Where’s Our Park?”: Will New York City Keep Its Promise to Build Bushwick Inlet Park?

Fire in Williamsburg Photo by Matt Emmi

Today, New Yorkers—North Brooklynites, in particular—will have the chance to come together as a community in order to rally and demand that the city fulfill a promise it made almost a decade ago: to construct Bushwick Inlet Park as a necessary balance to all the condos that would soon be built along the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfront. In 2005, when the Bloomberg administration rezoned acres of land along the East River so that it could be developed for residential use, North Brooklyn’s Community Board 1 vehemently protested the coming changes due to the fact that not only would incoming buildings dramatically alter the long-standing, low profile waterfront skyline, but also would bring countless new residents into an area that did not have a sufficient infrastructure to support their arrival. One major aspect of that insufficient infrastructure was a lack of green space, and so in an effort to appease residents, the city promised that 28-acres of land would be set aside to create Bushwick Inlet Park.

Ten years later, though, there is still no set schedule for finishing the park, and while the city has purchased some of the parcels of land needed for the park (including a lot at 50 Kent Avenue, which has been used for a concert series by Brooklyn Magazine‘s parent company, Northside Media Group), and there is approximately 9 acres of parkland now in place, a significant amount of the land has not yet been purchased, and the park remains incomplete even as residential towers continue to rise unabated, bringing with them more and more residents, and putting more of a strain on the neighborhood’s limited open space resources.

Laura Treciokas, a founding member of the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, says, “We knew this open space would be a problem, and it’s becoming a problem. I’ve long looked at it as a health issue and as a parenting issue; we need spaces for our children to play and our community to gather. The idea of the establishment of this park was to carve out open space, because we already have one of the lowest ratios of open in space in the city.” Treciokas adds that the park was promised to the neighborhood as a means to “offset the impact” of the massive number of developments that have been—and continue to be—built along the waterfront, but that even though the towers “are getting built and the city is getting the revenue from all that new development and the people are coming here… where are they going to come to recreate?”

For some time now, perhaps the single biggest worry with regards to the unpurchased land was the 11-acre portion of the proposed park that held a massive CitiStorage warehouse. As Treciokas told the New York Times in 2014, “The fear is that it might be sold to a developer who could work out a deal to provide affordable housing in exchange for permission to build yet another tower.” Those fears have only been magnified since a massive fire at the CitiStorage building that happened in January, which has left community activists more convinced than ever of the urgency behind their race to have the city by the land. If, after all, the city fails to buy the land, Bushwick Inlet Park will be missing over a third of its promised land, a loss that would be hard to reconcile as the residential development continues unabated.

One of the staunchest advocates for Bushwick Inlet Park is Councilman Stephen Levin, who will be front and center at the Bushwick Inlet Park rally at City Hall today, says, “First off, it’s important to remember that this part of the rezoning [Bushwick Inlet Park] wasn’t an afterthought; it wasn’t tangential. This was mapped as parkland in 2005. This park wasn’t just a promise, it was effectuated in the 2005 rezoning. There was always the mention of a 28-acre park.”

Levin harkens back to the fear residents felt when the rezoning was first drawn up, when the entire community realized just how dramatically their neighborhoods would change once the residential towers began to be built; he says, “It was hard to imagine, or even fathom, how that was going to impact a neighborhood of nice, quiet, sleepy streets… that was all going to change. Bushwick Inlet Park was the silver lining to what was otherwise an ominous cloud.”

So where has the city government been in the last ten years? Well, apparently, it’s been sitting pretty quietly on the sidelines, trying not to spend any more money than necessary on parkland, hoping community residents will forget about the promise made to them so long ago. Levin explains, “The city bungled it. They miscalculated what [the property] was going to be valued at… although to their credit, they’ve acquired other sites of the park.” Levin also points out that this isn’t an issue of holding de Blasio accountable for something that happened during the Bloomberg administration, or even blaming Bloomberg for passing the buck—this was a City of New York pledge to its residents, and must be treated as a city government commitment that needs to be honored: “It’s important to note… the city made the commitment to do this, and it has to do with the credibility of city government, not some informal promise. There was a very clear commitment between the City of New York and its citizens. It’s a social contract.”

And now that the fire, which Levin says, has “jogged everyone’s memories” and “called attention to the site people had largely grown weary of fighting for,” the time has come to gather and march and fight for what was promised to Brooklyn so long ago. This isn’t simply a fight for one park, this is also, Levin says, an issue that “could be a model of how the city balances development” with a communities’ needs. Without this park being built, we could, Levin reminds us, have a pretty “dismal future.”

So if you have a long lunch hour today, go join the rally in downtown Manhattan, and fight for the open spaces of Brooklyn. And if you needed any additional incentive? Greenpoint bar The Diamond is offering a free drink to anyone who brings in a photo of themselves at the rally.

The rally for Bushwick Inlet Park will take place at City Hall today, from 1pm-2pm. For more information on the City Hall rally, visit bushwickinletpark.org

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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