Government / Parks

Area parks in line for upgrades

Annie Nova

Children at 52 Playground in Longwood.

Four local parks to undergo major renovations by 2017

When the city parks department launched an initiative last fall to spruce up parks in low-income neighborhoods, Hunts Point was high on its agenda. In all, four of the 32 parks the city has targeted for big upgrades are in Hunts Point and Longwood.

52 Playground, Hunts Point Playground, Lyons Square Playground and Longfellow Gardens are all scheduled to undergo major renovations over the next two years, as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Community Parks initiative to make small, neglected city parks in underserved areas more inviting. The parks department says the renovations should be finished by the end of 2017. 

Community Board 2’s District Manager Rafael Salamanca said Hunts Point and Longwood desperately need more green space.

“The parks didn’t fit our community anymore,” said Salamanca, adding that substance abusers and prostitution run roughshod in the parks.

“As time has changed, so have our needs,” said Salamanca.

The parks department agrees, Hunts Point’s parks are as needy of repairs as any neighborhood in the city.

“This project targets parks that have received minimal improvements over the past 20 years and are located in neighborhoods with the greatest need,” said Mario Lopez, a spokesman for the parks department.

Park users complain that 52 Playground on Kelly St. and Ave. St. John’s, has been the site of numerous injuries to children. A boy tripped and split his chin on the uneven pavement earlier this summer, requiring four stitches. The blacktop will be repaved and new swings, a spray shower, a bathroom, skate park, and an amphitheater will all be added.

“This is going to be the best park in the Bronx,” said Jose Vasquez, 52 Playground’s overseer, waving the ambitious blueprint in his hand in front of a rundown jungle gym with chipped paint. In the past, the park had  become an unofficial dump site for broken fire escapes and oil tanks.

At the Hunts Point Playground on the corner of Spofford and Hunts Point avenues, new fitness and play equipment will be added, bathrooms will be renovated and flowerbeds and green space will be put in. Lyons Square Playground, sandwiched between PS 75 and the Bruckner Expressway, will get a new restroom, a new fitness section, updated play equipment, a ping-pong table and benches.

“I’ve been trying to get this park fixed for 27 years,” said Glenn Williams, a basketball coach who spends most of his time at the park. Williams said parks officials have ignored so many of his complaints about Lyons’ deterioration over the years that he’ll believe their promises to fix the park only when he sees them following through

Lisa Stone, who said she has been coming to Lyons for 30 years, said the prospect of renovations excite her, but even so, she is angry at the decline she has witnessed over the years. Once there were more benches, tables for chess and checkers, and rubber surfaces where now there is cracked cement, she said.

“I don’t bring my kids anymore because there’s nothing to do,” said Stone.

Residents also complained of dented surfaces and flooding on the basketball courts whenever it rains.

“In high school and college they play on full-courts,” said Williams, pointing out conditions force him to use just half the court. “You can’t play a real game on a half-court.” Lyons’ courts should have fiberglass walls surrounding them, the way basketball courts at other parks do, he added.

Longfellow Garden, a 16,000-square-foot playground at the corner of Longfellow Ave. and 165th Street, will be reopened and turned into a playground for younger children. Longfellow has been closed for more than a decade, and is now locked behind a gate and overrun with debris and rodents

Although park users say they are excited by the city’s plans, residents themselves must get involved with improvements, not just sit back and expect the city to do everything, say some advocates.

“Without the wealthy people who run Central Park, the poorer neighborhoods of New York often have to do it on their own,” said Steve Zeitlin, founding director of the nonprofit group City Lore, whose Place Matters initiative advocates for conservation of historically and culturally significant places. Nine years ago it nominated 52 Playground for an award for its crucial role serving Longwood.

“It takes a lot of labor and love,” said Zeitlin.

Williams said he often approaches adults who violate park rules at Lyons, and reminds them, ‘You guys are supposed to be role models.’

“We encourage people to take care of the parks, to clean up after themselves. It’s their park,” said Lopez.

Residents are eager to reap the benefits of attractive neighborhood parks with facilities that actually work.

“The parks make sure kids are playing and not doing drugs,” said Yolande Laureano, who used to take her children to 52 Playground, and now takes her grandchildren.

Among playground users, the impatience for upgrades was palpable.

“We’re tired of all of this,” said Amere Gibson, 11, sweeping his arm toward dismal conditions at 52 Playground. “We need swings.”

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