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In Celebration of a Playground, and Community Engagement

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On Thursday, we posted a photo from the ribbon cutting at the Hester Street Playground, which has just undergone a nearly $5 million transformation. But this weekend we wanted to return to the subject for a few reasons.

For starters, several of the participants noted, in casual conversation, that it was nice to have something to celebrate. In this season of budget cuts and protests, community activists and city officials came together for an uplifting event. For an hour, at least,  everyone was able to appreciate what Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe called a “textbook example of cooperation.”

The renovation of the playground, located on the southern end of Sara D. Roosevelt Park, was made possible though a $4.6 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corp., $250,000 from former City Councilmember Alan Gerson and $250,000 from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund.

The playground includes new seating and lighting, a spray fountain, a sandbox (one of the few in a Manhattan park), all-new (age specific)  play equipment and swing sets. In August new public bathrooms will be finished. But most significantly, several speakers emphasized, this project represented an unprecedented collaboration  between the Parks Department and a community.

A coalition, including groups such as the Hester Street Collaborative and Asian Americans for Equality, helped give the neighborhood a voice in the playground’s design. On a fall day back in 2006, they organized a “visioning” event in the park, in which residents were able to offer input and ideas. The process has become a model for other park restoration projects in New York City. Benepe made a point of praising Hester Street Collaborative head Annie Frederick, for leading the way in a “collaborative fashion.”

Cristina Roosevelt

Among the speakers at Thursday’s ceremony was Cristina Roosevelt, Sara Roosevelt’s great great granddaughter. The 7.85 acre park was named for Franklin Roosevelt’s mother in 1934.  Also on hand, kids from University Settlement and M.S. 131, which is located steps away from the park. Recently we featured their lasting imprint on the playground: 120 unique mosaic tiles embedded in the brick walls.

Councilmember Margaret Chin, Gerson’s successor, also spoke.  She playfully encouraged Benepe to publicly throw his support behind another park project, the revitalization of Luther Gulick Park, on Willett Street.

Adrian Benepe, Margaret Chin

The Council has allocated $360,000 for the restoration, and State Senator Daniel Squadron has thrown in $100,000.  Parks officials have said they need at least $1 million to begin design work. Glancing at Benepe, Chin said “we’ll work on making that answer a yes.”

When Chin was campaigning for City Council last year, she made advocating for more open space in the neighborhood a top priority. Benepe highlighted the fact that Chinatown and the Lower East Side are home to some of the busiest parks in the city. A state study found the community has only .7 acres of open space per 1000 people (2.5 acres is recommended).

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