Across the city on Saturday, residents who care about open space will be celebrating “It’s My Park Day.” In our neighborhood, the Friends of Gulick Park have all kinds of fun activities planned, including pumpkin painting, bulb planting and a ping pong tournament. You can get more information on the group’s web site.
In the past year, the Friends of Gulick Park has made amazing progress towards their goal: giving this neglected space in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge a major face lift. We asked one of the organization’s main organizers, Brian Crowley, to explain why the project is important to him:
I agreed to volunteer with the Friends of Gulick Park because I wanted to help beautify the neighborhood for all those living around the park, but also I wanted to keep busy with something outside the home as I transitioned to being a stay-at-home father. They say if you want to get something done, give it to the busy person; I wanted to become that person.
However, I continue to stay busy with the Friends of Gulick Park, because of the promise the site holds for the quality of our outdoor life, for the sense of community I hope it engenders, and for the uplifting contact with a world of small-scale public service that has powerful, direct effects.
It’s simply unacceptable for the city to let this park go untended and derelict any longer. There are too few green spaces open to the public and too much traffic from Delancey and the bridge. Our area has 50% more residents per park-acre than the city average. Out of 51 city council districts, we rank 32nd for parkland per resident. But the city needs its problems brought to its attention — and in lean budgetary times like these park upkeep is greatly aided by locals. These are the immediate reasons why I volunteered.
Aside from a greener park, my main hope is that, because Gulick Park rests, somewhat uniquely, on the border between two parts of the LES—between the NYCHA complexes to the north and the Grand Street co-ops to the south—revitalization will open ways for these different groups to interact. We try to engage organizations that represent or serve all our neighbors: tenants’ associations, co-op boards, Asian Americans for Equality, Good Old Lower East Side, LES Girls Club, for example.
Where factions from these communities have sparred over other issues of urban renewal—such as the SPURA site—there is very little disagreement with the effort to green and enliven Gulick Park. On this issue, it seems, we can be one community. There are many other differences between and within these residential areas, but my feeling has been that enjoying the ballgames, the play of our younger children, and the shade under trees and next to flowers is something we can all share.
Our goal is that all voices who want to be heard will be. I hope that this will give rise to a sense of common ownership for the park that will cut across the boundaries, physical and symbolic, that otherwise separate the neighborhood. Even if this ideal doesn’t come to be, I hope to appreciate better how others use the park in ways I don’t — and simply to meet people I may not otherwise meet—even though they live two blocks form my stoop. I suspect a top-quality park and playground will encourage a greater diversity of our neighbors to mingle and meet.
Volunteering for Gulick Park has also made it clear to me that it’s these kinds of volunteer and nonprofit groups that make community interaction stronger and more frequent. We’ve learned from far-flung Friends-of groups connected to Partnerships for Park, gotten volunteer support from AAFE and the LES Girls Club, and received much aid and inspiration from the Hester Street Collaborative.
By energizing thousands of New Yorkers, all these groups create small, community-based projects that have a large effect on the collective health and vitality of the city. Seeing this first-hand has renewed my appreciation for our city and its residents.
Brian Crowley is a 7-year resident of the LES. A recovering academic, he’s happy staying home to keep too many leaves out of his only child’s mouth, who’s very soon to celebrate his first birthday. In the wee hours, he tends the Web site, writes grants, and organizes meetings, for The Friends of Gulick Park.