Seward Park never looked so clean! City workers were on the job first thing this morning to spruce up the western edge of the park along Essex Street in anticipation of a visit by the mayor. A few hours later, a sizable group of local residents had gathered near the Schiff Fountain, awaiting a press conference to announce the appointment of Mitchell Silver as the city’s new parks commissioner.
During brief remarks, both de Blasio and Silver, previously Raleigh, North Carolina’s head of city planning, emphasized their commitment to improving public spaces in New York’s under-served communities. The mayor praised a proposal from State Sen. Daniel Squadron to create a more equitable system for funding parks. But he stopped short of all-out endorsement of the plan, saying a citywide dialogue needs to take place.
The mayor made reference to the setting chosen for the announcement; Seward Park is the oldest municipal playground in the country. He noted Henry Street Settlement founder Lillian Wald’s pivotal role in creating the playground more than a century ago. But local activists were caught off guard by today’s media event. When they found out about it, leaders of organizations such as Friends of Seward Park and the SPaCE Block Association scrambled.
They handed out flyers with the heading, “welcome Commissioner Silver!” It went on to detail some of Seward Park’s needs, including the restoration of the Schiff Fountain, the renovation of the basketball courts, the landscaping of an area alongside the public library and resources for maintenance. One local activist, Amy Robinson, said, “I am very excited the mayor chose our park to announce the new parks commissioner because we’re very hopeful the smaller and less well endowed parks will get more attention from the parks department.” Another activist, Linda Jones, managed to give the mayor a copy of the flyer.
In a statement, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said:
I am so glad that new Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver spent time today in our Lower East Side community. We are a neighborhood that needs quality open space that everyone can enjoy and I am looking forward to working closely with Commissioner Silver and the de Blasio administration on our community’s priorities. Congratulations to the new commissioner, from one Silver to another.
Thanks to Nancy Linn and Melissa Shiffman for some of the photos in this story.