Community Takes Stand on Marsha P. Johnson State Park: More Green, More Color, Less Concrete

Should the concrete slabs stay or go at Marsha P. Johnson State Park?

A public outcry about the original design of Marsha P. Johnson State Park (formerly known as the East River State Park) was heard loud and clear by New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NY State Parks).  In turn they have opened the design of this park to the public. 

On March 31, April 3, and April 5 NY State Parks held in-person and virtual listening sessions as the first stage in getting public input on this park’s design.  Participants filled out a survey that addressed: topics on how they used the park, what events drew them to the park, design ideas to honor this park’s namesake, etc.  There was one very curious question on the concrete slabs, “The historical concrete platforms add a unique gathering and event space to the collection of north Brooklyn parks. Having them in the park allows for events such as those listed above as well as for BBQ and games too. Do you have an opinion about the historical slabs?”

I searched for the history of these slabs and came up empty.  If there is historic merit to them, it would be helpful if NY State Parks would share this knowledge.

A recent merit of these slabs is tied to Smorgasburg’s use of them on fairer season weekends over the past several years.  Last month NY State Parks put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an open food market concession, extended the deadline from March 31 to April 14, and then cancelled the RFP on April 12. “No proposals will be considered at this time. Parties expressing interest in this RFP will be advised if and when a subsequent RFP is issued for an Open Food Market Concession opportunity at Marsha P. Johnson State Park,” stated the notice. 

Explanation for the withdrawal was given by Randy Simons of NY State Parks, as reported by Brooklyn Paper, “As we welcome the transformation and the new experience we […] think it is prudent to cancel the current open food market RFP at this time.”  

Greenspace activists raised concern that a food market would be granted a 9-year RFP for the spot, and that this would mean the concrete slabs remain.  When the RFP is circulated again the term is rumored to be limited to 1-year increments.

At the April 13 Brooklyn Community Board 1 public meeting Leslie Wright, New York City Regional Director from NY State Parks spoke.  She mentioned there was good participation in the initial round of listening sessions.  She revealed the public was split almost 50–50 as to whether the concrete slabs should remain or be removed.  She said due to the initial public outcry they have reduced the slabs by 18,000 square feet and this reclaimed space will become green space.  Wright mentioned they are still collecting input from the survey.

Rendering of the redesign of the Marsha P. Johnson State Park Memorial Gardens. Photo Credit: Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and PlannersMarsha P. Johnson Labeled Renderings

The next set of listening sessions on April 20, 24, and 26 presented concepts that had been influenced by the first sessions. Participants gave their input on how the park design was taking shape.  The April 26 session was on Zoom, and a family representative stood strong in stating her disappointment in seeing a lack of vibrant color on the latest renderings.  She asked about the community garden plan and requested more flowers and an more art-based memorial to recognize Marsha P. Johnson in addition to a community fridge that could serve the homeless and food insecure in the community. The final public review of the design will be held onsite at 90 Kent on May 1 during two intervals (10 a.m.–1 p.m. and 3 p.m.–7 p.m.).  A virtual final public review will be presented on Zoom on May 3 from 6 p.m.–9 p.m.  It will be revealed during these sessions when the new design elements will be installed in the park.  Construction is currently underway for structural improvements.  It is estimated this work will be completed in June so the park can reopen.

First published on April 15, 2021 with the original publication title: Green Space vs. Concrete Slabs: NY State Parks Halts Food Fair Bidding. The piece was updated on April 28 and includes updates from the April 26 community listening session.

Author: Lori Ann Doyon

Managing editor, head writer, and lead photographer of Greenline | North Brooklyn News since October 2014. Resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn since 1990.

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