Anyone repeatedly walking up Bedford and passing North 12th Street has probably asked the question, “What’s up with that empty lot south of the tennis courts?” Yes, sometimes it isn’t empty, in the past, events like the Northside Festival packed that lot with people as it was one of their concert venues, and in 2016 it served as SantaCon’s launching spot. I’ve seen kids kicking around a soccer ball or roller skating sometimes, but the memory of suffering several skinned knees on asphalt made me shudder slightly at the sight. I’ve also seen softball played there on occasion and heard tell that it’s a spot for pickle ball.
Recently a call went out to any who had an interest in brainstorming about the possibilities of what could be done with this 1.8-acre section of McCarren Park to make it more utilized by the community and more Earth-friendly. The community conversation held on January 12 via Zoom, was organized by North Brooklyn Mutual Aid and its offshoot North Brooklyn Stewards, a group who have enlisted volunteer park clean-ups among other things.
The idea for the meeting sprung from a comment that Charline Mougin made on the North Brooklyn Civic Crowdsource group page on Facebook. Kevin LaCherra of North Brooklyn Mutual Aid saw the comment and said they should talk and soon a community grassroots effort began to sprout. Mougin, who has lived in the neighborhood for five years and whose children were born here, said, “[the question about the lot] was brewing for months, I kept passing this space and it got me thinking, ‘couldn’t we do something better with this space?’” She then spoke to scientists and environmentalists and they informed her of how a blacktop is horrific for the environment. She is very passionate about the idea of making this space more sustainable and pleasant by engaging with neighbors, identifying stakeholders, and getting their thoughts.
During the presentation, Lisa Bloodgood addressed environmental impacts like flooding and North Brooklyn’s increased heat vulnerability and Konstancja Maleszynska shared inspirations of possible transformations for the lot. Once the presentation concluded, attendees went into breakout rooms to answer questions on whether they felt the asphalt lot was fulfilling its potential or not and to share their thoughts on ways it could be used or developed.
There were 47 participants at this community conversation and attendants included elected officials, Brooklyn Community Board 1, park and open space advocates, and a majority of concerned neighbors. A unanimous consensus of the breakout rooms was that this lot was not well-adapted to the needs of the community. Yet, participants conveyed their love for the space, a mother told a story of how she taught her children how to ride their bikes there, another shared that her dance troupe trained there. The consensus for how the space could be developed was that it should have a green infrastructure but still maintain its identity as a functional free space.
The current state of the lot is that the asphalt is uneven and there are large cracks. At one point, someone joked that during lockdown they saw a complaint saying the asphalt lot needed to be mowed because the grass between the cracks had grown so high. The presentation illustrated that the land McCarren Park is on was originally a swamp, and when it rains, it reverts to its swamp heritage. As flooding in North Brooklyn has been steadily on the rise, ways to properly divert storm water is becoming more necessary. Kevin LaCherra said there will be more community conversations to come. If you’d like to be alerted to when the next meeting will be you can sign up on the volunteer interest sheet: https://airtable.com/shrfjbzyzhgWwSki2 or follow @NBKStewards or @NBKMutualAid on Instagram.