East New York

The city’s largest state park opens in East New York

"A beautiful park — not in gentrifying Brooklyn, but in the real part of Brooklyn."

July 2, 2019 Kelly Mena
Shirley Chisholm State Park. Eagle photo by Kelly Mena

Shirley Chisholm State Park opened on Tuesday in East New York, becoming the largest state park in the city with 407 acres of green space along the shores of Jamaica Bay.

The unveiling, supervised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and State. Sen Roxanne Persaud, marked the park’s initial $20 million opening phase that will go toward providing hiking and biking trails, picnic and fishing areas, community gardens, playgrounds and recreation centers to the local community.

“Today we add another gem to our treasure trove of state parks, transforming what was once a blemish on the South Brooklyn community into exquisite open space,” Cuomo said.

The park was once a dumping site for contaminated property and has never been open to the public. The city’s Department of Sanitation ran the large swath of area as a landfill from 1956 through 1983, before it was deeded to the National Park Service as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area in 1974.

The funding came from Cuomo’s larger Vital Brooklyn Initiative, a program meant to target chronic social, economic and health disparities across the borough. The end goal: 34 new or improved pocket parks, community gardens, playgrounds and recreation centers within a 10-minute walk of every Central Brooklyn resident. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (front, right) and U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (front, left) cut ribbon on Shirley Chisholm State Park opening. Eagle photo by Kelly Mena
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (front, right) and U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (front, center) cut the ribbon at the Shirley Chisholm State Park opening. Eagle photo by Kelly Mena

The new park is named for former Brooklyn U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm, who is remembered for her groundbreaking political journey.

Chisholm grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant and became the first black woman elected to office in Albany in 1965. She went on to become the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congressin 1968, and then, in 1972, the first woman to run for president in the Democratic Party — and the first black woman to run in either party.

Her trademark slogan was, “Unbought and unbossed.”

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“As we open this beautiful park, right here in the backyard of Brooklyn, let’s remember the moral lesson of Shirley Chisholm: You fight the good fight — even though it’s hard — in order to bring real change to those that need it,” noted Cuomo. 

This will be only the second state park in the borough. The other is the 11-acre East River State Park in Williamsburg, primarily known for its expansive views of the Manhattan skyline. 

Jeffries went on to hint at the disparity of access to parks among communities of color versus non-minority communities and the implications of the park for longtime East New York residents.

“[Gov. Cuomo] committed himself to improving the health outcomes of people in disadvantaged communities in Brooklyn through the Vital Brooklyn Initiative. He committed to improving the quality of life for people living in East New York and Brownsville,” he said. “This is a beautiful park — not in gentrifying Brooklyn, but in the real part of Brooklyn.”

Persaud, who represents the area in the State Senate, joined the congressman’s celebration of the neighborhood. “No longer will people say, ‘East New York?! I’m not going to East New York.’ No longer will people say that — because now we have a destination.”

The investment is part of New York’s 2020 Enacted Budget, which includes $110 million for parks across the entire state. 

Shirley Chisholm State Park will be the third-largest park in Brooklyn after Marine Park (798 acres) and Prospect Park (526 acres), both of which are operated by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. It is only the second state park opened by Cuomo in the five boroughs. The governor also dedicated the four-acre Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park on Roosevelt Island in 2012.

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