Brooklyn Heights

‘Needle Park’ in Downtown Brooklyn? Kids find syringes, parents demand cleanup

September 5, 2019 Mary Frost
Kids found discarded syringes in Cadman Plaza Park in Downtown Brooklyn last week. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Young children romping through Cadman Plaza Park last Tuesday discovered half a dozen discarded syringes under the bushes. One boy began playing with one and “something came out,” as his friend told his mother.

Parents frantically combed the weedy undergrowth and collected all the syringes they could find, carefully dropping them into a plastic water bottle.

The park, which receives heavy use from local families, sports teams and schools, is on the border of Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights.

One of the syringes found in the park. Photo courtesy of Heather Prince
One of the syringes found in the park. Photo courtesy of Heather Prince

Angry parents who contacted the Brooklyn Eagle say this is just one of many signs of the park’s deterioration.

The rats are coming back, water fountains and bathrooms are not maintained, homeless individuals camp out by the War Memorial at night and there is no police presence, they said.

“We love this park and the kids love running through the bushes, but I’m afraid of some of the stuff I’ve seen lately,” local mother Heather Prince told the Eagle.

Prince said she brings her two boys, ages 7 and 9, to the park every Tuesday and Friday after school to meet with a big group of kids.

“They have nicknamed themselves ‘The Cadman Research Center — CRC,’ because they like to explore the bushes, dig in the dirt, built forts with fallen branches,” she said.

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Around 6 p.m. on Aug. 27, her 7-year-old son ran over to her to tell her what the young explorers had found: a syringe.

“We really didn’t know who to call,” Prince said. “We tried to find an officer to help us dispose of the needles, but there were none around. We were afraid that if we just threw them in the trash the sanitation workers might get stuck.”

Parents collected the syringes in this plastic water bottle. Photo courtesy of Heather Prince
Parents collected the syringes in this plastic water bottle. Photo courtesy of Heather Prince

One of the parents called 311, but the situation was classified by a city employee as a request to clean up “garbage or litter.”

“It’s not just a trash [or] maintenance issue because it’s dangerous, potentially deadly medical waste,” Prince said.

Prince says the park needs safety patrols, or, at the very least, a morning cleanup.

‘Not very surprising’

“The park’s a disaster,” said DUMBO resident Tara Quinn. “Syringes are not actually very surprising.”

Quinn said she brings her kids to Cadman Plaza Park every day.

“Everybody in the community uses this park,” Brooklyn Heights mom Pia Scala-Zankel said. “They’re waiting until something really terrible happens. Having Parks do a walk-through after the fact is not acceptable.”

Kids found the syringes near this bench in Cadman Plaza Park. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
Kids found the syringes near this bench in Cadman Plaza Park. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Quinn and Scala-Zankel said they met with City Council member Stephen Levin in 2015 with the same concerns they have today — rats, overflowing garbage cans, maintenance, derelict bathrooms and disintegrating artificial turf.

At that time, Quinn and Scala-Zankel did a walk-through of the park with representatives from Levin’s office, the city’s pest control department, the Parks Department and other local community organizations. An action plan was developed, including the drastic pruning of all the bushes and a rat-baiting program. There was “vast improvement” for a while, but this did not last, Quinn and Scala-Zankel told the Eagle.

Five years ago, Levin’s office budgeted several thousand dollars to purchase rat-proof garbage cans, they said.

“We were grateful to him for allocating,” Scala-Zankel said. However, “To date, the proper cans have never been ordered by Parks. Over four years later the same cans are still in the park, many are rotted from the bottom and there are rat holes beneath the ground they sit on — and they continue providing a food source for the rats.”

Quinn said she read in the Eagle about capital improvements coming to the park starting this November, which include fixing up the War Memorial and converting a maintenance building into a café.

“How will opening a coffee shop work out with the rat problem?” Quinn asked.

“There are very basic needs,” Scala-Zankel said. “If these can’t be done — maintenance, a rat-bait schedule — how is there going to be a café and more people in the park with food? Garbage cans are overflowing. Who’s taking care of all that?”

When asked to comment on this situation, the Parks Department addressed only the problem posed by opening a new café in the park.

“The concessionaire will be responsible for maintaining their licensed premises once the café opens,” a Parks spokesperson said.

Update: Late Thursday, the Parks spokesperson sent a further comment: “We do not believe Cadman Plaza Park has chronic maintenance or homeless issues, but we will continue to monitor.”

The ‘Year of Falling Branches’

Toba Potosky, president of the nonprofit Cadman Park Conservancy, told the Eagle that the Parks Department “responded right away” to comb the park after he contacted them about the syringes.

Potosky said that Cadman Plaza Park and other nearby parks have actually received an increase in maintenance under Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Martin Maher. “It’s not perfect, but it’s much improved.” But more needs to be done, he said.

“What we are asking for is police patrolling of the park, plus a social worker with an expertise in addiction, homelessness and mental illness. There have been more individuals at night sleeping in the park,” Potosky said. “People need treatment.”

The biggest danger in the park, Potosky said, is falling branches. “2019 will go down as the ‘Year of Falling Branches.’ We had more giant tree limbs randomly falling from the trees than in the park’s history. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 30 years, nothing even comes close to what we experienced this year,” he said.

Potosky says he has reached out to Neighborhood Coordination Officers Det. John Condon and Officer Donovan Hunt, who will address the issue (among others) at a Build the Block public safety meeting to be held at St. Francis College, 180 Remsen St. in Brooklyn Heights on Sept. 10 at 6 p.m.

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Updated on Sept. 6, 2019 to clarify that a comment that was originally attributed to Tara Quinn was actually said by Pia Scala-Zankel.
Updated on Sept. 6, 2019 to add another comment sent late Thursday by the Parks Department.

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