Carroll Gardens

Preliminary Carroll Park redesign would expand playgrounds, nix old-school bocce court

Italian-American men who once had their own key have faded away

January 22, 2020 Mary Frost
Carroll Park’s Community Building. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

Carroll Gardens residents have been working with the New York City Parks Department on ideas to reconstruct Carroll Park.

The demographics of the neighborhood have changed since the park’s last reconstruction in 1994, and families have new ideas about what they want there. The park is located at Court and Carroll streets, in an area that was once majority Italian-American.

NYC Parks presented a preliminary design at a Community Board 6 committee meeting on Dec. 18.

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Carroll Park, seen from Court Street. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
Carroll Park, seen from Court Street. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

More than a hundred park-goers attended a February brainstorming workshop, funded by City Councilmember Brad Lander’s office. Their ideas included flexible recreation areas for activities like bicycle riding or soccer; expanded and consolidated playgrounds; synthetic turf; a dedicated space for performances; areas for group seating and new restrooms in the community building.

One long-time feature of the park — the fenced-in bocce court — has disappeared from the preliminary plan. Carroll Gardens, long an old-school Italian enclave, is now home to a new mix, including a growing number of French language speakers. The Italian-American men who once gathered at the bocce court — and even had their own key — have disappeared.

The bocce court behind this fence may soon disappear. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
The bocce court behind this fence may soon disappear. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

While many Italian restaurants and shops remain, the Italian-American segment of Carroll Gardens has decreased significantly — from 52 percent of the population in 1980 to 22 percent in 2012, the New York Times reported.

Carroll Park in the 1930s. Photo: NYC Parks Department
Carroll Park in the 1930s. Photo: NYC Parks Department

The neighborhoods of Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens are now being called Little France because of the concentration of French expats, French eateries and French language programs in local schools.

Katia Kelly, author of the long-lived Pardon Me for Asking Blog, wrote in 2011, “What would Carroll Park be without the Italian gentlemen who gather in the bocce court on sunny days?” They would show up at the beginning of the season every year to meticulously prepare the courts for play, she said.


“That’s how I knew it was spring,” Kelly told the Brooklyn Eagle. “The last three or four years, I haven’t seen any action in that bocce court. It’s sad. I was always very proud that the Parks Department gave a nod to the demographics of the community.”

On a recent cold weekend, several of the families using the park spoke French, and the children played soccer.

Hardly anyone plays on the bocce court anymore, local families said. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
Hardly anyone plays on the bocce court anymore, local families said. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

One dad told the Eagle that the fenced-in bocce court is not suitable for boules (aka petanque), a similar game played by the French, since boules must be played on top of sand.

There is, however, a little-used, unfenced court elsewhere in the park that might be suitable for boules, he said.

According to Community Board 6 Parks Committee Chair Glenn Kelly, founding member of Friends of Carroll Park and husband to Katia Kelly, nothing is set in stone, and the actual reconstruction work is still years down the road.

New safety regulations and the Parks Department’s concern with the roots of big trees may put a crimp on what play equipment can be installed in the park, Glenn Kelly said. Where there are six swings now, only three would replace them because regulations now require more space around each. Concern for tree roots would prevent the small ball field from being replaced if it is reconstructed.

This diagram shows the park layout as it exists today. The circles indicate tree roots. Graphic: NYC Parks Department
This diagram shows the park layout as it exists today. The circles indicate tree roots. Graphic: NYC Parks Department
This shows the preliminary plan for the park, based on ideas suggested by park-goers at a meeting in February. Graphic: NYC Parks Department
This diagram shows the preliminary plan for the park, based on ideas suggested by park-goers at a meeting in February. Graphic: NYC Parks Department

And with the changing demographics, “Most people think the bocce court is a waste of space,” Glenn Kelly said. “Some hard choices will have to be made. How much does the community care about bocce courts when the neighborhood changes?”

Naomi Dann, spokesperson for Lander, told the Eagle, “There is still a lot of room for community input on whether and how Carroll Park should be redesigned, and we are open to following whatever direction that park users want to go.”

Parks Department spokesperson Anessa Hodgson called the presentation before Community Board 6 “an important step as we hope to secure funding and move into the capital process to improve this park.”

“We are excited by the possibility to reimagine and revamp Carroll Park through our vision plan that has been shaped by the community input we have received,” she said.


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2 Comments

  1. There has to be a way to retain the ball field, no? I believe a local organization uses that for games. The redesign looks like less actual usable space and the part parceled up in a nonsensical way, ie, swings/splash pad separate from tot swings. Also, regarding bocce, despite demographic changes, the game is not restricted to older Italian-American men. There are few bocce courts remaining in NYC parks. It would be a shame to lose multiple courts. Couldn’t one be retained?

  2. Catherine Elizabeth Gasparino

    I think their priority should be to remove all the dead or dying trees that are infested and fix the rat problem first. The residents on President Street have made several requests to the Department of Parks and Recreation. There is an outstanding work order to remove a tree since May 2019. Cars have been damaged. Several branches came down and luckily missed toddlers playing and teenagers sitting on a nearby bench. Besides the park there is a school across the street and a train station. Someone is going to be seriously hurt or even worse.