Preliminary Carroll Park redesign would expand playgrounds, nix old-school bocce court
Italian-American men who once had their own key have faded away
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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