Brooklyn Boro

Construction continues on Marsha P. Johnson State Park, advocates petition against ‘Plastic Park’

Community Board will meet with Parks Department March 4

February 28, 2021 Clark Adomaitis
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Activists are circulating a petition that reads “Stop the plastic park! Plant flowers instead!” “Plastic Park” is a nickname for the ongoing construction at Marsha P. Johnson State Park in Williamsburg.

The park, formerly East River State Park, is being covered in a large, colorful thermoplastic (the paint used for road markings) mural, huge foam core flowers, and sheds to honor the LGBTQ civil rights activist. The $14 million project is sponsored by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“We are a community that has so little green space. A park should be the most joyous thing” says Elizabeth Mitchell, author and Brooklyn native. “What we want is true greenspace to honor Marsha.”

Construction continues despite activists’ outcries. Payloaders have begun paving the lot where the food fair Smorgasburg is held, and wooden structures are being built.

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“We are demanding that the reconstruction be immediately halted, and the design opened to input from the local and the LGBTQ+ community,” says Kate Yourke, member of Brooklyn Community Board 1.

The NYS Parks Department will appear at a virtual public meeting with Community Board 1 on March 4th. According to State Senator Brian Kavanagh, “the meeting will include an opportunity for public participation… to get additional input about the design, the materials they’re planning to use, as well as the timing of construction.”

Bird’s-eye rendering of the project being constructed honoring Marsha P. Johnson. Rendering courtesy of NY State Parks

Yourke believes the plastic constructions do not honor Marsha P. Johnson. “The fact that Marsha P. Johnson, who loved real flowers, has been given eight foot plastic flowers just seems really unfortunate.”

In the documentary Pay It No Mind – The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson, Marsha’s friends speak about her love for flowers.

“She’d take her last $10, and go out the door and come back 20 minutes later with this big bouquet. I would say, ‘What are you doing wasting your last $10 on flowers?’ She’d go in my back room and make this incredible arrangement,” said Randolfe Wicker, a human rights activist.

Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, an activist and artist, says Johnson slept under flower vendors’ tables who would say “she’s holy.” They would give her leftover flowers. Johnson is seen throughout the documentary wearing a crown of flowers.

“Nature is what we need to honor Marsha, not a thermoplastic mural,” says Community Board 1 member Sante Miceli.

Yourke also wonders about the implications of stepping, walking, and running on the painted face of Marsha P Johnson. “We don’t usually honor people by putting their portraits underfoot.”

Activists are also upset about the contractual warranty of the project. According to the Parks and Recreation Preservation State Bid, the fabricator of the exhibit is required to “warranty works for three years” and “paint finishes are to be warranted against fading, discoloration, cracking and peeling for a minimum of five years.”

The future of the project’s fixtures after five years is unknown.

“$14 million should provide real benefits to our community, not a backdrop whose inevitable and swift deterioration will cause environmental and safety hazards instead of benefits,” says Yourke.

The activists hope their voices will be heard. They want the plans halted and ultimately changed to a more natural and environmentally-friendly project honoring Johnson.

“We need space where people can just be out in nature, have fun with their families, and contemplate the river.” says Mitchell.

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