Brooklyn Boro

Design workshops set to ‘de-plasticize’ Williamsburg waterfront park

Original design withdrawn after community pressure

March 18, 2021 Raanan Geberer
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In the wake of a large public outcry halting construction on the “plastic park” version of Marsha P. Johnson State Park on the Williamsburg waterfront, the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is scheduling several public design workshops for the park in which local input is invited.

The previous design for the park, which is located at 90 Kent Ave., would cover an undeveloped lot with a large, colorful thermoplastic mural and huge foam-core flowers. Neighborhood residents protested that, in a neighborhood with a shortage of actual green space, the plan focused on artificial materials. 

At the same time, surviving friends and family members of Johnson, who was involved in the Stonewall uprising of 1969 and helped to found the Gay Liberation Front, said she loved actual flowers and should be honored with the real thing.

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The $14 million project was supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The notice from State Parks merely reads that “State Parks has withdrawn an August proposal for a mural on the concrete platforms in the park and floral interpretive elements in the gantry plaza area.”

At the same time, however, non-controversial elements of the park’s renovation, such as the construction of a park house with a classroom and restrooms, the repair of concrete platforms, restoration of cobblestones and stormwater drainage improvements, will continue. State Parks estimates that these features of the park should be ready by June. 

“Initial public listening sessions” are slated to take place on Wednesday, March 31 and Saturday, April 3. Public design reviews will take place on Tuesday, April 20 and Saturday, April 24, with a final public review slated for Saturday, May 1. Each session will have two parts, one between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., the other between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

More public input was one of the chief demands of the plastic park design’s opponents, “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, a member of Brooklyn Community Board 1, last month.

State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney and City Councilmember Stephen Levin showed their support for the anti-plastic park cause. They sent a letter to Commissioner of NYS Parks Erik Kulleseid urging him to halt construction. “We write to request that you suspend construction activity for this project,” the letter read.

In a prescient quote made before the current scandals involving Cuomo, Gallagher told the Brooklyn Paper, “It just goes to show what we know about Cuomo in general is that he makes the decisions without necessarily other people’s approval.”

The park is also the Williamsburg home of the food festival Smorgasburg, although New York Eater recently reported that State Parks is planning to put out an RPF to solicit new applicants to use the space.

In addition to her advocacy activities, Johnson helped to found a shelter for LGBTQ youth who were rejected by their families. Born in New Jersey, she moved to Greenwich Village after high school graduation and endured struggles with mental illness. She died in 1992 at age 46.

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