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SEE IT: Marsha P. Johnson Park’s new design for entrance

Former 'Plastic Park' design sparked outrage

August 24, 2022 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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More than a year after community members and officials caused the state’s original design for Marsha P. Johnson State Park on the Williamsburg waterfront to be rejected, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday announced a preliminary design for a new gateway to the park.

The park, whose entrance will be at Kent Avenue and North Eighth Street, honors Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender woman who was a pioneer of the LGBTQ civil rights movement and was a prominent figure in the 1969 Stonewall uprising.

The gateway will cap a $16.5 million renovation project already completed this summer. Design of the gateway will continue into fall 2022, and fabrication will begin in 2023.

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“Marsha P. Johnson was a trailblazer who stood up for what is right, challenged the status quo, and changed the course of history,” Hochul said. “As we celebrate Marsha P. Johnson’s birthday, New York State will continue to honor her story at this newly renovated state park, where we are highlighting her message and carrying it forward for new generations of visitors.”

The gateway will build on newly completed improvements that consist of extensive new landscaping — including a native species perennial garden and “Marsha’s hillside” to honor her love of nature; a new great lawn; dozens of new trees; permeable pathways; new park furnishings; permanent interpretive panels documenting Marsha’s life, work and community; new signage park wide; and a stormwater management system to improve drainage throughout the park.

Last year, a series of completed improvements included a new park house with public bathrooms; a classroom and gathering space; and park maintenance and ranger contact space as well as a green roof; a refurbished and accessible cobblestone walkway from the North 8th entrance into the park; preliminary interpretive panels honoring Johnson’s life; and refurbished concrete event platforms

The improvements followed consultation with the transgender and LGBTQ communities, neighborhood leaders, Marsha’s family and the general public over the park’s design.

Assemblymember Emily Gallagher (D-North Brooklyn), said, “I am so proud that our North Brooklyn district is home to this beautiful, public waterfront open space that honors the legacy of Marsha P. Johnson and the ongoing struggle for Black, queer and trans liberation.”

In addition to her role in the Stonewall uprising, Johnson established a shelter in New York City to support LGBTQ+ young people rejected by their families. She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, an activist with ACT UP, and a co-founder of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), later renamed as Strategic Transgender Alliance for Radical Reform (STARR).

This design for Marsha P. Johnson State Park, which its detractors called “Plastic Park,” was widely criticized and ultimately rejected. Photo courtesy of NYS Parks

The seven-acre waterfront park located along the East River in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn offers visitors a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline and a play area, and the green space provides many opportunities for recreation and relaxation. As the site of a 19th century shipping dock, visitors to East River may also discover unique historical remnants like old cobblestone streets and railroad tracks embedded in concrete, as well as a popular dog run and beach.

The original “Plastic Park” design, which was reportedly crafted without much community input, featured large plastic and foam flowers and a large surface mural featuring garish colors. In March, the state halted construction after community members, Johnson’s family and LGBTQ advocates spoke out.

At community meetings, several neighborhood residents said the park’s “cement-heavy” design was done more to accommodate the food fair Smorgasburg, “a private entity,” than the people, the Brooklyn Eagle reported at the time.

“The community approves of renaming the park for the trans activist Marsha P. Johnson. However, this neighborhood with a very low square footage of green space wants more greenery, not a plastic and cement lot,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, author of “Lincoln’s Lie: A True Civil War Caper Through Fake News.”


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